Where They’re Headed: Kevin Liao ’18

The computer science major and linguistics minor has two jobs lined up; from SeamlessDocs to Facebook, Liao is diving headfirst into the world of civic technology.

Kevin Liao’s post-graduate plans are literally taking the computer science major from coast to coast. Liao ’18, who also minored in linguistics, is spending his summer as a HackNY fellow at SeamlessDocs in New York, before moving out west to start his career as a software engineer at Facebook’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters.

HackNY is an “intensive program designed to introduce students to New York’s startup ecosystem by pairing the best technical minds with great New York startups”. Liao was matched with SeamlessDocs, a company that streamlines communication between governments and citizens by enabling the paperless transaction of information. He was matched with SeamlessDocs because of his passion for civic technology, a space where technologists use their skills to improve the delivery of government services and also enhance the level of public participation in policy-making.

“As a HackNY fellow, I hope to get plugged into the NYC startup community,” said Liao. “Although I’m moving to California [to work at Facebook] in December, New York City is where my heart is and having a professional network here will really help in the future.”

Liao credits two experiences from his time at Haverford that inspired him to pursue the field of civic technology.

“I took [Associate Professor of Political Science] Zachary Oberfield’s ‘Bureaucracy and Democracy’ class, where I learned about all aspects of the bureaucracy and how bureaucrats impact policymaking as an aggregate,” he said, “and I had a separate conversation with [Assistant Professor of Computer Science] Sorelle Friedler the week after the 2016 presidential election, where she introduced me to a wide variety of work out there where technologists were using their skills to impact how citizens interact with government and participate in policymaking.”

Liao will start at Facebook in December as a software engineer. This winter will not be Liao’s first experience at the company — last summer he interned on their site integrity team, which builds systems to remove unwanted content on Facebook’s platform.

“People often think that coders spend most of their days doing nothing but writing code,” Liao said, “but what I found last summer was that documenting what you’ve written and communicating with those around you is essential to being a good engineer. Haverford taught me to write well, and I definitely felt I had a leg up when it came to this aspect of my work.”

A talent for writing is not the only Haverfordian skill that will aid Liao in his career; he also emphasized the value of integrity and dialogue that the College instills.

“My experience at Haverford facilitating difficult conversations about civic engagement and the Honor Code on Facebook’s platform leads me to believe in the tool’s ability to foster community,” he said.

In addition, a Bi-College education gave Liao the concrete skills needed to succeed at a company like Facebook.

“I took [Assistant Professor of Computer Science] Richard Eisenberg’s “Modern Functional Programming” course at Bryn Mawr, the spring of my junior year,” he said. “[Eisenberg] is one of the core developers of a compiler for the Haskell programming language. The course I took was one of a handful in the country offered on Haskell. Taking [Eisenberg’s] course sparked an interest in Haskell, and I then learned that Facebook’s spam-fighting systems were written in Haskell. The course gave me the requisite background knowledge to join [the site integrity team] and work on systems that keep two billion people safe on the Facebook platform.”  

Liao is particularly interested to learn how the company scales to serve those two billion people on its platform. And he hopes to take all that he learned in his four years at Haverford—from the classroom to Plenary—to the civic technology space.

“Haverford was a place where students have genuine agency in policymaking and I will always be grateful to this community for teaching me just what is possible when you take the time to show up and speak up,” he said. “That’s an attitude I want to carry with me for the rest of my life.”


Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Liao ’18.