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Meet our graduates | Juan Langlois (MS '22)

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July 19, 2022. Interviewed by Linda Esquivel. Audio and text edited for length and clarity.

As part of MS&E's 2022 Graduates podcast series, we chat with Juan Langlois, a graduate of the master’s program in MS&E.

Juan shares how his innate curiosity for inventing and advancing processes led him to pursue engineering. Juan was born and raised in Chile, where he acquired undergraduate and master’s degrees in Electrical Engineering and worked as a financial engineer at a small company. Now, Juan looks forward to starting his career in Silicon Valley and soaking up knowledge in a larger organization with deep expertise in the type of work he’s interested in.

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My name is Juan Langlois. I'm finishing up my master’s in Management Science and Engineering, and I've been following the computational social science track.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where did you grow up, and where did you study before Stanford?

I was born and raised in Chile, and I did my undergraduate and master’s degrees there in electrical engineering. I then worked for three years as a financial engineer at a local fintech company, and then I decided to go to graduate school.

How did you become interested in engineering?

My first memory of being interested in engineering is having a conversation with my dad and a friend of mine. My friend and I must have been ten years old, and my dad asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. I remember saying I wanted to be an inventor, and my friend laughed at me, saying there’s no such thing as inventor school. But what he didn't know is that engineering is kind of like inventor school.  You can study engineering and figure out how to make things, innovate, or develop new technologies.

That’s my earliest memory that I can now connect to engineering, but I didn't know what engineering was until another conversation with my dad. I loved physics and was good at math, and I asked him what I should do. He suggested engineering, and that's when my interest got solidified.

Can you tell me about your area of concentration? What did you work on, and how did you become interested in it?

When I was coming in, I was really interested in data analysis. Then as I started reading more, I realized I didn't have as strong a background as I would have liked in statistics, and I felt I was unable to rigorously develop models and really understand what their limitations and advantages were. I wanted to address that knowledge gap.

I also started reading a lot of things about human decision making in complex environments. I started to get interested in how to use tools and methodologies from engineering and statistics to make decisions or help develop tools that can support making decisions—for example, how to reduce mistakes.

It was out of that interest that I found MS&E, which seemed like a perfect mix of deep knowledge in quantitative tools along with more qualitative tools and the behavioral sciences. I was really interested in how humans develop policies, how those policies end up manifesting themselves, and what kind of impact they have in actuality versus their original intention.

That sparked my interest in decision analysis, but when I got to MS&E, I realized I was more interested in the computational side of things and the behavioral sciences. Looking at the curriculum, I noticed MS&E had strong offerings in computational social science, which I describe as a mixture of statistics, computer science, and microeconomics. Not every program offers that, but there's a strong faculty in MS&E. I really enjoyed taking those classes and delving into the world of incentives and the behavioral side of things.

Were there any courses or instructors that stuck with you or made an impact on you?

I don't have an exhaustive list, but I really enjoyed everyone. I started out taking a course by Professor Ramesh Johari, and it was really cool to hear his perspective on data science and his  insights on causality, prediction, and inference in data science. That course helped me understand the different aspects of building models and what I might be interested in.

I also had conversations with Professor Irene Lo, and we did some collaborations. She's doing super interesting stuff related to game theory and market design, and she's always looking at how these tools can be applied and used for social good. We talked a lot about using mechanism design for reforestation and things I didn't even know existed.

It was really nice to be able to talk with people who have that depth of knowledge, and the list goes on. I think every quarter, every course, my experience was like that. It was very interesting and something that I appreciate from my time here, the exposure to people—not only faculty but also the students.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect your time at Stanford?

I think a lot about this, because when I applied, I could have deferred for a year. But I started last academic year, which ended up being a fully remote year. Some people might question if it was worth it, or if it would have been even more worth it to defer. But I always think about how back home, we had a really strict quarantine. I would have been stuck at home for those nine months, whereas here I was able to move around a little bit on campus, which has this kind of energy even when nobody is around.

Even though the classes were remote, I learned so much, and I was still able to communicate with professors and others. Everyone was willing to jump on a Zoom and talk. I could tell them what my interests were, and they would point me to different courses and different people to talk to. I feel like I was able to still take advantage of being here.

Then this year felt pretty normal; I was able to take advantage of being here on campus and meet more people, both in my cohort and faculty. It was interesting because I would run into people who I saw last year on my screen, and they would be super friendly and we would stop to talk and catch up. Maybe I'm a bit too optimistic, but I feel like the pandemic didn’t affect my time here too much.

What are your career plans after Stanford, and how did you decide on them?

I'm going to work as a data scientist at Meta here in Menlo Park.

Before Stanford, I worked in a really small company where I had responsibility over what was doing, so I was essentially the expert there and I had to figure things out on my own. Coming here, I wanted to access a broader market of industry and companies, and go to a bigger company. That’s something that I'm looking forward to; I had a lot of mentorship in my previous job, but not this kind of mentorship in terms of data science, technical work, and developing technologies.

The director of the group I'm going to be working in came to Stanford to give a talk as part of the MS&E Career Collaborative Program this year, and he's also Chilean. I didn’t get a chance to go to the talk, but I want to connect with him. It will be interesting to talk to somebody who's done well for himself and who has been here for a while. I want to hear his perspective as a Chilean living here in the Bay Area, so I'm definitely going to be looking to connect.

What excites you most about the future?

I’m kind of nostalgic to be ending this time at Stanford; I've had a great time and I learned a lot. But what's exciting about the future is to keep learning. Knowing that my two years here is ending and it's time to start my life again in a way, I’m excited to start building a career, maybe build a home, and start seeing where things start to fall into place.

What advice do you have for future students? How can they make the best use of their time in MS&E and at Stanford?

My best advice is something that I heard in a classroom discussion with Professor Ashish Goel. His advice was to show up and follow up. Here at Stanford, there's a million things that are being organized all the time, via Zoom or in person. I think even if something sounds remotely interesting, you should show up because it’s definitely going to be interesting.

Then when you find something interesting or see something cool, you should definitely follow up. Email the organizer and say, “Hey, I thought what you’re working on is interesting; let's get coffee.” Every time I followed up, I got a positive response. So don’t be shy about it; just send that email, get that conversation going. I didn't even do it as productively as I could have, and I still feel like I got a lot out of it.

For example, there’s this book I like called Incognito. It’s a cognitive science book about understanding the human brain by David Eagleman, who is a faculty member at Stanford. I showed up to his class remotely last year, and he said some interesting things in class that I followed up on. I asked him if we could have a 15 or 30 minute conversation, and said I was interested in doing some work that could be related to him.

It didn't end up panning out, but he gave me the time; we met, we talked, and it was really cool. It was something I would never have imagined, that the author of this book I read five years ago would be teaching a class at Stanford and I could send him an email and get a response. That was an interesting experience and I had like a million of those. It's really easier than you think to talk to people.

What will you miss most about Stanford?

I’m going to miss the people the most. I've been fortunate enough to meet people from all types of programs, and it’s so enriching to meet people who know so much about things that I had no idea even existed. That led to interesting conversations every day everywhere, so I’m going to miss that. Another thing I'm going to miss about Stanford is the gym and the outdoor pool.

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