Advice from the Wise: Kathy Pham
In 2007, Kathy Pham earned her bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from Georgia Tech, and in 2009, she earned a master’s in Human-Computer Interaction from Georgia Tech-Lorraine (GTL) and Superlec. Read on to learn more about Pham’s experiences and her advice to graduate students starting their careers.
What is your current job title, and where do you work?
I most recently resigned from my role as a program manager for Google Search to serve full time at the new U.S. Digital Service as the senior health data advisor to the U.S. chief data scientist. I have worked in many roles including associate product manager, software engineer, software consultant, and data scientist.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school? Why Georgia Tech?
I didn’t decide to go to graduate school until just one month before graduation, when the GTL and Supelec opportunity was presented to me. I was offered a stipend to go to GTL in Metz, France. I got to go live in France, continue studying something I love, and tell my parents I was doing something useful with my life.
What is one thing you wish you’d known about graduate school that you weren’t aware of early on?
Going to graduate school outside of the country is a great idea! It’s a great time to pursue your dream program or go live in a different country.
What role did your graduate advisor/mentor play in shaping your career?
James Foley, Professor, College of Computing, was my advisor. Since my senior year as an undergraduate, both he and his wife, Marylou Foley, have been great mentors. They introduced me to others who would later help me with my career.
Why would you recommend that people spend the time and money to pursue a graduate degree?
I would actually recommend finding a program that will fund you to get your graduate degree, master’s, or doctorate. Funding comes from sources like grants, stipends, and teaching assistant positions. Also, I think people should go for a graduate degree if it is in an area of study they really want to pursue. If the program or field of study doesn’t make them feel this way, I wouldn’t recommend spending the time and money on doing this.
Did you participate in the co‐op program? How was your experience?
Yes! I co‐oped at the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI). I had a great experience with great mentors and peers. GTRI allowed me to see what it was like to work for a government contractor. I learned C# (programming language) and got to work on campus, and take a class at the same time. But I felt that the GTRI work environment was not the best fit for my interests and passion, so I explored other opportunities. Eventually I got an internship with Google as an associate product manager, and the study abroad program in Barcelona, Spain. Instead of co-oping for all four terms, I interned and studied abroad.
How has earning a graduate degree assisted you in your career?
The most valuable part to me about graduate school was the GTL program. I lived in France, became acclimated to the culture, traveled often, and worked with international students from around the world. When I work with teams from different countries around the globe, I am always cognizant of time zones and cultural differences. Across the world, we run meetings differently, answer the phone differently, have different work schedules, and take breaks differently. My experience with GTL prepared me for making it a norm in my life to consider each individual and each culture as I interact with people from around the world.
What three pieces of advice do you have for students searching for a job?
• Be sincere. Learn what interests you the most, and pursue opportunities that would allow you to work in that area.
• Shake off rejection. It happens all of the time. There are plenty of opportunities out there.
• Be audacious. Reach out to that senior executive whose talk inspired you at a conference. You never know where that will go.
What is your number one interviewing tip?
Research and fully understand the company you’re interviewing with. Know the major cause of its loss in productivity, its greatest assets, and give some thought to how it should grow.
How important is networking to a career? Please share two to three tips for students.
Networking is critical. I think the best kind of networking is the organic, natural kind of networking. Develop great relationships by doing great work with team members, professors, teaching assistants, peers, and colleagues. One day, these people may be at the company you really want to join or may be starting a new company — and they may well remember that you were their rockstar team member!