Zhengqiao Zhao has always had a specific goal in mind: to become the next Steve Jobs.
“I remember watching all of his keynotes, and I was so impressed with the products that Apple developed,” Zhao says. “They were groundbreaking not because they were new pieces of technology, but because they combined existing technology in a comprehensive way. Jobs knew how people wanted to interact with technology even before they did.”
Zhao, who will address the Class of 2021 as the College of Engineering’s graduate commencement speaker on Wednesday, June 9 at 10 a.m., knows that dreaming of becoming one of the most well-known company leaders in the world is one thing, but accomplishing that goal is another. But growing up in China, his parents taught him to explore as many options as he could to achieve his goals. He decided that the best route would be engineering.
“The world is built on engineers’ work,” he says. “Many things we interact with on a daily basis were at some point worked on by engineers.”
Building on an interest in hardware development, Zhao earned a bachelor’s degree in electronics and information engineering from Northwestern Polytechnical Institute in Xi’an, China. He then came to the United States to complete his graduate studies at Drexel, where he discovered a new passion within his field.
“I thought I wanted to build circuits,” Zhao said. “I did an internship at a company that made next-generation packing machines, and I was pretty good at building the hardware, but what I fell in love with was data analysis.”
Zhao started focusing his studies on analytics, trying to make sense of randomness in data. Working with graduate advisor Gail Rosen, PhD, professor of electrical and computer engineering, Zhao helped to analyze thousands of SARS-COV2 DNA sequences submitted by doctors around the world to identify, label and track variants of the pandemic-causing virus.
But lab work and personal academics are far from the only things that helped Zhao develop into the person he is today.
“I served as a teaching assistant and supervised in different lab sessions and lectures,” Zhao says. “Working with and heading up groups taught me to be a better leader and to develop clear, efficient communications skills.”
Zhao will move on from Drexel to work with Capital One as a data scientist. It’s not the end of his journey, though. With machine learning and data analysis on the rise, he’s confident that he could one day be the mogul he’s always dreamed of becoming.
“In 20 years, machine learning and data analysis will have revolutionized every industry,” he says. “Just think of all the intelligence that needs to be built into self-driving cars, for example. AI will not only create many tech jobs but also make it possible for everyone to develop new occupations. Imagine a pair of intelligent glasses, which give you access to relevant knowledge in real time wherever you are going. Your creativity, not your education background or standard test score, is what will make the difference in the future in many fields.”