Yuan Zhang, second year Computer Science student at Ulster University shares how returning to university to study tech changed his life
Chair at the UU Computing Society, AWS Cloud Captain, Google DSC Lead, Partnership Lead at NIDC, Committee Member at BCS Northern Ireland, Student Ambassador at Liberty IT and Organiser at SISTEM – Yuan Zhang is not your average university student!
After moving to Northern Ireland from China two years ago and returning to university to pursue his passion for computing, Yuan has made a lasting impression on the local tech sector and continues to reach new heights. Today, he shares with VANRATH his unique journey into the industry and how drive and determination can set you up for success.
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You recently spoke at the Northern Ireland Digital Awareness Week about how studying tech changed your life – can you tell me about your journey?
Before enrolling in Computer Science at Ulster University, I possessed no technical skills and even had difficulty using Microsoft Office. However, I've always been driven to learn about technology because it permeates every aspect of our lives. When I moved to Northern Ireland two years ago, I struggled to find a job.
One day, my husband suggested that I return to university to pursue a subject I was passionate about, which initiated my journey into the tech world. As I participated in the Northern Ireland Digital Awareness Week, I shared my story of how studying technology transformed my life. I was particularly impressed by the vast learning resources available and the welcoming nature of the local tech community in Northern Ireland.
Did you always you want to study and pursue a career in tech?
I didn't always know that this is what I wanted to do. In fact, I studied and completed a degree in Economics before, but I kept noticing how tech was everywhere in our lives and it got me really curious. The turning point for me was watching my husband work on his cool side projects - that got me thinking, and I decided to give Computer Science a shot at Ulster University. Once I started, I found out just how amazing and interesting technology can be, and I knew I wanted to be part of this constantly changing field.
What is it like studying Computer Science at Ulster University?
Studying Computer Science at Ulster University has been incredibly rewarding. The comprehensive modules offer a solid foundation for exploration in my free time and I am continually impressed by the enthusiasm and expertise of my lecturers and professors. However, the university experience extends far beyond attending lectures and taking exams. I joined the UU Computing Society in my first year, and I'm grateful to have made many friends who share my passion for technology. Being a part of the UU Computing Society has not only enriched my understanding of technology but also contributed to my personal growth.
Can you tell me a bit about your scholarship with Liberty IT and how this has helped you?
I'm really lucky to have gotten a scholarship from Liberty IT, it's been super helpful for me in many ways. Not only did it help me out financially, but it also gave me some awesome work experience. After my first year, I did a summer internship, where I got to see how teams work together and picked up a lot of knowledge from the folks at Liberty IT.
What was your reaction to making the Dean’s List for Outstanding Academic Achievement for the 2021/22 academic year at Ulster University?
I was honoured to be included on the Dean’s List which recognises the dedication and hard work students invest in their academic pursuits. In addition to this accomplishment, I have actively participated in various communities and conferences, as I have gained valuable insights from the tech communities in Northern Ireland and feel compelled to contribute.
Congrats on being 1 of 50 AWS Cloud Club Captains! How did you feel about this news?
Thank you! It was Matt Coulter who introduced me to the AWS Cloud Club Program during a conversation, and after researching it, I knew I had to apply. This opportunity would help me promote cloud education and foster collaboration within our community. I was thrilled to be selected as 1 of the 50 AWS Cloud Club Captains and I can't wait to work with Caleb Wilson on organising upcoming events. Stay tuned with us on Meetup for more information!
What’s one project you are particularly proud of?
I think it would be my first ever project which was building the Ulster University Computing Society website with React in my first year. It’s not anything fancy or unique, but it's the first time I've ventured out of my comfort zone to learn new skills to complete a project. I've done smaller projects from university labs and online courses before, but they didn't feel as personal since they weren't my own ideas.
What advice would you give to other students and young people considering a career in tech?
I have a few pieces of advice that I would give, such as:
· Embrace a growth mindset and stay open to learning
· Seek mentorship from experienced professionals
· Learn foundational skills in computer science and programming first
· Work on hands-on projects to develop practical skills
· Stay updated on industry trends and emerging technologies
· Network with peers to share experiences and create opportunities
· Be adaptable and open-minded in a dynamic industry
· Strengthen soft skills, like communication and problem-solving
· Follow your passion to stay motivated and overcome challenges
What kind of opportunities are there out there for those wanting to get involved in the industry?
There are numerous opportunities available for individuals to get involved in various activities and communities. Some of these opportunities include:
· Meetups: Engage with like-minded individuals through local meetup groups such as PyBelfast, BelfastJS, AI NI, Farset Labs, BelfAWSt, and InfoSec NI etc. Explore your interests and attend meetups relevant to your passions
· Hackathons: Participate in hackathons, which are time-limited events where developers, designers, and other professionals collaborate to create innovative solutions to specific challenges. Events like Hacktoberfest, HackTheHub, and HKD etc. offer valuable opportunities for learning and networking
· Conferences: Attend conferences such as NI Dev Conf, Bside Belfast, and SISTEM etc. to gain knowledge and insights into various fields. Conferences typically feature numerous talks and presentations, allowing you to discover new areas of interest and connect with professionals in your chosen field.
In addition to these opportunities, consider volunteering, joining clubs or organizations related to your interests, and engaging in online forums or communities. There are countless ways to get involved, so explore different avenues to find what resonates with you.
Lastly, can you share your thoughts on the importance of diversity in the local tech space?
I believe that diversity in the tech industry is crucial for fostering innovation, creativity, and better decision-making. A diverse team can bring a variety of perspectives that lead to improved problem-solving and a more inclusive work environment. As a Chinese gay man in the tech industry, it is important to feel valued and accepted for who you are, just as it is for any other individual from various backgrounds or cultures.
Promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) in the tech industry not only benefits the industry itself but also helps create a more diverse and inclusive society. By fostering an inclusive culture, we can work together to break down barriers and stereotypes that may have hindered progress in the past.
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