Student Profile: Linda Luu

August 25, 2021

Meet Linda Luu - Part of the ITS student profile series

By Jim Phillips, Director of Campus Engagement (ITS)

Rising Star in Technologylinda-luu.jpg

With a degree in Computer Engineering (Robotics) from UCSC, Linda Luu found a position in late 2020 at Robot Wrangler, a subsidiary of FS Studio in Mountain View. FS Studio is a well known product development firm in the valley that helps clients with R&D, product innovation, and creative design. Linda’s job is to support research projects, which allows her to be involved with some fascinating new technologies. It’s a great gig for anyone, and a stellar opportunity for a rising star in technology just out of college. But, how did Linda get to where she is today?

Linda grew up in Oakland, attending Skyline High where her burgeoning interest in animation and programming first took hold in Skyline’s Computer Academy. And that early experience with technology led her to look for a job in ITS when she arrived as a student at UCSC. As a self described hermit, she felt at home in the basement of Kerr Hall, working on the classroom AV team. She wanted to learn more about the behind the scenes technology that makes our classrooms work so smoothly. She had the good fortune to work with Chirs Salerno and the recently retired Phil Johnston, two ITS staff members who know a lot about service to faculty and have a long history in support of instruction.

ITS Staff Help with Linda’s Journey

Classroom AV would not be a typical first choice for your average techie who may prefer to work on computer repair or hone their web design or programming skills in other far flung corners of ITS. But for Linda, what mattered most was having great supervisors. Linda recalls that “If it weren't for Phil Johnston, I wouldn't be in my current position in the first place. Phil introduced me to people in ITS who would potentially be offering full-time positions in ITS after I graduated. One of those individuals was John Vaughn who led me to a contractor position in ITS working as the Zoom Corps Supervisor.” What’s clear is that Linda’s move up the ladder in the ITS organization was greatly aided by her networking skills.

Both classroom support and live Zoom support share something in common: It’s about making the technology work as intended in the high visibility moment of instruction. Trouble has a way of cropping up at the most inopportune time. And, that can require some quick thinking, a calm demeanor in the face of urgency, and diplomacy to attend to faculty who may be experiencing a certain level of distress in that critical moment when systems fail. The stakes can be high, and failing to provide the requisite assistance may mean instruction is impeded or delayed. As a technician working to right the ship, you are either the hero or the goat. And, as your experience grows, probably both at various times.

Phil Johnston remembers Linda’s job interview for the student technician position and the first impression she made: “She was already coming into the process with an unusual level of technical experience directly applicable to the job. During the interview she exuded such a consummate level of natural poise, amiable temperament, and focus, which is not something you can train someone for, I began wishing I was interviewing her for a full-time staff position. As expected, all those wonderful attributes manifested themselves beautifully during Linda’s time as a student technician, much to the benefit of UCSC’s academic mission.”

linda-luu-casual.jpgLeading the ITS Zoom Corps during the Pandemic

With some ITS experience under her belt and the strong support of a supervisor, Linda made the big move from student technician to contractor, working as the Zoom corps supervisor. John Vaughn who worked closely with Linda was also struck by the first impression she made: "It didn't take me long during Linda's interview to realize I wanted to hire her for the new Zoom Corps Supervisor position. She had all of the skills we needed, especially enthusiasm for the Zoom Corps and a genuine desire to help people." In addition to solid networking skills, Linda knew how to interview well. And, those interview skills can only be honed through real-world practice, in which you develop an ability to make positive first impressions, convey technical proficiency, and establish a professional rapport with your interviewers.

As Zoom Corps supervisor, Linda would play a critical role at an intense moment in history. The technical support needs of faculty and students suddenly changed as the period of social distancing descended on our nation and the world. The massive move to delivering instruction online was just beginning, and most schools were doing whatever they could, making it up to some extent as they went along.

The idea of creating a team of students to assist instructors in using Zoom to deliver instruction was at the time an innovative solution, though many schools have since adopted the model. From a service delivery standpoint, it was a brand new process. There were kinks in the technology (big surprise), and the instructors found themselves unexpectedly thrust into the role of online educator, which for some if not many presented challenges. Instructors looked for support, and Linda’s job was to organize all the student technicians on the Zoom Corps team to make it happen. She couldn’t do it alone, but luckily the pieces of the resource puzzle quickly fell into place.

Together with Kim Hwe, who Linda remembers as incredibly supportive and kind, they hired 25 new student workers into Zoom Corps in a little over two weeks before the start of fall quarter 2020 to meet the growing demand for Zoom support. They relied on a Slack channel to advertise work openings, allowing student technicians to find open slots and select times that worked for them. The use of Slack to facilitate student-driven scheduling was a crucial process improvement that saved time and made possible an agile response to a historic instructional support challenge.

Through it all, Linda was forging professional relationships with key ITS staff who were invested in helping her to succeed both in her current role and in her future career. And, Linda appreciated their efforts: “Kim and John helped review my resume and gave me great career tips. With their help and as my references when applying for various engineering positions, I accomplished my dream of working in robotics.” Kim was especially impressed with how quickly Linda transitioned from student employee to supervising a team of student technicians: “In addition to managing the pairing process, Linda managed student research/usability projects. She assembled teams of students to research new tools for remote learning and teaching, such as Google Slides AI captioning. The Zoom Corps program was so new when Linda was hired into the supervisor role. She helped create structure, standard processes, and procedures that aided in the success of the program today.”

Real-World Work Experience

Accumulating work experience can also mean learning what you don’t want to do. This was true also for Linda who, although quite successful as Zoom Corps supervisor, discovered this job was not right for her. These pivotal moments in your work life are unforgettable because they allow you to come to know better who you really are. While it can seem like a setback and can even be a bit unsettling in some cases for some people, this new personal insight propelled Linda confidently back to robotics.

In her time in ITS, Linda developed a formidable skill set that combined a solid education from a reputable institution with real-world experience, including hands-on practical knowledge with managing people. That set Linda apart, and her career timing couldn’t have been better: Changes in the industry made her job knowledge relevant and more appealing to would-be employers.

Sometimes a person’s career path is intentional and other times opportunistic. In Linda’s case, she took her raw technical talent, developed it through her academic studies, and made the most of the work experience opportunities that presented themselves along the way. It’s a model that can be repeated.

Just Go For It!

Linda’s advice to students thinking about a job in ITS is to just go for it. Start talking to the staff about what is possible: “Even if their area of expertise is not the career path you want to pursue, ITS is full of people who have great work and life advice that they are happy to share.” And, you won’t know what is possible until you start networking, land a job as a student tech in ITS, and get the work experience that will inform what you want to do in the future. Perhaps you will end up in your dream job, like Linda.