Senior Design shaped Parker Hill's outlook on his career with Clinc, Inc., and how he tackles tasks on a daily basis — granting the confidence to tackle all tasks whether they're part of his area of expertise or not.
What experience or skill did you get out of Senior Design that you were able to apply to your work?
Since graduation in 2014, I have completed my doctorate in computer science at the University of Michigan and joined (what was then) a seed-stage startup that is now servicing millions of users to conversationally enable financial applications. Key to these endeavors lies taking ownership of high-level objectives and picking up unfamiliar tasks to overcome obstacles to those objectives. Smaller-scale classroom projects typically do not necessitate this skill, but Senior Design helped bridge this gap. For example, during Senior Design, I picked up basic machining skills to help construct a physical case for the project and PCB fabrication to realize a project that could be put into production. These skills were critical to completing the project, and no one on our team was proficient in them. This taught me the importance of not brushing work off as “someone else's job.”
What is your best memory from UNLV?
Before coming to UNLV, video game development motivated me to pursue computer engineering. Although I realized that this was not my long-term career path, it tied real-world applications and interests to what I needed to learn in class. Not only did I enjoy classes that related to my interests more, but it led to increased investment in their projects.
One particularly memorable example of this was in my linear algebra class where I aced the exams and projects due to my interests in video game development (3D vector spaces being very important here). At the end of the semester, my professor reached out to congratulate me on the work and offered a letter of recommendation. The pride of this recognition for putting in effort on work that I cared about and enjoyed will always be a highlight of my experience at UNLV.
What is one project or design you are most proud of?
Toward the end of my third year at UNLV, I started thinking about extra opportunities to improve my career after graduation. Similar to my peers, I had taken a lot of classes, but I was a little concerned about how what I had learned would map to real-world engineering. I knew Senior Design was upcoming to help address this (and it did), but I wanted to put my experience to the test now. Through one of my professors, I joined a group of researchers in civil engineering as a software engineer. During this project, I implemented a number of algorithms that helped validate their research and gave me a lot of confidence to be “the expert.”
What was a class you remember taking that correlates directly to your career today? What was your favorite aspect about it?
In most classes, the specific homework and exams do not directly map to problems solved day-to-day, but denouncing the entire class as “never used in the real world” undermines the high-level concepts that may be useful in many areas. I see learning assembly (in computer science) as a great example of this. As many students taking this class will tell you, very few engineers use assembly on a daily basis, but I would argue that the high-level concepts in this class are among the most valuable. Taking this class seriously has directly benefited my career in multiple ways.
What are some takeaways from UNLV which have positively affected you in your career?
Just like any good engineering program, my experience at UNLV bridged the gap between basic knowledge and actionable specialization. Given the magnitude of that gap, I expect an entire book could be written on these takeaways.
As one example, when I first joined Clinc, the startup I currently work at, we did not have a designated artificial intelligence/machine learning expert. The team was mostly composed of engineers with computer architecture background, including myself, and hiring one was very expensive for a seed-stage startup. I applied my learnings around taking ownership of high-level tasks and working on unfamiliar domains from Senior Design at UNLV. After growing my skills, I became the designated expert, which has opened up many opportunities for me, including a fast trajectory to leadership at Clinc and a highly marketable skill for future positions.