Alumni profile - Winsome Yuen
Former intern for, and now full-time Software Engineer at, Spotify - "By the time graduation was round the corner I had already contributed in improving the premium pages user interface to increase conversion rate and I was working on the worldwide free 3-month trial campaign across all of Spotify Premium plans."
What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now? At Queen Mary I studied a bachelor’s in computer science, and I am now working as a Software Engineer at Spotify (specifically frontend development).
Why did you choose to study Computer Science at Queen Mary? What sparked your interest in Computer Science? I chose to study Computer Science at Queen Mary because the course had a wide range of modules from big data to interaction design, so you have many options to go down different tech career routes after graduating. I have always been fascinated by technology since I was young and I started doing some basic coding when I was in secondary school. Besides computing I enjoy art and I did a workshop in sixth form where I found out that you can create multimedia art pieces using code! I was eager to learn more and decided I wanted to do a Computer Science course at university.
Can you describe your journey from graduation to your current job as an Associate Software Engineer at Spotify? Before graduating I was already interning at Spotify as a Developer for the summer. By the time graduation was round the corner I had already contributed in improving the premium pages user interface to increase conversion rate and I was working on the worldwide free 3-month trial campaign across all of Spotify Premium plans. A few weeks after graduating and before my internship had ended, Spotify had already confirmed that I would be working full time as a software engineer without having to go through the interview process again (phew!).
How did you find the interview process the first-time round? What did it involve? The first step was to submit my CV and then I did 3 short online tests: numerical, logic and verbal reasoning. Afterwards, they have two HR University Recruiters who look through all the applications and select people to attend a one hour onsite. The recruiters really do properly look through your CV because originally I applied for a different tech role, but they looked at the experience/skills on my CV and recommended that I applied to an additional role. The onsite is split into half cultural fit and half whiteboard code exercise. The onsite was really insightful as the people conducting the interview are either part of the team, or work closely with the team you will be on, so you can get some information on the product area you will work on. The interviewees want you to do well and they helped me through the coding exercise like a pairing exercise.
What is it like working for such a globally renowned company? How does it feel to be part of a company that is used frequently by such a large percentage of the world? It is amazing to see the work that I do go live and be seen by millions of people. I specifically work on campaigns, so it is always exciting to know before everyone what new products we are going to offer to people and brands we are working with.
Do you find it hard to keep quiet about new products before they are announced to the public? Yes, especially when people talk about how cool it would be if Spotify had X feature and it’s actually something that will be released soon!
Can you describe what a typical working day looks like for you? I get into work around 9:30am to do some admin work and grab some breakfast from the canteen before going to stand-up at 10am. At stand-up we discuss the work we have done the day before. For the rest of the morning it can be a mix of meetings and doing some of the tasks I need to do. I try to see if there’s anybody who wants to pair program as knowledge-sharing is very important at Spotify in order to grow as an engineer. At lunchtime I go down to the canteen with my squad and sometimes we play some board games if people have time. The afternoon is usually similar to the morning, but I leave a bit of time on the side to do some admin work. Usually I leave work around 5pm, unless there’s a team/product area/company event, which we have frequently. Some events we’ve had in the past include mini-golf, board games cafe, art gallery visits, cooking and wine tasting workshops. Spotify are really flexible and I get to work from home on some days.
From your LinkedIn profile, your experience states that you started at Spotify in an Intern role before progressing to your current, permanent role. How did you find your internship? Would you recommend internships to current students and recent graduates? The internship was a great experience to introduce me to how a tech company runs. I was given the same responsibility as a full-time employee and within my first week I was already working on code that was going to go into production as soon as I was done. Everyone on my team, plus the teams we work closely with, were really supportive in helping me to get up to speed with the infrastructure. Besides having a mentor, I had a team lead and an engineering manager I could talk to about any issues and who could help me with my development path.
I would definitely recommend internships because it gives you industry experience that challenges you to apply what you have learnt from university, in addition to learning new skills by solving real-world problems. It’s also a great networking opportunity to find out more about the industry and you may discover new roles that you never considered before.
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What’s unique about Queen Mary is that they are flexible on the topics that you want to work on for projects, which allows you to create something in the area of your interest or try out something new. Queen Mary ultimately allows you to have a say in your own education.
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development? There was a good balance of practical and theoretical modules, so by the end of my degree I was able to create a small portfolio of all my work over the last 3 years. My final year project allowed me to delve deeper into my interest with sonification with the support of an amazing supervisor and gave me something unique to talk about in interviews to show my passion for tech.
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options? Definitely do some research on the different career fields you can progress into once you graduate because there are so many different roles in the tech industry. Utilise all the career services at university and the opportunities available because they can help you build up the confidence in your skills, give feedback and ace those interviews!
What was so special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments? Besides graduation (obviously) my most memorable moment was being a teaching assistant at a secondary school for the Communicating and Teaching Computing module, which let me meet so many ambitious young students and a teacher that was really passionate about encouraging more girls into tech. This reminded me of why I wanted to pursue a career in tech.
Would you ever consider a career in teaching following this experience? I’m still early on in my career where I’m constantly learning, plus I love creating new products and working with different technology, so for now I can’t see myself teaching as a full-time job. Although, I love helping people start a career in tech so I volunteer sometimes on evenings and weekends at events aimed at young women and children teaching them to code.
Do you have a favourite spot on campus? If so, where is it and why? My favourite spot had to be the Students' Union, not specifically the building itself, but for the number of society events I have been to that was held there and for the different people I met at these events.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field? Inside my field: Grace Hopper - an American computer scientist and US Navy Admiral. It’s so inspiring to see a woman as one of the pioneers of computer programming who has made a big impact in the field that has allowed technology to be as advanced as it is today, in addition to being one of the few women in the Navy at that time in a male-dominated field!
Outside my field: William Hogarth – a committed supporter of the Foundling Hospital, which is a home for London Orphans. He raised public interest to help the hospital by donating paintings to get people to visit, in addition to encouraging his fellow artist friends to do the same. As mentioned above, I love helping people, especially kids who are trying to figure out what they want to do in the future, where something really simple like changing the background colour of a page using code excites them. This makes me feel happy to see them succeed. Hogarth’s selfless act to help children pushes me to do the same and encourages other software engineers to share their knowledge with others.