InsideArachnys – Q&A with Renzhi Zhou, Junior Software Engineer

Welcome to InsideArachnys, a series of interviews where we speak to the people behind the Arachnys platform. This month, we caught up with Renzhi Zhou, our Junior Software Engineer based in London.

Hi Renzhi, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and explain your role at Arachnys?

I am a Junior Software Engineer who started as a full time employee around a month ago. Previously I was a student and graduated with an MMath in Mathematics at Cambridge, and had interned at Arachnys last summer, as well as in the winter.

I’ve dabbled in a few different projects during my time here, mainly to do with the Search part of the platform, and I’m now working on a proof of concept using our new Unified Search Service.

You have juggled your studies with a lot of time dedicated to working at Arachnys. What attracted you to the tech space?

I was always into programming ever since my father brought back a book about C from work when I was about 14, and I’ve been on and off with it ever since. I was just looking for an internship to give me more experience and to find out what I enjoyed doing and managed to find out about Arachnys. The part about Arachnys that piqued my interest the most at that time was that Harry (co-founder) pursued the same degree as me, but as I spent time at the office, I just found that I really enjoyed the environment I was working in (note, free food is very attractive to students).

In a broader sense, my interest in tech comes from the idea of being to create something that I’ve contributed my ideas to. Anyone with the right skills can create a product or software, but when you inject some of your own ideas into it, that’s when you really get to claim some of it as your own. I feel like tech is the right area for me to do this because I can say ‘let’s try this out’, and we can do that. If it doesn’t quite work as we wanted it to, it’s no big deal, and we can keep trying different ideas until we find the right one. I also just think that everything in modern life is moving towards tech and data and I want to be part of this movement.

What are the most useful skills you have learned from your degree that are transferable to engineering at Arachnys?

This is very cliche, but it’s probably the problem solving skills I’ve garnered. I’ve always viewed my degree as one that teaches me things that are almost useless in industry (I concentrated on Combinatorics and Probability on Graphs), but instead trains my brain to think creatively and this becomes a very useful skill when faced with unknown or unseen problems during work.

What are you working on right now and what technologies/languages are involved?

Currently we have a proof of concept for a client to use our Unified Search Service to generate lots of information about hundreds of companies they have given us in an automatic way. This splits into two task: entity resolution and information gathering. I’ve been working on this for the past month and we’ve discovered lots of useful ideas that could extend our current platform, especially on entity resolution which could really provide value.

I’m using Python 3 completely as it fits well into the rest of the Arachnys platform, requests to hit internal and external APIs and pandas to push the data around in an easy to manipulate format.

Other than this, I support teams in achieving some of their goals and add to the platform if/when the proof of concept requires such.

What advice would you give to students who want to be involved in the tech sector based on what you’ve learned in your own career thus far?

So the way I conducted my interviews for internships the year I started at Arachnys was by just applying to loads of places and I just took their online tests sequentially. In fact, I didn’t even know how to code in Python before this, it was an online test which only allowed me to use Python or R, neither of which I knew at the time! Of course I had a lot of failures but the key thing it taught me was that I just needed experience since I saw that I was capable of completing these tests. I would recommend HackerRank for this, they group up problems by categorising the type of solution they require and it’s similar to the way I look at the kinds of questions you usually get asked in an interview.

This shows you have the skill, but it’s still nowhere near what someone with one or two years of experience can do, so you’ve got to show a keen interest in the field and show to an employer that it is worth having you in the team. This is often a case of having some kind of project you’ve done in your spare time or at a previous internship.

Just don’t give up, there’s lots of space in this industry for you and it’s just a matter of time and practice. You’ll learn what kind of skills you need to acquire after each iteration. It’s always hard at the start.

And finally, who do you look to for inspiration? Can you recommend any great books/people to follow/TEDtalks/podcasts that you follow?

I’m someone who has been lucky to have some super smart people as friends and they are the biggest inspiration in my life so far. I’m a naturally competitive person and I like to push myself to beat them.

Unfortunately I’m not too much of a book person myself, I gain most of my knowledge from just doing things, but recently I’ve been going on Coursera a lot and taking a few courses on Machine Learning for general interest and because that’s probably the direction of expansion in the KYC/AML/EDD area. I thought their machine learning course was a great applied introduction to the area.

Digital Marketing Executive at Arachnys