inspiration · women who reign

Women Who Reign: Julia Wu

“Courage is…when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” -To Kill a Mockingbird
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Tell us about yourself along with a fun fact!
I’m a junior from Sao Paulo, Brazil studying Computer Science and Economics at Brown University. I started Brown’s Lean In Chapter along with a classmate, and had the opportunity to share some of the progress we’ve made with the founder of Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg. I am also a computer science teaching assistant at Brown while serving as the president of Brown Women in Business. I am very curious about data science and entrepreneurship so I spend a lot of time learning about them. A fun fact is that last year I worked with a team to make a web application to display Brown’s daily events with free food.
leanin

What # would define your life journey?
#cantstop

Favorite website / app:
MeituPic – it’s the best photo-editing app I’ve tried. The filters are incredible and the mobile application allows you to do a lot – apply filters, add text on pictures, make collages and more.

Someone who inspires you and knowledge they have imparted (if any):
Elon Musk. He’s the kind of person who will tear up when talking about his passion, and has a work ethic that is borderline (if not definitely) insane. When asked about Tesla in an interview, he mentioned that he expected it to fail when it first started. When the interviewer asked why he did it, Musk said that “if something is important enough, you should try even if the probable outcome is failure.” It reminds me of my favorite quote from a timeless book, To Kill a Mockingbird: “Courage is…when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

Song that makes you want to dance:
Firestone by Kygo feat. Conrad Sewell
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Technical challenge you’ve faced and how you overcame it:
It was the summer after my sophomore year in college, and I had just gathered two years of programming experience. At school, I was used to computer science material related to object-oriented programming, algorithms, some systems, and data science. Little did I know that during the internship after my second year, I would be working on engineering system tools. Much as I had trouble picturing myself as a back-end software engineer, I was thrilled to give it a shot. I was solving a problem for hundreds of engineers who desired a more robust and scalable version control experience at Microsoft. In other words, I was tasked with addressing the internal tool, Source Depot’s limits by introducing a connection with Git. But before this internship, I had only used Git occasionally and as an amateur for my side projects outside of class. Two weeks before the start of my job, I was also told about languages like Perl and C#, none of which I had prior experience with.

During my first meeting with my manager, I was told that I would be working on a project that could have a significant impact on the daily work done by many engineers. One caveat, however, was that neither my manager nor my mentor had much experience with Git as a version control tool—their platform was Source Depot, an internal system that has been around for several years. Interestingly, the initiative to transition was proposed and demanded by multiple teams within the organization.

As the weeks of my internship went by, I lived by Perl’s motto, “there’s more than one way to do it.” More than one way to piece the two systems together, more than one way to run in-depth tests, and more than one way—probably a better and more efficient way—to parse user input or loop through all the files in a folder. Since my project was more open-ended because it was the first of its kind, I wanted to make sure that my work was aligned with my team’s vision. I decided to send my mentor daily check-in e-mails before he arrived at work, and tried to move forward and give him updates every single day. I strived to gradually require less handholding, ask better questions, and tackle a different challenge through code every day.

A remarkable step out of my comfort zone was submitting code for review by seasoned engineers. My very first draft probably received over a hundred critiques. I came in to the office over the weekends to tackle them, implement more code, and submit updated drafts for further polishing. Every time I checked in my updates into the system, I was honored yet anxious—as soon as I deployed my code, all the engineers in the group had access to it. But if there was a forgotten edge case, for example, my tool could interrupt the workflow of several other engineers. My internship was a strong sense of purpose combined with an unsettling level of responsibility, which is probably why I was resolute to build the best tool I could. However, I did make mistakes and mess up. Several times, I had to take responsibility and build the ability to avoid repeating those errors. Because this was a large software engineering project that spanned the course of the summer, there were several days where I checked my e-mail constantly after leaving work.

Towards end of my internship, I set up a mechanism to collect live performance data from engineers who used my tool, and presented my project individually in front of multiple managers. My work is currently being continued by full-time engineers. This was a remarkable experience for many reasons, but the most significant one is that I learned the pleasure of using innovation to build tools for others—and some of my users can be incredibly smart people whom I look up to. I recognized my own thirst for making a strong impact in technology while stepping out of my comfort zone to acquire and hone technical skills. I can’t wait to stay resilient in tackling unprecedented challenges.
ghc2015

Ideal Job:
Before I became intrigued by computer science, I was compelled by global issues and international relations. In high school, I was involved in Model UN as an engaged delegate, Chair and Secretary General. I want to find solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues—address climate change through renewable energy, improve and disseminate quality education, empower women and girls, or make healthcare more accessible. After I was introduced to computer science, I was able to connect the dots between what always fueled me and the toolkit that is technology. Having witnessed rowdy protesters storm the streets of Brazil and factory workers in China take naps on bathroom floors, I am determined to build far-reaching innovations to address big problems.

What knowledge would you impart to women in order for them to REIGN their lives?
Don’t settle. Don’t settle for circumstances you don’t think are great (and then complain), and don’t settle into your own comfort zone. Don’t be scared of unknown situations and don’t run away from what you know is scary but could be good for you. In addition to dedicating yourself to developing your career, remember to step out and listen to the stories of people around you. Be kind to everyone, be curious and always ask questions.
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