Grad’s liberal arts training at Earlham captivates new co-workers at Microsoft, Press | Earlham College
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Yuqian Zhang, left, is pictured with her father and sister in front of Microsoft's Shanghai, China, office.

2020 Grad’s liberal arts training at Earlham captivates new co-workers at Microsoft

June 16, 2020

Zhang 2 WEBFreshly graduated from Earlham, Yuqian Zhang landed a job at Microsoft in Shanghai, China. She has also caught the attention of her new coworkers. Her liberal arts background and choice of a music minor to go along with her computer science major was not exactly standard compared to her new colleagues. “Why music and computer science?” she’s asked.

“My answer is always, ‘I like them.’ It’s just that simple,” she said. 

Since starting on the job in April, Zhang has already been invited to perform at her company’s annual meeting and is deciding what instrument and music to share as part of the year-end event.  Her mentor even refers to as “teacher,” a playful nod to her knowledge and skills beyond the usual computer technology and software. 

“They have high expectations of me but they want to learn from me, too,” she said.

Zhang came to Earlham from Qinzhou, China, a southern city in the Guangxi Province where few students, she said, go abroad for undergraduate study. She had no musical background prior to college, but bonded with a trio of faculty members, including Forrest Tobey, professor of music, Chris Rogan, visiting assistant professor of music, and Lynnell Lewis, voice instructor. She can now play cello and piano and was a regular performer in the College’s concert choir. 

“Earlham built my music background,” Zhang said. And while music was a minor for her, she explained, she approached it like a major. “I started to take piano lessons right after I came to Earlham. Then I gradually developed my music skills by taking many other music courses like music theory, musicianship, music history, and voice lessons.” 

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Earlham’s personal attention and academic advising was essential in discovering a path that would maximize her career aspirations, she said. The liberal arts approach of the College also gave her an opportunity to cross academic boundaries and to broaden her learning. 

“In the end I chose my interest and passion, and Earlham helped me discover what that was,” she said. “In addition to all of my computer sciences, the English and humanities courses I have taken helped me work without linguistic obstacles in this international environment we live in,” Zhang said.  

She was also able to get hands-on, career-focused experience, benefiting from an Earlham-supported internship at Siemens Ltd.’s China branch during her junior year. At Siemens she gained valuable experience as a software developer. On campus, she also worked as a system administrator for Earlham’s computer science department. 

“The hands-on experience was very valuable,” she said. “The debugging and troubleshooting skills I developed helped me a lot for this new position at Microsoft.”

However it wasn’t just one thing, she reflected, that gave her a great start in Shanghai.

“My unique background didn’t directly help me get this job, but everything I learned at Earlham has affected me in a way to get this opportunity,” Zhang said. “It has also offered me a surprise in life.” 

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