STEM alum influences future engineers

alumni eric chen

By Sean Park
Eric Chen loved playing video games and building computers when he was growing up. This passion led to two internships at Microsoft while he was still in high school — one as a software test engineer and one as a web developer.

“That experience fed my natural curiosity to learn a little about everything,” said Chen, a 2005 University of Washington Bothell graduate who got a degree in Computing & Software Systems. “I returned to Microsoft after I graduated from the UW Bothell, and I’m still learning.”

Paying it forward

Chen chose to attend the School of Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics at UW Bothell in part because its focus on interdisciplinary education matched his desire for breadth. Additionally, the flexible schedule allowed him to work full time while attending college. That in turn helped him achieve his personal goal of graduating without any debt.

After moving to the United States from Taiwan when he was 4 years old, Chen watched his father create a better life for his family by first going to college. When they were struggling financially, Chen’s father received various scholarships that helped him through school.

“My family and I would not be in the position we are in now if my father had not received those scholarships. I will never forget that,” Chen said. “Being a Christian, I’ve been taught to bless others, for I have been blessed.”

To share his blessings, Chen has donated to UW Bothell’s general scholarship fund for the past 15 years. “From my experience, I know that too many students get caught up trying to support themselves financially,” he said. “It causes them to divert their focus elsewhere rather than focusing on their education.

“If I can help students eliminate that financial hurdle and get them back on track,” Chen said, “then I will continue to do so.”

Shaping the future

Chen enjoys a breadth of experiences.
Chen enjoys a breadth of experiences. Courtesy photo

At Microsoft, Chen is on track in his pursuit to “learn a little about a lot.” Every two or three years, he takes the opportunity to change roles within the company. Currently, he’s a principal software engineering lead in the Cloud + AI organization. His team empowers developers to find and fix issues through the use of telemetry to enhance the customer experience with the expanding suite of Microsoft products.

“We are proud to have alumni like Eric making such a great impact in our region and across the world,” said Sean Marsh, acting vice chancellor for Advancement & External Relations. “Through determination and drive, he has transformed his UW Bothell education into a very successful career.”

With the fast pace of technology, Chen believes strongly that there are not enough software engineers to meet the global demand. Recalling his days as an intern, he volunteers for a Microsoft initiative that directly relates to preparing high school students for careers in tech.

Designing to learn

Eric Chen in a city.
Chen on one of his trips. Courtesy photo

“I don’t know many high school students who have not just one but two internships at a major corporation like Microsoft,” said Marsh. “Eric is the type of alumnus who embodies the UW Bothell spirit of innovation and grit, and he’s sharing that spirit with the next generation.”

Through Microsoft’s annual “Hunt the Wumpus” game design competition, Chen and other Microsoft engineers guide students from local high schools to design, develop and test a coding project.

“Seeing them go through the process rekindles the excitement I had for technology when I was their age,” said Chen.

The one difference, he added with a laugh, is that “kids these days have it easy. When I was in high school, I had to go to a bunch of specialty stores to hunt for hardware I needed to build a computer. Now they can have the correct materials delivered right to their doorstep.”

Technology will continue to change and continue to change the world, said Chen.

“To make the right decisions regarding how we implement and use it, the industry needs more experts to be ahead of the curve. That’s how we ensure we have good people in the right places shaping what the future with technology looks like,” he said.

“I need to do my part to inspire those people to learn as I have.”

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