Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The intern returns to Google

By Clark Curtis

Looking at this student’s storied history it certainly isn’t a surprise that Yi Shen is now a full-time employee with Internet giant Google at its U.S. headquarters in Mountain View, California.  Yi Shen graduated from the College of Computing and Informatics (CCI) in June, 2013, with a Ph.D. in Computer Science, with a focus area of Computer Vision and Machine Learning.  But the story begins a few years before that.

Shen, attended Fudan University in Shanghai, China.  While there he competed on a team which finished 6th in the 2005 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International College Programming Contest after winning the regional finals in Dhaka, China.  4,109 teams, representing 1,582 universities from 71 countries, participated in the international competition.  Sponsored by IBM, the contest fosters creativity, teamwork, and innovation in building new software programs, and enables students to test their ability to perform under pressure. It is the oldest, largest, and most prestigious programming contest in the world.  He also competed in the Google Code Jam finals in China and was ranked one of the top 40 coders in the competition.  He graduated in 2008 ranked 9th in overall GPA and first his last two years.

After graduation Jianping Fan, Ph.D., a Professor in the Department of Computer Science, and the University of North Carolina-Fudan Senior Fellow, representing both CCI and the entire UNC system, recruited Shen.  At the same time he also received a job offer from the president of Google China.  However, Shen wanted to continue his education and receive his Ph.D. degree.

“I had a decision to make,” said Shen.  “Did I want to be just an average software engineer, or continue my education and do something very innovative?  I obviously chose the latter and I’m very happy I did.”

In 2009 Shen began his Ph.D. degree at CCI.   As a Ph.D. student Shen had approximately 15 published papers.  In 2011 he was a best paper finalist at an international conference on instrumentation, measurement, circuits, and systems.

In the summer of 2012, with the help of his advisor Dr. Fan, he was able to receive an internship with Google at its national headquarters in Mountain View, California. He worked on the Search by Image technology.  At the end of the three-month internship, he applied for a full-time position and soon received an offer letter signed by Google CEO, Larry Page.

“During my internship I had the opportunity to work directly with the Search by Image corps team,” said Shen.  “As a full-time employee I continue to work with that group.  As for the internship itself it was wonderful.  It is such a great working environment, there’s not a lot of stress, everyone was very kind, and I really enjoyed the food there.”

Shen will help develop the algorithms that are the brains of the search engine.  According to Google, “The technology behind Search by Image analyzes your image to find its most distinctive points, lines, and textures and creates a mathematical model. We match that model against billions of images in our index, and page analysis helps us derive a best guess text description of your image.”

Simply put, Search by Image allows users to find out information about a specific image without having to type in keywords.  It’s as simple as a drag and drop or an upload from your personal computer.

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Clark Curtis is director of communications for the College of Computing & Informatics

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