In the great debate of nature versus nurture, where does talent fall? For Melissa Wen, who graduates May 15 with a BS in computer science and minor in music production, it’s probably a bit of both.
Wen grew up in the tech hub of Silicon Valley. Her dad is an electrical engineer who has always “tinkered around with things.” Her cousin is a concert pianist. So perhaps it’s no surprise that she would grow up to be passionate about both computer science and music.
She started playing piano at age 6 and many more instruments soon followed: clarinet, bassoon, contrabassoon and cello. “I could almost perform as a one-man band,” said Wen. “It’s on my bucket list.”
By high school, she was playing around with music software and, at around the same time, took her first introduction to computer science class.
“When it came to choosing a major, I put two and two together and decided I would do something that combined both my interests,” said Wen.
“That’s why I focused on USC, because the computer science program and the music production program were both really great.”
While she still plays piano, she now focuses more on the music production side, which taps into her creativity and technical skills.
“It’s really exciting to be able to make something from scratch, both in software development and music,” said Wen. “Just being able to see a product you made at the end of the day is really magical.”
But her major wasn’t the only way she combined both interests on campus. Wen also hosted her own weekly on-air radio show on KXSC Radio, where she spun records in her favorite genres: future funk and nu-disco.
“Since it was my first year of being a DJ, I didn’t really have a great slot: it was midnight on Saturday,” said Wen. “But it ended up being one of my favorite memories.”
It was a powerful antidote for stress, said Wen.
“That year, I took data structures, which did end up being stressful at times. So being able to go into the station and having this hour all to myself—it was very cathartic. The speakers are really good. It’s like having your own concert.”
“It’s really exciting to be able to make something from scratch, both in software development and music.” Melissa Wen.
While completing her studies, she also worked in the USC Admission Center as a spring admit ambassador as well as an off-campus orientation leader during freshman and sophomore years. In addition, she studied abroad at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China and at the National University of Singapore.
“Going to Beijing and Singapore helped me reconnect with my heritage,” said Wen.
“My parents both came from really poor parts of China and they came here to pursue the American dream. I got to see the culture my parents grew up before moving to the US. It gave me a greater appreciation of my cultural background.”
After graduation, Wen will join Google to work full-time as a site reliability engineer at the company’s headquarters in Sunnyvale, CA, while also completing a master’s in computer science at Georgia Tech.
“I’m going into a specialization called site reliability engineering, which is focused on building and maintaining reliable systems,” said Wen. “If Google breaks, we’ll be the ones ready to jump in and find the issue.”