Qilong (Matthew) Chen ‘22 is using his Haverford education to contribute to one of the world’s most influential technology companies. The computer science major, who graduated from Haverford in December, has spent the last six months working as a rotation software engineer in Apple’s artificial intelligence/machine learning program, located in Seattle.
Chen’s 12-month position with Apple is divided into four rotations of three months each. During each rotation, Chen chooses to work on a project with a different team.
“The projects are proposed by the corresponding teams as a representation of their day-to-day job, ranging from machine learning modeling, deep learning, and natural language processing to general software engineering or machine learning engineering,” he said.
Chen’s first rotation involved working on a machine learning project for Siri, Apple’s virtual assistant. Now in his second rotation, he is focused on a more engineering-based project with the machine translation team.
With an interest that was sparked by a linguistics version of introduction to programming with Jane Chandlee, assistant professor of linguistics, during his second year, Chen was set upon his computer science career path entirely by people and experiences from Haverford. He began taking computer science courses in his sophomore year.
“The collective focus on fairness in computing across the board in the CS department has helped me be more aware of so many different ways our algorithms and models can have disastrous systemic biases and thus how we can be more conscious of our assumptions and approaches,” Chen added.
He also developed an interest in computational linguistics. Classes such as “Morphological Reinflection” and “Speech Synthesis and Recognition,” also both taught by Chandlee, were of great interest to him too. Chen even credits Chandlee with inspiring him to pursue a career in data science and natural language processing (NLP).
“I’ve been learning more about algorithmic fairness in the context of NLP in her classes, which has helped me understand the systemic algorithmic bias in NLP models if people are not conscious enough of the approach to applying NLP,” he said.
Chen thanked Associate Professor John Dougherty for helping him to learn the ropes of academic writing, and testing creative solutions to build a reliable computer system. He also thanked Rajesh Kumar, a visiting assistant professor at Haverford for the 2019–20 and 2020–21 academic years, and now an assistant professor at Hofstra University.
“[Kumar] has opened the door to data science and machine learning for me,” Chen said. “I took my first ML-related class with him and his expertise in machine learning and biometrics has amazed me. His classes were really hands-on and helped me learn by doing real-world projects. I really appreciate the additional diversity that visiting professors have been bringing to Haverford CS department.”
Ultimately, Chen found his way to Apple thanks to a Haverford connection; Jiawen (Ivy) Zhang ‘21 recommended the opportunity to him, having participated in the 12-month AI/ML rotation program herself, and even acted as a referral.
“She’s super kind and supportive to give me a referral and answer a lot of questions for me,” said Chen. “In addition, she talked about a lot of her insights into career development, including networking, onboarding a new team, expanding professional connections, and more.”
Having started his computer science journey later than most at Haverford, Chen reflected on the path he took.
“You are never too late to start, but be prepared to plan ahead and put in more hard work if you do start late,” he said. “I started learning and taking classes in computer science in my sophomore year, so I had to put in extra work after class and during school breaks to catch up with my classes, as well as doing more detailed planning of taking classes and finishing major requirements with my advisor.”
Chen is considering pursuing a graduate degree in data science and machine learning, as many of the people he is working with at Apple have such degrees. He is interested in attaining the expertise and capability that would come with a deeper understanding of these subjects.
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series chronicling the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.