An adventure from Iowa State to Google

By Selia Schneider

Coming into college, working for a small startup company wasn’t what Cami Williams saw herself doing. But the lure of new, exciting technology was irresistible.

Williams (computer science, ’15) is currently a Software Engineer and Developer Evangelist for Clarifai, an artificial intelligence company. The company is known for its image and video recognition technology.

Clarifai, a small company founded in 2013, provides a cloud service for deep learning and visual recognition. For example, it allows users to take a picture of food, see how to make it, and learn the ingredients. Amazon’s Alexa uses this kind of technology for home security and to help homeowners find their keys. Clarifai’s recent app, Forevery, takes all photos on a phone and packages them into stories with titles to make them easy to locate.

Because Williams was involved in her department as early as her freshman year, she gained internships and learned to market herself in a way that opened doors to her successful career.

When you see tech that is new, exciting and promises success, “you have to go for it,” Williams said, who had completed internships at Microsoft, Google and Apple when she started working at Clarifai. At that point, she still had not yet graduated from Iowa State.

She is thankful for faculty who helped her make use of all of her resources so she could get to where she is now.

One faculty member that Williams appreciates is Steven Kautz, a senior lecturer in computer science. “I owe him a lot,” she said. “He was my first computer science professor at Iowa State.” Williams eventually became a teaching assistant for Kautz, which led to her joining Computer Science Club.

Joining Computer Science Club was one of the best choices Williams said she made in college. Learning to network, market herself, and sell a product has been extremely helpful in her current career where she has to sell technology without a formal sales background. It’ll help in her new job to: This July, she’ll join Google as a Software Engineer.

Williams also started “Hack ISU,” an event that started with 100 attendees and $5,000 in sponsorships. By the time she graduated, the event boasted 400 attendees and $50,000 in sponsorships. Williams hopes the event will allow more Iowa State students to compete worldwide at hacking events, where companies are willing to buy ideas or make hires on the spot.

Advice that Williams has for women interested in computer science is to not let the ratio of males to females scare them. “My sister and mom would tell me, ‘don’t let it discourage you but encourage you,’” she said. “Because being a woman in computer science is like you are a purple unicorn.”

She also advises that students establish relationships with professors, seek out a mentor who can give sound advice, relax at career fairs (“go expecting nothing but hoping for something”), and get involved in hack-a-thons as soon as possible.

And remember, dream careers can come from involvement in clubs and taking advantage of on-campus opportunities.