Meet ZG Yan, XBox Design Engineer at Microsoft®
I’m ZG Yan, I am a silicon design engineer at Microsoft working in Mountain View. A silicon design engineer is someone who works specifically with hardware as defined by the silicon. Will come any part of the process of making a chip or a system. And usually that goes into anything that could be used by – specifically for me, by consumer electronics, by the general populace. So for example, at Microsoft I’m working on the Xbox. And within that division I’m working on the Connect. And within that I’m working on a specific camera chip that shoots out lasers and grabs back the image and then you can process the entire room or wherever you have the Connect.
When I applied for college I decided to go back toward math and science. It was something that I realized it wasn’t too good at but something I was very interested in. Throughout my classes I found what I really enjoyed which is working on hardware. And from there I found that I really wanted to be part of a team that would design products that would go to affect millions of lives. So I’d be able to walk into somebody’s home or talk to anybody and point to something they own and say, I had a part in that, and that to me is really special.
When I got in college my freshman year I also wanted to apply for internships but it’s really difficult when you don’t have experience. When you start – when you just start your freshman year you are already applying in the fall and the spring and at that time you barely took a couple of classes that are related to your major. Most likely you are doing cores. And so it’s kind of difficult to get that technical experience that would fit in for a technical internship.
So what I did was I applied for research positions with professors who are always willing to take students. They love having enthusiastic students. You may not have much experience but they will teach you and take you along the way. And that was a great experience for me. Basically as a stepping stone to my sophomore year when I applied again, the company saw that I had some experience, they saw that I took more classes and so I was able to land an internship at Texas Instruments doing – originally I was hired for software but it ended up being a hardware position. And I found that I really loved doing hardware.
Each internship is like a stepping stone to the next one. And after I finished my internship at Texas Instruments I went in my junior year and applied in the fall career fair for an internship at Microsoft. And the experience at TI really put me toward the top of the list for them. When I interviewed they were really curious about my previous experience at TI. They asked me a lot of questions about it. And it really helped that I had that experience because it showed that I was able to have an internship, I was able to do well at that job, I had a return offer, and more importantly, that I was able to get an internship at another tech company which means you passed the interview process already and that you show that you are a qualified candidate.
And so I got the internship at Microsoft working on the Connect team and the experience was way greater than anything I learned in classes or school. It was just applicable. You learn a lot of theory in school and once you start working you actually apply those theories. And so you get a much better understanding of anything you learn in class once you actually have to apply them and do things hands-on. And so at the end of that summer of my internship at Microsoft they offered me a return offer. So when I started my senior year I had an offer already that I accepted. And so it was just a matter of finishing up.
The best piece of advice I’d have for young adults is to expand your horizons. Find out what you really like to do. Test out all these subjects. Like when I was growing up I was in the math and science program and then I tried the humanities program. I picked one that I really loved. And I wasn’t the best at it and I didn’t excel at it but I really liked it. And so when you pick something that you are really passionate about, you naturally will put in more effort. You would put in a lot more time to make sure that you do better. Mainly because you are just so interested in it. And that really shines through to other people. When you’re talking to others, when you’re interviewing with others, people get that sense that this is something you are truly passionate about. And it goes a lot further than just being able to do well at it. Secondly, I would definitely recommend to network. Always network. The people you know will definitely come and help you out a lot later on in life. Whether you are looking for a job, whether you’re looking to change a job or whether you just finished school and you are looking for a job at the very beginning. Just the people you know will go a long ways toward your career.