Taylor is a senior studying Bioengineering @ the University of Pennsylvania and is currently working at a biometrics startup during her senior year. After graduation, she will be interning at EA Games before pursuing an accelerated masters degree. Taylor is doing some awesome things at the intersection of bioengineering and software.
Why did you get interested in software engineering?
I didn’t know much about software engineering coming into Penn, but I got to watch my friends building awesome projects and witness the excitement that PennApps caused around campus. I became intrigued and gradually built an interest. One of the reasons I became an engineer was that I love to build, and I found it incredible that one could make such amazing apps with a personal computer, a language, and some resourcefulness.
How much CS experience did you have before Horizons?
Very little. I used Matlab in a few courses and learned a bit of Python through Coursera.
Why did you choose to attend Horizons?
Horizons was my chance to catch up as quickly as possible
As a rising senior, I knew that I could only fit in a couple of courses outside of my degree requirements, there was little choice in the courses I could take in CS without prior experience. Horizons was my chance to catch up as quickly as possible, as well as allow for me to take more exciting CS classes at Penn during my last year.
What was your favorite part of Horizons?
I loved the collaborative nature of the program.
I loved the collaborative nature of the program. Especially early on, the paired programming exercises helped solidify the basics, as my partners and I helped each other through the concepts that we didn’t quite understand, and the teachers and TA’s were always more than willing to step in with detailed explanations when we were stuck. Learning to code in a small group setting also helped in the sense that I was constantly surrounded by motivated peers, and together we kept each other on track. The constant encouragement helped when working through more difficult exercises and frustrating bugs.
You built 2 projects @ Horizons. Tell us about them both. What did you learn when building them?
Aside from learning how to coordinate a large-scale project with multiple people, one of the biggest takeaways from the experience was that design is as important as functionality.
Cortex is a scientifically-backed IQ-enhancing game that I built with four other Horizonites. We revamped a traditional dual n-back model, adding several levels, modes of play, and the capability to track your scores and compare them with other users and your Facebook friends. Aside from learning how to coordinate a large-scale project with multiple people, one of the biggest takeaways from the experience was that design is as important as functionality. Having a working game alone was not going to draw in users, and even the smallest details, such as how buttons are placed and what colors are used, can impact the user experience. We adjusted our design to make the game more understandable for first-time users, and even realized that the colors we were using needed to be edited to make sure that any person could play and distinguish between the nine choices.
Xavier.io is an eye-tracking mouse emulator, built in a team of three. I learned a lot about navigating open-source libraries and how to work through technical problems. Given that we started this project in the last two weeks of the program, we chose to use an open-source eye-tracking research project to tap into the webcam. However, as this functioned only through the browser window, we had to add some web sockets and a desktop program to make the eye tracker work over the full computer so that it could open desktop apps. A lot of the challenge was understanding the limitations of the technologies we were using so that we could find a workaround.
How did the Horizons team / experience help prepare you for software engineering interviews?
Once I started recruiting in the fall, interviews went smoothly, and I felt that I had a solid idea of what was expected out of me and only had to do some review to feel prepared.
I felt immensely prepared for the interviewing rounds after doing weeks of practice through Horizons. The Saturday sessions were helpful in understanding how to approach the types of problems you will be asked in a phone interview. I am grateful to have had my first interview experience through a mock session with one of our teachers, as I was able to receive constructive feedback at a point in time where there were no stakes. Being new to software engineering, I didn’t realize how much practice was necessary for job interviews in the field, and I was able to learn this before I even started dropping resumes. Once I started recruiting in the fall, interviews went smoothly, and I felt that I had a solid idea of what was expected out of me and only had to do some review to feel prepared.
Where are you working after graduation? Why?
I wanted the experience of working in a big company and am thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the gaming industry, which a year ago I never imagined was even an option!
I chose to pursue an accelerated master’s degree before I attended Horizons, so I am not seeking full-time employment until next fall. However, I am currently working for a Philadelphia-based startup called NeuroFlow, who is using biometric data to measure stress for mental health and performance applications. I love their product and mission, and I feel that the company’s work will have a major impact on public health and high-stress performance assessments. This summer, I am interning with Electronic Arts. I wanted the experience of working in a big company and am thrilled to have the opportunity to work in the gaming industry, which a year ago I never imagined was even an option!
What are you the most excited about over the next few years?
I can’t wait to see what hits the market in these upcoming years, as well as which product I can claim responsibility in creating.
I am most excited to see where these next few years will take me. Horizons has opened up the tech world to me, and it’s an incredible time to be diving in. Technology is moving fast, and there is an enormous amount of innovation across industries. I can’t wait to see what hits the market in these upcoming years, as well as which product I can claim responsibility in creating.