Insight: Xindi Zhang the 2015 Potentia Scholar
Posted on 28 October 2015
Last month Xindi Zhang was chosen as the 2016 Potentia Scholar. Xindi is an inspiring and driven individual and her story is one that needs to be shared. Below you will gain an insight into what led her to study Computer Science as well as her thoughts.
You have studied several things and now have landed upon computer science. What inspired or drew you towards it and what have you learnt during the process?
It took a bit of trial and error. I tried out a few different degrees until I found the right fit for me which ended up being a conjoint degree in Commerce and Science. I was lucky to have a role model in my mother, who studied Computer Science and now works in the technology sector. She is the reason I was motivated to try Computer Science.
Along the way, I have realised that it is not the content you learn in class but the skills you pick up along the way that stay with you. Interestingly, those skills have proved to be very transferable. For example, the ability to think through a problem logically and seek a creative solution is equally applicable to Economics as it is to Computer Science.
What have been your most rewarding achievements to date?
There have been two formative experiences that have shaped the way I think about social impact. The first was volunteering as a piano teacher for the Heart of the City Program Montreal, which offers free piano lessons to at-risk youth. It helped me discover a passion for teaching and it was incredible to see how piano could be used to engage children and change educational outcomes.
Another highlight of my time at university has been Make a Difference with Economics, which is a student-led organisation that applies economics to real world problems and realise its potential to create social change. I joined in 2014 and enjoy the process of bringing ideas to life. It is rewarding to see a direct link between the work we put in and the impact we have on others.
How do you believe we can get more girls to study Computer Science?
I think there will be a tipping point where it becomes common for females and other underrepresented groups to study computer science and this creates a virtuous cycle as one generation acts as role models for the next. It is promising to see so many organisations invest in this vision of a diverse technical workforce. In my opinion, early exposure to coding and changing the perception of Computer Science could help. Coding can seem daunting and boring but in reality, there is a creative and collaborative side that would particularly appeal to girls.
How can the IT industry or University better assimilate graduates into work?
It is important to give students the freedom to pursue self-motivated, unstructured projects at University that reflect the real world work environment. Another way to bridge the gap between the IT industry and University could be to reward credits for work experience.
What can help students get jobs once they’ve graduated in Computer Science?
Getting work experience alongside university studies is a good way to prove yourself. In particular, internships are an awesome way to test different career paths. Programmes such as Summer of Tech and Microsoft Student Accelerator have helped my friends find pathways into the industry.
What do you want to do once you graduate from Auckland University?
I want to keep learning! Whether that is through industry experience or postgraduate studies.
What type of company would you like to work at?
As a graduate, I want to work for a company with a lot of training and development opportunities. Working alongside experienced professionals that are willing to mentor me would be a huge drawcard. Ultimately, I would like a career that gives me ownership and purpose.
What is something that you want to achieve in the next 5 years?
I want to get overseas experience through postgraduate studies abroad or working in another country to gain a new perspective on how countries approach technology and innovation.