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From the Fall 2019 Edition of Discovery

How an Internship Paved
the Way to My Career

Fall 2019 Guest Columnist Liang Peng, PhD’17 Computer Science, shares insights and perspectives

Aggie Alum and USU PhD Recipient, Liang Peng

Peng, third from the right, at his USU PhD dissertation defense, with his committee, from left, Assistant Professor Haitao Wang, Associate Professor Vicki Allan, Associate Professor Steven Clyde, Professor Adele Cutler and advisor, Professor Xiaojun Qi (who currently serves as head of the Department of Computer Science.).

Photo courtesy Liang Peng

I was admitted to the Ph.D. program of computer science at USU in the Fall of 2011, after graduating from Kansas State University with a master’s degree in statistics. Before the semester started, I did a four-day, short trip to California’s Silicon Valley, visiting a friend, who was interning with VMware in Palo Alto. I was impressed by the large number of tech companies in the Bay Area. The examples included Google, Facebook, HP, Intel, Cisco, and many others. I thought, then, it would be nice if I could one day work or intern with one of these companies.

The first semester at USU was not easy for me, since I had not majored in computer science for my undergrad degree. I was working as a teaching assistant, while taking two courses: image processing and artificial intelligence. I was working very hard to implement the game and algorithm from an artificial intelligence (AI) course assignment experience. On top of this, I was trying to figure out which research topic I wanted to choose for the next five years of my Ph.D. study.

By taking the image processing course with Dr. Xiaojun Qi, I completed course projects that ranged from removing noise from images to automatically detecting the red-eye effect in photos. My interests in these areas grew and, in the spring semester of 2012, I selected Dr. Qi as my Ph.D. advisor and started research in computer vision identity adoption.

USU alum Liang Peng at a presentation with former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer

USU alum Liang Peng, PhD’17, Computer Science, left, with former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Meyer, during his 2015 summer internship with the tech firm.

Photo courtesy Liang Peng

From my Silicon Valley trip, I realized the importance of obtaining internship experience while still in school. I applied for a few internships at the beginning of 2012. Luckily, I got an offer from IM Flash Technologies, an Intel and Micron Technology joint venture specializing in making memory chips. During my summer internship, I learned how to apply programming skills in R to create reports that could summarize the defect rates for different wafer fabs (semiconductor processing facilities, which turn wafers into integrated circuits) at IM Flash.

Following the internship, I returned to school. While progressing in my research and finishing up coursework, I started on more projects. With Dr. Qi’s recommendaton, I was invited to work on a collaborative project with the research lab of TCL, the largest TV company in China. I worked on object detection and face recognition projects, which were used to develop practical applications in TCL for auto-recognizing movie starts from a smart TV.

This experience was not only an eye-opener for me to realize how many useful applications in the industry could be developed by computer vision techniques, but also enhanced my engineering ability of processing large-scale data.

In 2015, due to my prior intern experience, I got an internship offer from Yahoo in Sunnyvale, California.

During the internship, I developed algorithms to identify similar advertising images that enabled Yahoo to reduce the manual cost of reviewing images for bad content by 97 percent. My good performance during the internship led to a full-time job offer.

In 2016, I graduated from USU with a Ph.D. degree, specializing in detecting objects in videos using deep-learning techniques. This background gave me huge opportunities in the industry. Now, I work in Verizon Media, which involves improving ad quality for websites such as yahoo.com and others with billions of visits.

My experiences at USU, including taking the basic courses, teaching, doing research and, especially, the internships, prepared me well for my later career.

I deeply appreciate all the professors in the department, and especially Dr. Qi, for her guidance during my Ph.D. program. I also encourage current students to find internships during school, which will be very helpful for their careers after graduation.

By Liang Peng

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