A Facebook Rock Star

| October 17, 2017

A USC Viterbi PhD student excels in a dream job at the tech giant

Qinqin Zhu PhD ’17 at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Photo courtesy of Qinqin Zhu

Qinqin Zhu could have updated her Facebook status to the “feeling accomplished” emoji when she interned at one of the most illustrious IT companies in the world.

Coincidentally, Zhu’s internship in 2016 happened to be at Facebook, the social media and networking juggernaut that is approaching 2 billion monthly users according to a recent CNN report.

During her foray at the Fortune 100 company, Zhu exemplified the exact talent the tech giant was looking for. So much so, she received the “Rock Star” rating in her performance review, the highest for interns and full-time employees.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg with Qinqin Zhu at his home for the Facebook Rock Star dinner. Photo courtesy of Qinqin Zhu

That accolade was followed by an invitation for Zhu to join CEO Mark Zuckerberg for a celebratory dinner with fellow Rock Star-rated peers in his home.

“It was a great experience,” Zhu said. “During the dinner, Mark asked what we were doing in our internships and discussed with us how we could improve our projects. He also asked our opinions about the advantages and disadvantages of Facebook and suggestions to improve the user experience.”

While interning, Zhu, who will complete her PhD in Chemical Engineering this December, worked on machine learning algorithms to support advertising revenue growth. Machine learning is a type of artificial intelligence that enables IT systems to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed.

After passing Facebook’s technical and team match interviews, she received a full-time offer as a Research Scientist in Machine Learning during the last week of her internship in August 2016.

For Zhu, some exciting aspects of her new job are the exploratory freedom, fast-paced nature of the work, and, of course, the excellent food options. Her favorite dish at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif. headquarters is the Korean BBQ.

“[Facebook] gives you a lot of freedom to explore things and make a great impact,” Zhu said. “One of Facebook’s cultures is ‘Move Fast,’ and though that brings a lot of pressure, it pushes me to learn a lot of things, which I think is good for my career.”

At USC Viterbi, Zhu’s PhD adviser is Joe Qin, a professor in the Mork Family Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science. Under his tutelage, Zhu explored research in multivariate analysis, machine learning, process monitoring and fault diagnosis.

“Qinqin’s Rock Star Award speaks well about the interdisciplinary training environment I foster in my research group at USC Viterbi,” Qin, the Fluor Professor in Process Engineering, said. “ Our students get exposed to the new methods in data science and can apply them in a domain of applications effectively.”

On Zhu, he adds: “Qinqin is a valuable scientist to any company since she always goes the extra mile for everything you ask her to do. You can consider it done when you instruct her with a simple email or text message.”

Zhu believes the high-quality courses at USC greatly enriched her machine learning expertise that made her the perfect fit for Facebook.  She is already planning next steps in her career in order to keep up with the energetic work culture.

The mission of Facebook is to bring the world closer together. Being part of it, you can see how we implement it step by step.Qinqin Zhu

“First, I want to focus on my technical background and strengthen those skills,” Zhu said. “I want to develop a strong sense of machine learning in industry and gradually, I want to develop my leadership skills and transfer to a management track.”

And while Zhu continues to grow her promising career, she plans to hold her soon-to-be alma mater near and dear, and not just for the top-notch education she received. She attended USC with her now husband Liang Lu, a PhD student in Industrial and Systems Engineering.

“Four years ago, I came to USC with my then boyfriend,” Zhu said. “The most memorable and valuable experience for me is that every midnight, we drove home together. Because of his presence, the way back home was never dark.”

Going forward, Zhu will help shape the future of social media technology, a landscape in which Facebook has and continues to play a prominent role.

“The mission of Facebook is to bring the world closer together,” Zhu said. “Being part of it, you can see how we implement it step by step.”