May 30th, 2020Ethan Ding

Fireside with Apple Data Engineer Cem Koc

A Quick Bio

Cem's LinkedIn

Cem grew up in Istanbul, Turkey before coming to the US to attend UC Berkeley. He graduated in 2017 with a degree in EECS, and is currently working as a data engineer for Apple. Cem participated in two internships while at Berkeley: a sophomore summer internship at TubeMogul (acq. by Adobe) and a junior year internship at Apple where he received his full-time offer.

Research

Cem currently works on the data analytics and machine learning team at Apple, but his interest in these fields began long before he stepped on the Infinite Loop campus. During his freshman year, Cem started doing research at the Nanostructures and Nanoelectronics Research Group doing ultrafast spintronics research for new memory devices. He then transitioned into NLP (natural language processing) research and joined the robotics lab under Berkeley AI Research initiative. He continued this research through graduation.

While machine learning is a hot topic today, it was just beginning to take roots when Cem started his research. Cem and his brother would continue their research before circling back to their professor post-graduation to publish their paper. This discussion led to his first few pieces of advice for undergrads.

Advice:

  • Understanding what you're truly interested in will give you research topics to explore, and talking to professors is a great way to find more guidance. Down the line, you'll end up learning more about fields that you actually enjoy rather than what's hot at the moment.
  • Asking for advice is the first step, but make sure to follow up and stay in contact with those who have helped you. You never know what opportunities or knowledge can come in the future from them. Also, your professors are amazing people who were once in your shoes, it's a pretty good idea to listen to them.

Recruiting

The current pandemic has created a unique environment, but Cem stressed the importance of surrounding yourself with equally ambitious peers. As an international student, his friends were the ones who taught him the different pathways to recruiting. There are always specific roles and titles that come with a form of social clout, but Cem advises communicating to recruiters your interest in specific fields that you're genuinely interested in. Not only will you actually enjoy your work moving forward, but being genuine will separate you from the pack.

Having personal projects that you came up with yourself and didn't copy off an online tutorial is the best way to demonstrate genuine interest in a particular field of work. Also Cem warns against the pitfall of being obsessed with compensation, especially with early jobs. When going into fields like tech, as long as you work hard you'll make more than you need; focus on finding a job that you enjoy in a field that you genuinely appreciate.

Advice:

  • Surround yourself with friends who are high achieving, who are willing to go the extra mile, and lift you up alongside them
  • Differentiate yourself from the competition by finding a topic you're passionate about, and applying to jobs based on that passion
  • Pursue personal projects to develop that interest so you can demonstrate your passion when asked to show it
  • Don't get hung up on compensation - it's the experience that matters early on

Experience at Apple

Before wrapping up, Cem went over his experience working in machine learning at Apple. Initially, the secretive environment of the company was a culture shock, but eventually developed into a topic of pride. One thing that separates Apple's approach to machine learning from Amazon or Google is their emphasis on protecting user data. Because of this mission, machine learning engineers at Apple have to be very creative in their approach to building models and products in a way that doesn't infringe on their users' privacy.

Cem believes it's important to work somewhere that you can believe in the mission. There's a certain sense of satisfaction you feel when reviewing your work when you know you're creating something of value. At Apple, it's the pride in honoring the trust their users provide them.

Takeaways

  • Apple has a highly secretive work culture that is intimidating to new employees and presents a unique challenge in its cross-team and inter-team communication
  • The emphasis that Apple places on respecting their user's privacy means that Apple engineers face a more daunting task than many engineers at other companies, but the work produced as a product of this challenge is all the more satisfying

Who's Next

Tune in next week for more Fireside Chats with Edith Labs. We're speaking to David Liu, a mentor on the platform who currently works at Morgan Stanley's tech banking office in Menlo Park. Hope to see you there!

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Ethan Ding

Edith Fellow. UC Berkeley IEOR. Incoming PM at Tackle.

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