The revolution, from mse to sdet …


I've decided to write something about my little "history", that is, how I converted from a material scientist and engineer (MSE) to software development engineer in test (SDET) at microsoft. (A big jump, isn't it? :))

Well, I came to the U.S. in the year of 2001, with a master's degree in Textile Engineering. Are you familiar with the process of spinning fibers into yarns and then weaving them into patterned fabrics? That's all what I've learned as a textile engineering major. I even know how to do hand-weaving using an old-fashioned loom!

Since I joined the School of Textiles and Polymers at Clemson University (SC) in August, 2001, I worked on really cool stuff - Nephila Clavipes spiders!!! What we did was biomimetic engineering of the spider silk, to make it into "super-strong" fibers that may be used in bullet-proof garments.

One year later, I transferred to Virginia Tech, beginning my ph.d. journey majoring in Macromolecular Science & Engineering. I transferred because my husband - then boyfriend was there (you got the idea...). My clemson advisor was a little sad about my leaving, as what he mentioned to people during several department seminars, I'd "abandoned" my spiders for LOVE!!! 🙁

At Virginia Tech, I got to know fuel cells, a type of energy device that was invented in the 1950's. Basically you flow hydrogen to one side and oxygen/air to the other side. With eletron-insulating but proton-conducting materials in the middle and heavy metal fine particles used as the catalysts, you get pure H2O (water) and electricity as the output! The environmental-friendly technique has been well known, but not being fully-commercialized yet. Two major drawbacks: cost and durability.

Long story short, I studied the durability of proton exchange membrane fuel cells as my ph.d. project. After publishing 3 papers in top-tier journals, I got my ph.d. in July of 2006. Then I moved to Seattle with my husband in September of 2006, after he accepted the job offer from Microsoft.

With all these preface, now comes the important part..., how did I get to work with computers at Microsoft?

I've been a women's rights advocate and observed that most of the software on the market are more keen/targeted to the men audience. Think about it this way, software is mostly designed, developped and tested by men, from operation system, to video games to music-playing devices, even commerical shopping websites. I sometimes find these software/websites hard to use, for example, I cannot always find things that I want immediately. The layout and grouping of functionalities are off the instincts of women. We want everything important on the surface, but in a very organized way. On the other hand, men like plumbing and digging deeper, through some sort of path, aha, you find what you want eventually... Also, women like pretty things. Can those icons be not so cold anymore, instead of having a swiss knife as the icon of Microsoft product studio, may we have a crossing lady bug?

Anyway, I started to become interested in programming languages, with clear intentions to be able to write women-oriented software. Although I had done engineering computations using Fortran and MATLAB before, I did not have much ideas about computer architecture, pointers, memory and such. During my spare time as a postoctoral research associate at University of Washington, Seattle, I learned data structure and C by watching online video tutorials. I then audited the 1st year freshmen programming class - introduction to computer programming II, which was taught in Java. I practiced my coding by solving the homework problems and building my own little applications such as basal body temperature (BBT) monitoring tool for women who are trying to get pregnant (yep, that's right).

About 1 year later, I feel that I am ready to move on to the software field! I don't think I would like to pursue an academic career anymore so I quitted my job at UW. Without a CS degree and industrial software experiences can be a little difficult at the beginning to land a cs job. I am so glad that I found something in between - I became a game tester for microsoft game studio (MGS). Speaking of games, I had a long history wrestling with "IT". I started playing FS console games as a middle school student, at the age of 15. I've tried lots of them, though my favorites were definitely Tetris and Super Contra. That was basically how I spent my summer and winter vacations off school...

Now MGS is developing games that need testers for. I've played a tons of games and know the fun of it. They interviewed and hired me as a contractor. The moment I walked into MGS studio at Redmond Town Center, I felt so good... Finally after 25 years of school, I no longer stay!!! Hooray! Three months later, I was converted to a full-time SDET working with Microsoft Silverlight and here I am!

That summarizes my revolutional process of MSE to SDET pretty well. Feel free to drop a line if you like. From now on, I probably won't say much about myself on this blog any more..., 🙂


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