Moriel Schottlender

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Alumni Spotlight

Moriel Schottlender

BS, Physics, CUNY City College
MS, Computer Science, New York Institute of Technology

What she does:

Schottlender is a senior software engineer at Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that runs Wikipedia. She works on the collaboration team, developing tools for Wiki editors. On Wikipedia, that means millions of volunteer contributors who maintain the online encyclopedia that, let's be honest, most of us use daily. As an example of the type of work she does, her team recently rolled out a set of tools that help editors better identify possible vandalism.

How she got the job:

“While I was taking my bachelor's degree, I realized that I really love physics but I'm not entirely sure that I'm the best at traditional physics,”
Schottlender says, meaning the slow, methodic pace of doing research. But she knew she also liked coding, so she went for a master's degree in computer science. As an intern, she found the Summer of Code, a Google project that encourages (and pays) students to work on open-source projects. She proposed a project for the Wikimedia Foundation that would have created 3-D, interactive representations of physics concepts inside Wikipedia articles. Nobody was willing to supervise that project, but someone mentioned that another mentor there was looking for Hebrew speakers for a project related to languages that read from right to left. Schottlender's native language is Hebrew, so she got in. “I had no idea that [right-to-left language display on computers] was that complicated, even though I basically grew up with right-to-left language,” she says. After her internship ended, she was hired part-time and came on as a full-time employee right after graduating.

Why you would want this job:

“If you're passionate about knowledge and making sure there is free access to knowledge anywhere in the world and you want to approach that with analytical thinking to solve problems,” you might want to work at the Foundation. “You also need to like computers,” she laughs. One thing that appealed to Schottlender about software development is the pace. Research and development both move a lot quicker than they do in traditional physics, which was a better fit for her. As a master's student, she published a paper1 after six months of research: “I thought I was a complete fraud, because who publishes after six months? But you do in computer science.”

How physics made a difference:

“When you study physics you don't just learn the subject matter. It's not just about the equations and the numbers. What you learn is how to think. You learn to analyze things. If nobody has ever modeled this before, how do I approach this? This is exactly what happens to me at work. Nobody has done something that allows users to do whatever. So how do I test it? How do I actually do it? This is physics thinking.” //


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