Happy Valley to Silicon Valley: Grad students intern at Google

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — This past summer, students from across the University completed internships and added crucial experience to their resumes. For a group of graduate students, they lent their talents to the crown jewel of Silicon Valley: Google.

Three doctoral students in the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) — Yukun Chen, Jeremy Cole, and Ye Tian — and Haoti Zhong, an electrical engineering graduate student in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, put their skills to work this summer at one of the world’s most innovative companies.

Though not all can speak about their experiences due to the confidentiality of their projects, each connected their work to what they are investigating in IST. Their research, which explores technology through the perspective of its impact on people and society, is uniquely applicable to Google’s mission.

“No matter what you do, everything is related to technology and humans,” said Tian.

With Google’s flagship search engine and endless stream of new technologies, the tech giant works tirelessly to unlock the world’s limitless information through innovation. Tian is working towards that goal within a research group that is investigating how users interact with web pages beyond measuring traffic.

“This is very meaningful to a lot of departments at Google,” Tian explained. “What we want to know is not just what you click, but what you look at and what you scroll to.”

From his research with Guoray Cai, associate professor of IST, Tian was already immersed in the world of human-computer interaction, but seeing how it’s explored at a company like Google was an eye-opening experience.

“I had always wondered what kind of research is being done at Google,” he commented. “Not many companies have the resources to do [research], but Google is one of them. They do a lot of exploration.”

Jeremy Cole, a doctoral student working under IST Assistant Professor David Reitter, helped to further refine Google’s approach to online ads.

Cole said, “As a whole, it involves data mining, machine learning and design, to improve the ad experience for both people using Google’s products and for the people buying the ads.”

He was able to apply his graduate work in modeling languages to discover how different communications are interpreted and processed in people’s memories.

Along with finding candidates with the necessary technical expertise, Google is known for their distinct approach to interviews. While many companies usually ask candidates behavioral questions, the tech giant focuses on discovering an innate but not entirely definable trait they call "Googliness," which they found in these doctoral students.

“I think [Googliness] is about being nice, working hard and smart,” said Haoti Zhong, a doctoral student in electrical engineering who is supported by IST Associate Professor Anna Squicciarini.

Once their initial interviews were done, the students interviewed with several research teams across the company to find the right fit.

“Being ‘Googley’ is about staying ambitious and inquisitive,” added Cole. “Google seems to have a genuine interest in their employees being happy.”

The students also agreed the opportunity to work at a cutting-edge technology company couldn’t be understated.

“I can feel innovation happening around me,” Zhong said.

Tian echoed the statement and added, “There are some mind-blowing ideas here, a lot of cool projects that are happening in the same space as I am.”

While the team can’t disclose details on Google’s upcoming projects, Tian said, “I’m sure when [these innovations] hit the market, there will be a lot of news. This is the frontline of the internet.”

Last Updated August 28, 2017