Junior Mayline (May) Zhong learned about the prestigious Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers Fellowship program after her friend and fellow computer science (CS) major, Ethan Perez, was selected last year. The highly competitive program places outstanding undergraduates with top Silicon Valley startups. On the strength of his great experience, she decided to apply.
The KPCB Fellows program is rated one of the top five internship programs by Vault.com. It’s also one of the most competitive; this year, the firm received nearly 2,500 applications from 200 universities and accepted only 56. Open to engineering and design students, the three-month paid internship not only places students with startup companies throughout Silicon Valley, it also provides fellows opportunities to network with each other, meet leaders in Silicon Valley’s startup culture and explore the San Francisco Bay area. Founded by KPCB, a leading venture capital firm that provided seed money for such companies as Amazon, Google, Nest, Twitter and Uber, the program has placed fellows with Airbnb, Pinterest, Coursera and others. Rice undergraduates have been among the select few fellows every year since the program’s inception in 2012.
Zhong will be spending the summer at Stripe, a software firm whose platform allows businesses to accept payments both online and via mobile apps. Stripe’s clients can use the company’s pre-built form, without having to create its own payment processing code or design. It offers organizations multiple options for processing payments, including a subscription engine for recurring charges, as well as providing tool to combat fraud The eyewear company Warby Parker and restaurant reservation system OpenTable are some of the firm’s clients, a list that also includes retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, meal delivery service Blue Apron and sportswear manufacturer Under Armour.
“I wanted to work with a smaller company, and I’d been interviewing with them on my own,” she said. “So, when I received the fellowship and they were also participating, it was a natural fit. I loved the enthusiasm I saw in the people who worked there, and when I spoke to people who’d interned there, I got a sense that people truly enjoyed the work they were doing, as well as the environment they were working in. They also have a really great chef there, which is an extra plus!"
The Bellaire native is the daughter of two doctors. While in high school, she expected to go into medicine like her mother(her father has a doctoral degree in chemistry) , but an AP computer science class changed her mind. She enrolled at Rice as a CS major and said the subject matter was a natural fit for her passion for logical thinking and her enjoyment of math.
“I really like seeing things come together from the idea stage to completion,” she said. “A class I really enjoyed was COMP 412, where we learned about designing compilers and even implemented some parts of a compiler ourselves. I love working with algorithms and optimization strategies, and being able to apply them in classes like COMP 412 was really exciting for me.”
Zhong doesn’t know yet what projects she’ll be working on with Stripe, but she’s looking forward to the KPCB Fellow experience and to meeting the other participants.
During her time at Rice, Zhong has been a member of the Rice Dance Team, although she dropped the activity this year to focus more on her studies and her involvement in the Computer Science Club and CSters, of which she is the external president. She’s helped plan events for the group’s members and next year will serve as internal president.
“Working with CSters is really rewarding,” she said of the group that provides support and mentorship for women majoring in computer science. “We strive to provide a welcoming environment for women in computer science at Rice, and this year, we raised enough funding to send every underclassman who wanted to go to the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference.”
The annual conference honors the pioneering legacy of Admiral Grace Murray Hopper, a Navy rear admiral who invented the first compiler for a computer programming language. It is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists and it celebrates the achievements of women in computing and provides opportunities for networking and mentoring.
Zhong said she’s looking forward to doing more with CSters when she returns to campus after her KPCB fellowship. “I’m excited to work with our incoming officer board, and I think we’ll be able to do a lot,” she said. “We are looking at initiating new programs that will encourage more women to get involved with STEM and computer science.”
But first, Silicon Valley.