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Students flock to alum’s talk, heed advice

Peng Zhuang speaking to lecture hall.

Peng Zhuang speaks to students during his presentation on employer Google in November 2013.

Peng Zhuang knows that students approaching graduation have many questions, and because he landed a job with Google, they are particularly interested in what he has to say. After a presentation representing his employer to MU Engineering students, several stayed to ask questions about seeking employment and how they, too, could work for the Internet giant.

Zhuang knows exactly what they’re going through. The computer science alumnus earned his master’s degree in 2007 and followed with his doctorate in 2010. That June, he began working for Google. He had been offered a position the previous fall and spent his final semester focusing and finishing his dissertation.

In his position as a software engineer for Google AdWords, Zhuang works with Google’s online advertising system that enables advertisers, or “users” as he calls them, to target specific Google searches. He said the job involves two main tasks.

“We build a platform where a user can come in and have complete control over their ads,” he said. They decide what keywords they want their ad to look for and which searches will then display their ads.”

These ads are displayed in different locations on the page, Zhuang said. If a person searches for an item of a specific brand on Google, ads targeted toward that person usually don’t include cameras from another brand. The results would likely be the same for another person making the same query.

The second task is analyzing the ads’ effectiveness and reporting that to the user. Zhuang analyzes the information collected on the quality of an ad, and he and his team present their findings to users.

A man speaks to students in a lecture hall.

Students listen to Peng Zhuang’s presentation on Google in November 2013. Zhuang spoke to students in computer science, his alma mater, and other departments who were invited to attend.

Zhaung’s visit to Mizzou in November is a recruiting event on behalf of Google. Avimanyou Vatsa, a computer science graduate student and current president of the MU Computer Science Graduate Student Council, reached out to the university’s liaison with Google to arrange a speaker visit and was connected to Zhuang.

“Google is seeing us as one of the top schools for computer science,” Zhuang said.

As a graduate student at MU, Zhaung was a founding member of the Computer Science Graduate Student Council, taking part in five Engineers’ Week Lab Day and Open House seminars, and a past president of the Friendship Association of Chinese Students and Scholars, helping to resurrect a then-defunct China Night. He also was a graduate teaching assistant and helped mentor visiting students for the department’s summer National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates (NSF REU).

His experience working for Professor Yi Shang proved invaluable. Zhuang’s work for Shang focused on wireless sensor networks and mobile computing and received the 2010 MU Donald K. Anderson Graduate Research Assistant Award, which is awarded to one GRA throughout the university each year. A fairly new development at the time, Zhuang said his foray into mobile computing developed more independently, and he soon began finding places outside the lab to apply his knowledge in the subject. He was on the team that won the RJI iPhone Student Competition in 2009 for a mobile real estate search app called NearBuy, and he developed an app for Newsy.

“His work has demonstrated his strong abilities in algorithm development. For example, he was the first student in the lab to apply statistical inference methods to sensor selection problems,” Shang said. “He is very quick in picking up new knowledge. When we started to apply the Probability Collective theory to distributed optimization and control problem, he was able to quickly understood the concept and algorithms and since then, has proposed several new methods for distributed faulty and malicious sensor data detection problem.”

“Two of the things I’m most grateful for are [Shang’s] emphasis on paper writing and presentations and that he taught me how to analyze a problem. There was a period in school when I was giving a lot of presentations,” Zhuang said. “That helped me later because at Google you’re always proposing new products to the heads of the company.”

Shang complimented Zhuang’s work ethic.

“He has always been one of the best,” Shang said. “He always worked very hard and is very innovative. He taught himself how to work on mobile programming.”