Erich Owens

Year:
2007
Major:
Physics (Dual Degree Program in Engineering)
Graduate/Professional School:
B.S.E., Columbia University; M.S., Brown University
Residence:
San Francisco Bay Area, Calif.
Career:
Software Engineer, Facebook
In a nutshell, what do you do?
I'm a Software Engineer at Facebook. I work on the Public Content Ranking team. Our goal is to surface and recommend high-quality content to users based on their interests and currently trending stories.
What are you working on right now?
I'm currently building machine-learning classifiers to distinguish between different types of posts and posters, leveraging many interesting mathematical and statistical principles to drive abstract pattern recognition.
How did Albion help you get there?
Albion College was an excellent place to begin my career. The residential focus allowed me to identify a strong peer group to live and learn from, and it fostered connections to faculty to the point where I felt comfortable regularly attending office hours or asking questions in class. The students and research faculty at my later schools were also impressive, but the community aspect was not nearly as individually focused.
Looking back, were there benefits to participating in Albion's Dual Degree Program in Engineering instead of the more traditional route of four or five years at an engineering school?
The pre-engineering program encouraged me to focus on broader interests. A five-year program gave me plenty of time to take plenty of interesting math and science electives, but it also allowed me to take courses in literature, game theory, philosophy and art, and even spend a semester abroad in Budapest. This focus on the liberal arts was essential to my development as a human being and a well-rounded professional, and could not have been possible in a compressed four-year curriculum.
Do any Albion courses or experiences stand out in your mind as particularly helpful while you were in engineering school?
The focus on math faculty who'd excitedly explain concepts in analysis or algebra or industrial mathematics—that went a long way toward building the fundamentals I'd apply in more advanced courses in later years. For instance, my linear algebra course was not a bag of tricks, but rather focused heavily on building a geometric intuition that carried me clean through real analysis (critical for understanding Jacobian determinants and the Inverse Function theorem), functional analysis, and many basic tenants of machine learning (say, Mercer's theorem and the Kernel trick). My sense of larger schools like the University of Michigan is that their basic undergraduate courses like this try their hardest to weed students out of competitive majors rather than nurture this sort of critical understanding of important topics.
What are some of your favorite memories of your time at Albion?
Living, working and throwing/attending concerts in the Coffeehouse co-op. Staying up late in Palenske Hall working on problem sets, commandeering a classroom all to myself. Living my final year in Munger Hall with my best friends. Being supported and encouraged by faculty to ask as many questions as I could, to apply to programs I thought way out of my league, and to generally be the best person I could be.

Take It Further: Dual Degree Program in Engineering, Mathematics and Computer Science, Physics