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Kara Vaillancourt ('17)

Alumna Kara Vaillancourt

Kara Vaillancourt
Software Engineer, Google
Class of ’17

I am an applied research software engineer at Google, working in the research division to bring state-of-the-art machine- learning techniques to everyday products. After graduating with a degree in computer science from Virginia Tech in 2017, I moved out to Seattle, Washington, to start my first job in the industry. I quickly fell in love with the area  — from the gorgeous Puget Sound beaches to the misty Cascade Mountains — and have called it home ever since. My favorite activities include backpacking, kayaking, overlanding, and picnics at the beach. 

How did the department equip you for the ‘real world’?

The department did an excellent job equipping me with technical skills by training my mind, from naive and unstructured, to logical and problem solving. I learned not only the data structures and algorithms necessary to get a job, but more importantly, how to learn was key to my success. The hottest new language or library is not just for scrappy startups, but embraced by the largest tech companies as well. You don’t always need a Ph.D. to work in research, but you do need to be able to keep up with the greatest minds around you. 

Being a Virginia Tech alumna means...

Being a Virginia Tech alumna not only signals that I went to a phenomenal engineering school, but that I also have a wide network of the Hokie family to call on when I need support, to celebrate with when we win football games, to volunteer with at recruiting events, and to live  our motto Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) together. It is a true privilege to be able to be a part of this community, even being located on the other side of the country from where it started.  

My fondest memory of my time in the department is...

While late nights of doing the hardest work you’ve ever done doesn’t sound like everyone’s fondest memory, it certainly is mine. The days and nights of staying up until the morning light working obsessively on designing new patents for 3D printer drivers, creating AR worlds that blur the lines between the virtual and physical at the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology (ICAT), or practicing hundreds of interview questions in the basement of McBryde, all led to me to being able to work on machine-learning research at Google. These small moments of joy come from the knowledge that with the right amount of luck, hard work pays off and you can do things you never imagined you would be able to achieve.

My favorite memory from studying abroad is…

Studying abroad was an eight month blur of leaving the country alone for the first time, a tricky balancing act of work and fun by trying to squeeze in a winter co-op, and getting ready for the whirlwind that was to come. While there’s no particular memory I attached,  it was the combined experiences of scuba diving the secrets of the Great Barrier Reef, befriending turquoise penguins and fuzzy wallabies in the wild of Tasmania, bathing in hidden waterfalls, and avoiding crocodiles in our Jurassic Park-themed overland adventure in the Australian outback. 

It was the confidence that I could drive an oversized Mercedes camper van across New Zealand and sleep in the trunk of a Kia when money got tight. It was the respect for cultures different from my own while absorbing the awe and beauty of Hindu temples in Indonesia, and cuddling elephants at the sanctuaries in Thailand. It was the survival instinct and international savviness that comes with being in a country where no one speaks your language and you have to protect your friend from the potential self-sabotage of their food allergy. I didn’t know it then, but it was the start of traveling to 20 different countries across four different continents in two years. 

My favorite memory from attending Grace Hopper is…

Grace Hopper is world renowned for the incredible feat of gathering the most talented women in computing and having them share the same space. Although it is only a matter of days, the connections and memories last a lifetime. My personal highlights to pick from are being featured by the Institute for my wearable tech (Thank you to the Department of Computer Science for lending me Google Glass!), meeting Megan Smith (former chief technology officer of the United States), or possibly the mountains of the coolest swag gifts you could ever imagine. However, none of these have really stuck with me more than the relationships I built there. Imagine having a whole community of people ready to connect you with any job you could possibly want. Mentoring, interview training, resume review, life advice, and friendship are just a few of the best things to come from the Grace Hopper community.