Ruchen Eileen Liu

AGE: 23
INTERESTS: Corgis, Volleyball, Overwatch, Programming, late-night McDonald’s adventures

Where are you from?

I was born in the Northern part of China. The Baotou region, just south of Mongolia. We moved to Texas when I was 10. That’s where I went to middle and high school. It was rough at first. No one spoke Mandarin in Texas, and this was before my English was good. People had a lot of trouble pronouncing my Chinese name. No Asian friends. Kind of a shock, but eventually I found my rhythm and learned to go with the flow of things.

What did you do before 42?

I studied political science at UC Santa Barbara. I was in the pre-law track and determined to go to law school. I like reading, problem-solving, debating. But then in college, the more classes I took, the more I realized it just didn’t fit my personality. I’m a really happy person and Law… not so much.

How did you hear about 42?

Eavesdropping: I worked at a boba place in college and my boss was talking about 42 with a coworker. So I went home–researched it–thought it was a super awesome opportunity–and applied!

What was the piscine like?

Scary. The first day I met all these people who had been coding since they were 12 years old. It was intimidating. And there weren’t many females. Seventeen hours a day sitting in front of the computer. One time I failed four days of exercises in a row–I had tried so hard! I was like, “Where am I?” The hardest part was the second rush [group programming exercise]. Everyone was so much better at programming; I didn’t know what I could contribute. I had ideas, but I wasn’t confident enough to say them. But then I was like, “You know what? I may have different ideas, but I’m going to say them anyway. I want to learn.” It was high stress, but I really liked the piscine.

What was it like when you received your post-piscine decision email?

It was awesome. I remember that day because I was at home and wasn’t paying any attention to my notifications. I was hanging out with my dogs. I have a corgi named stumpy and a pug named Emmy. I also have a cat named Bert, short for Sherbert. I hang out with my animals a lot — they’re my buddies. Then all my friends from the piscine started texting and calling me all at the same time. And I was like, “NO WAY — results are out?” I didn’t even answer the texts or calls. I needed to find out if I made it first. So I logged on and my inbox had an email that said “Congratulations.” I was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m going!” It was a huge new adventure for me. I called my mom, “I made it! I’m going places!” She was like, “Who’s going to take care of the pets now?”

How does the 42 Cadet Program differ from the piscine?

The piscine is super intense, super accelerated. You’re forced to meet basically everyone around you because of all the peer-to-peer corrections every day. The cadet program slows down a bit–but not as much as I expected. I’m a pretty competitive person, so I like to be on top of things and be with people who are also pushing themselves. The biggest difference is that the projects are a lot bigger. You have to take a step back and think about the broader implications of your code, the program flow–the beginning, the middle, the end. It’s much more structured and methodical.

How do you find help with your projects?

When I first came here, I was like “I’m a strong, independent woman — I can do all this by myself.” So I started off in the corner trying to do things alone. But later I realized that this was super inefficient. So I started reaching out to people, reading more Google articles, doing research. I think it’s important to find people who can explain answers in ways that work with your learning style. Also, it’s nice to talk to someone when you start a project so they can tell you, “This won’t work–don’t do this!” Shout out to Danny Saetern and Kenny Cheung! They helped me get my first 3D pixel on the screen.

What is your dream job?

Someplace where I can be artistically creative and a software developer at the same time. I want to be a “developerneur”. Part of a team of passionate, creative, smart, kick-ass people. I want to work hard. Then I want to be able to go to my friend and be like “hey you know that app you’re using? Yeah, I helped make that.”

What is your most inspiring education quote?

“It’s a beautiful thing that every thorn has its rose.”


A fabulous photo of Ruchen by Priscilla Vongdara:


Interview by: Robin Schramm

Robin is a writer, former English teacher, and 42 student. You can read more about Robin on his profile.