About Kim Swennen
Kim Swennen's adventurous career path has included everything from walking Hollywood red carpets and performing in London theatre to teaching girls to code in Namibia and engineering at Google. Kim received her MS in Computer Science from UCLA in 2014, after having earned a BA in Theatre Studies from Yale and a Masters in Classical Acting in London. Before her life as an engineer, she spent almost a decade in Hollywood as an actress, starring in a number of stage productions and appearing in many popular TV shows like Gilmore Girls, Mad Men, Chuck, and NCIS:LA. She is now a Senior Software Engineer at Google, where she worked on YouTube Channel Subscriptions for many years and now works on Google Arts and Culture in London. Kim is also passionate about inspiring young girls and underrepresented boys to explore and engage with STEM.
What lessons have you learned in your STEM journey?
I used to be terrified of breaking things, but I've learned that "failure" or "mistakes" can actually be a valuable part of the iterative process. They often indicate that you've pushed outside your comfort zone to try something new or less familiar, and as long as you learn from them, they're a critical step in growing as an engineer and in making a system better. Being a software engineer does not imply the stereotypes prevalent in the media. For example, it's so much more collaborative than I imagined and - although there's still a long way to go - so much more diverse. I used to think that if I didn't want to go home and write a compiler for fun in my spare time, I would never be able to "hack it" as an engineer. But engineers have all kinds of interests, backgrounds, and individual strengths, and all are vital to building great things. Lastly, a lot of other people have impostor syndrome too! :)
What has been a critical factor in your success?
My curiosity and drive to understand things in depth have been essential in my success as a software engineer. In school, I was deeply committed to making sure I could wrap my head around the details and the underlying patterns in what I was learning, and that (sometimes arduous) mining for "aha!" moments created a strong foundation on which I could then build in the industry.
What advice do you have for students and young professionals in STEM?
Be curious and ask a lot of questions! Liberally ask for help/mentorship/guidance - most people will be generous in their encouragement and assistance if they know what you need. And of course... test your code :)