Alumni Spotlight: Winnie Nguyen, Data Engineer

Recalling all of my interactions with Winnie Nguyen, she is one of the most pleasant individuals you will ever encounter. But, don’t be fooled by her sunny disposition—she is a beast! Her go-get-it mentality is evident in her extensive resumé/CV filled with campus involvement, volunteer work, presentations, work experience…must I go on? She’s the type of student that makes me reconsider what I am doing with my life.

I sat down with Winnie to catch up with her post-graduation, get a feel for her industry, and get feedback on how a student could make the most of their time at Earlham.



Post-Earlham Update

Winnie is currently working as a Data Engineer at Mastercard in the data and service department.

“It is like software engineering, but for data. We take the raw data from clients and build the structure for data visualization for their data dashboards. Our main task is to design the structure and workflow that will allow the data to become insight. [In my role] I have to think about what the customer wants from the raw data, and think about what the process would look like to make the raw data into what the customer wants to see. [I have to] find a way to connect the dots between the different categories in the data sets. The, we see how we can connect each [category]  and build a story for them. It’s interesting having to think about the main goal of the client. I have to understand their products to know how to view the metrics and how to help the client from their point of view. You have to practice critical thinking and also look at the data from different points of view.”

Impactful Classes

The new things I am learning are based on what Earlham taught me.

In interviews, you don’t just have technical interviews, but also behavioral interviews. [My time at Earlham] gave me the confidence to talk to people. I had a great experience at Earlham because I had a lot of support from my professors.

I learned teamwork and leadership skills. For example, my business classes really required a lot of teamwork and communication. Classroom discussions built up my confidence in sharing my ideas. I think that is a good skill to have. The way you stand out is by voicing your own ideas—we don’t disagree with others’ opinions, but we get to see them from another viewpoint.”

Winnie gave a specific shoutout to classes taught by Seth Powless and Becky Jestice for allowing students the room to speak up and share ideas rather than just lecturing. Winnie also credited her computer science courses for learning SQL and providing her with the foundational knowledge necessary in the tech field where things are always changing.

Translating On-campus Experiences to the Work Environment

In her job at Mastercard, Winnie finds herself volunteering for special projects much like she was involved in extra-curricular activities at Earlham. 

“At Mastercard, they ask for volunteers for events like the hackathons, we start new chapters for job professionals in Arlington. I started volunteering at Mastercard after only one month. You know me, right? I always loved [being involved] during my time at Earlham. From doing tech events, and small projects for classes, to working with Gene— I took those experiences with me to Mastercard to be active at work.”

Conferences Lead to Job Opportunities

“Earlham has scholarships for conferences, but many students don’t know about that. I was able to ask for up to $700 during my junior and senior years to participate in conferences such as Women in Tech. [Conferences] are such a great place to connect with employers, 100%. I got my first two full-time job offers from attending conferences. You can go through work sites to apply for jobs. But, it takes a lot more time than if you register for a conference, submit your resume, then interview during the conference.”

If you had it to do all over again, is there anything that you would do differently?

“I would go to most sporting events such as basketball games and baseball games. I just started doing that during my last year. It was a lot of fun and I would have had a better opportunity to talk to more people because sports is a topic that many people know about. 

The second thing is I would talk more with professors.” 

What did you do during COVID?

The global shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic affected all in a way that it was hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel. I asked Winnie how she handled what was a beyond difficult time. 

“I chose to stay here, and not go back to my hometown in Vietnam. The things that kept me up were the goals I set for myself. I wanted to land an internship and in the future, I  wanted to land a full-time job after graduating. So, I focused on the goal and worked toward it every single day. Being consistent kept me up. 

I also love taking photos. So, in April of 2020 we had the 10,000 Steps Into Spring. I joined that and walked around the campus every single day, and after 10,000 steps I took a lot of pictures of our campus and it inspired me a lot. I did not have many friends around me during COVID, but I could still walk around campus.”

What else should current students learn to succeed in Data Engineering?

“It depends on the company. But, of course, you need to know SQL. You need to know Python. In my opinion, when you work on a real project in the company, you learn a lot more. So, if you are a student and you don’t have a project, practice on the internet. Find some data projects or data questions and practice every day.”

What are some challenges that come with a career in Data Engineering that you have faced so far?

“The skills needed for industry projects are far different from the skills needed for school projects. School projects cover base knowledge. But, when you apply for real-time work, you need to learn a new skill every single day. That is the challenge, but it is also the opportunity. Every task and every challenge is different. You need to have the willingness to learn new things. So, it’s not really a challenge, but as I said, it’s an opportunity. Some people think it is really hard for them to adapt to new knowledge and new skills every single day, but if you enjoy the job and you are curious and just want to know, you will be good as a data engineer. ”

Advice to Current Students Interested in Data Science?

“I think as [potential] data engineers, students should take some business classes that have business cases or at least try to join some business case competitions. Because, as data engineers, we want to understand how the business built the product and how other teams inside the company are thinking about what the data says. We prepare the data for them. It is not us using the data, right? So, you need to think about, what they will do with good data. Taking business classes, creating business projects, or competing in business case competitions are really helpful to learn about the workload.

I checked the campus newsletter every single day to stay informed about opportunities on campus. I found a lot of information about competitions that I could join and events that could help me make more connections with professors.”

*Today at Earlham was a newsletter that came out daily at Earlham listing events on campus. This newsletter was replaced by the Student Engagement E-Newsletter that comes out every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.*

“Being an RA and talking with people helped me become more fluent in English and practice empathy. Talking with my residents in Bundy helped me understand their stories and how life was going. Working at Mastercard, I don’t just focus on skillsets, but how the project is going and how my team’s lives are going—what do they do on the weekends; what they love; what makes them happy—trying to connect with each other. I have that skill because at Earlham people were so welcoming and so friendly. It’s not like a large university where there are 40,000 students. It’s a more supportive community.”

What are your next career steps?

“I am looking to build my skill to progress to the next level of data engineering. My goal is to move up the career ladder. First, I just want to become more professional in my career—like a senior engineer.

In the future, [I want to work in] data management. You delegate the projects and help mentor the people on the team. It is like what my manager is doing. I am in love with that because they care about how the person on the team thinks about their career development and how they can help them with that.”


Feel free to connect with Winnie Nguyen on LinkedIn or EC Connect.

By Eboni Dixon
Eboni Dixon Asst. Director of Epic Communications and Career Coach