As an artist, computer science major and senior Jiayi "JW" Lee has found an additional way to express her creativity. Through coding, designing, and programming, which is now her favorite way to channel her artistic energy, Lee is fascinated by being able to use these mediums to do things no one has done before.

“In my research project, I design and implement visualizations for data that has never been visualized before,” said Lee. “I transform uninterpreted data into meaningful information that can benefit people and allow others projects to build onto.”

As a member of the Computer Systems Genome Project, Lee and a team of Virginia Tech students and faculty members are on a mission to conduct the first scientific effort to catalog the lineage of computer system performance over time. “I know this visualization is fresh, unique, and, hopefully, impactful because of the data it’s using,” Lee said. 

The group has spent more than a year scraping and cleaning data and merge them into one database. “Visualization is really the second step, but that's the fun part where people are most interested in and what I am more passionate about,” she said.

Born in Shanghai, China, Lee moved with her family at the age of 12 to Vienna, Virginia. She heard about Virginia Tech’s reputable engineering program; specifically drawn to the university’s emphasis on the opportunity for students to problem-solve. Being in Virginia, she also witnessed a network of alumni and their affinity for the university and wanted to be a part of it.

After graduating this December, Lee will officially become a member of the Virginia Tech alumni network, joining other Hokies working at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. In March, she will start work as a full-time software engineer for the Microsoft Cloud + AI Team. 

Lee credits the variety of opportunities to grow as a student and preparing her for this next chapter at Microsoft. As a freshman, Lee discovered her first computer science class taught by Margaret Ellis, assistant professor of practice in computer science. That connection proved to be a pivotal experience as Ellis would remain a guiding mentor and strong female role model.

For six semesters, Lee has served as a teaching assistant for Ellis for more than 1,800 students between two courses: Software Design and Data Structures and Introduction to Problem Solving. This afforded her the opportunity to help design a mandatory computer science course taken by 600 students every year. 

Lee also had the special opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant for Tech Girls, an international summer exchange program designed to empower and inspire young women from the United States, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa to pursue careers in science and technology. 

The centerpiece of the program is a weeklong technology camp at Virginia Tech, including 45+ hours of hands-on instruction. “I was able to help out talented girls around the world on coding and making friends,” said Lee. “It was a great cultural exchange throughout the experience, as I shared my personal experience as a computer science major and learned about the stories behind the girls participating in the program."

Jiayi "JW" Lee  is excited to take her collective Virginia Tech experiences to Microsoft in March 2020, where she will serve as a software engineer for the Microsoft Cloud + AI Team. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.
Jiayi "JW" Lee is excited to take her collective Virginia Tech experiences to Microsoft in March 2020, where she will serve as a software engineer for the Microsoft Cloud + AI Team. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

During her junior year, she also participated in memorable team project, including the Human Computer Interactive team project and the Virginia Tech Blockchain Challenge, a semester-long blockchain application development competition. “This one-of-a-kind experience prepared me as a full-time software engineer because it gave me a headstart on effective teamwork and project management,” Lee said. All of these progressive experiences set the stage for her to focus on her research efforts during her senior year.

“As you can see, every year I try to step out of comfort zone and just do a little more than last year and just do something that's a little different,” said Lee. “I appreciate all the opportunities that Virginia Tech and the Department of Computer Science have offered me. These unique, precious experiences are what made me who I am today.”

— Written by Jenise Jacques