For alumnus Zhang, 2019 Commencement offers a second chance to experience milestone

Fan Zhang, an alumnus of the McKelvey School of Engineering, has only good things to say about his experience at Washington University in St. Louis.

Fan Zhang
“My time at WashU was absolutely an important milestone in my life,” Zhang said. “Every minute I spent writing code, reading academic books and papers, collaborating with teammates on group projects and engaging in academic research helped me build a solid foundation in computer science and engineering.”

Zhang, who earned a master’s degree in computer science in 2013, does have one regret, however: He never got to walk at spring Commencement. In February 2014 — only two months after completing his studies — he was offered a job in Silicon Valley.

“Taking that opportunity meant I’d have to start my new journey immediately and abandon everything else,” Zhang said. “That included my ongoing academic research and attending the upcoming Commencement ceremonies."

It was a simple decision for Zhang to make, and he packed up and moved to Palo Alto, California, to join SAP Labs.

“By 2014, cloud computing had been gradually showing enormous value,” Zhang said. “Most of the leading software companies were making great efforts to transform from traditional software or web-based businesses to cloud-based businesses.”

Since then, Zhang has been named senior software engineer at VMware and a leading developer for Kubernetes, an open source cloud-native technology that automates Linux container operations. He’s also gotten married, and that milestone has him reflecting on his previous accomplishments.

“Every time my wife talks about her graduation, I can feel the happiness and pride from her heart," Zhang said. “I eventually realized what an important moment I lost.”

This year, Zhang had the opportunity to make up that experience. He joined members of the class of 2019 at the annual Engineering Recognition Ceremony and finally walked across the stage. His wife was in the audience, cheering him on.

"It has been five years since I graduated as a student, and now, my life has reached another important milestone,” Zhang said. “It's time to make up that big loss with my love.”

When asked what words of advice he has for his fellow “graduates,” Zhang offers this: Don’t be afraid to fail.

“In reality, your efforts will not always be successful,” Zhang said. “Failure always happens to some extent, and you’ll learn when to give up on something you shouldn't waste time insisting or struggling with.”