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Computer science alumna lands dream job at Google

Alumna Jieun Chon visited campus in February 2020  to speak to students about technical interviewing at Google. She loves giving back to students and Virginia Tech through mentoring and being an advocate for following your dreams. Photos by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.
Alumna Jieun Chon visited campus in February 2020 to speak to students about technical interviewing at Google. She loves giving back to students and Virginia Tech through mentoring and being an advocate for following your dreams. Photos by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech alumna Jieun Chon recalls the day vividly when her phone started buzzing with an American phone number displayed on the screen surrounded by family and bystanders in her hometown of JeonJu, South Korea.

She screamed with joy as she knew it could only be one thing: a full-time offer from Google. The cheering section was in full effect. Her parents would not take off their Google shirts for weeks after.

Since July 2019, Chon has served as a full-time software engineer at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California. As a dual graduate in computer science ('16, M.S. '19), Chon's journey through college was far from easy. 

Jieun Chon

“I was the last ranked person in my class in Korea, like 300 out of 300. Now I’m at a dream company that I never thought I would be. So for me, I think the most important thing is that you can do now what you didn’t do well in the past,” said Chon. 

Her brother made the trip from Korea to the United States first to attend Virginia Tech, where he convinced his sister to transfer from a local community college to the university. “I originally came to America to learn English because I knew little English, like ordering [food] was hard if not impossible,” said Chon. 

Chon realized her English as a second language classes left some room for error in communicating with professors and peers. “I couldn’t submit homework because I didn’t know there was any. I couldn’t understand the assignments. I switched from architecture to computer science soon after transferring to Virginia Tech because it wasn’t what I enjoyed. I have always liked working with computers since I was a little girl, but I failed my first computer science class twice and barely passed the third time.”

Jieun Chon
Jieun Chon

“I recall exchanging emails with her, explaining that she could succeed if she changed a few things about how she approached her programming,” said Cliff Shaffer, professor of computer science in the College of Engineering. His gudiance would prove invaluable for the next chapter she would pursue.

Chon applied to hundreds of jobs through the CS|Source career fair and was rejected by most. Feeling defeated, she returned to Korea less than a month before her visa expired. "I remember I cried everyday, because I had to return to Korea with no job, after spending my parent's money." One day in late June, she reached out the Shaffer asking if he would write a recommendation letter for graduate school.

Chon recalls being met with unexpected words.

"What would you do if you had the option to start your masters this August?" asked Shaffer.

She returned to Virginia Tech more determined than ever. She also stayed extremely active as a graduate teaching assistant, a member of multiple clubs and societies, including founder of Korean Computer Scientists and president of the Korean Group Basketball Club.

Chon received multiple scholarships and awards while at Virginia Tech, including the Korean-American Scientists and Engineers KUSCO Scholarship. This scholarship is awarded to graduate students in the United States who show excellence in academics as well as in service to their community. 

She also was the recipient of a scholarship through the Department of Computer Science CS|Source career fair. Annual dues from the participating companies support scholarships, student activities, and other student events.

While in graduate school at Virginia Tech, Chon mentored more than 10 undergraduate students. She continues her mentorship today, advising around seven Virginia Tech foreign exchange students in similar positions she once held. 

As a graduate student in fall 2018, she earned the Aspire! Award for Curiosity conferred by Student Affairs for exemplifying the aspirations for student learning: commit to unwavering curiosity, pursue self-understanding and integrity, practice civility, embrace Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) as a way of life, and prepare for a life of courageous leadership.

“Before me and me after attending Virginia Tech are completely different. Thank you, thank you Virginia Tech and all Hokies,” said Chon.

— Written by Taylor Casarotti, a former intern for the Department of Computer Science