Brina Lee,Marshall ’08, recently featured in Elle
magazine, is proud to be the first female engineer at Instagram, the popular social media photo sharing app. She is an alumna of the Computer Science and Engineering program at UC San Diego, graduating in 2013 after first earning her BS Communication in 2008. Brina is also a Grace Hopper Scholarship winner, and attended their conference in 2010.
B.S. Communications and M.S. Computer Science and Engineering
Claim to fame:
First full-time female engineer at Instagram
She has also worked at Yahoo!, Google, and Facebook
Q. What was your major at UC San Diego?
A. If someone had told 16-year-old me that I would end up being a software engineer, I would've laughed. At UC San Diego, I started out studying communications with every intention of going into marketing. I liked design, thinking creatively and putting my ideas on paper. After graduation, I took a marketing role at a small start-up, and quickly noticed the company didn't have a website. One day, my manager put a book on my desk and said, "Learn HTML.” I taught myself in the beginning, and in 2010, I began enrolling in classes through UC San Diego Extension. I transitioned into the master’s program and by 2013, I graduated.
Q. How did the Grace Hopper Scholarship make a difference for you?
A. While I was with UC San Diego Extension, it was hard to land an internship because I wasn't enrolled in a traditional undergraduate program. Almost every company I applied to denied me. Then, I received the Grace Hopper Scholarship Award to attend their 2010 conference — the world's largest gathering of female technologists. When that happened, I was able to put "scholarship recipient" on my resume and doors started opening.
Q: What kind of doors began to open?
A. Yahoo! saw my marketing background and hired me for an internship in user design. I ended up joining Yahoo! full-time and then returning to UCSD for a master's in computer science. Afterwards, I joined Google and then Facebook as a software engineering intern, and was then offered a trip to Grace Hopper on a Facebook scholarship. By continuing to support and expand the visibility of initiatives like Grace Hopper, I hope we can get more women to become engineers — whether they're in high school, college, or in other industry roles. It's never too early or too late to switch majors or careers, especially if it's what you're meant to do.
Q: How can we encourage more women to get into technology?
A. It’s a fact that women make up only 13 percent of all computer science graduates. I hope more women will become engineers and computer scientists, and we need to start early to make that an attractive option. One “boring” coding class in high school can turn a student off. And sometimes we don’t realize what we’re meant to do until we’ve already completed a major, like me. So we need to make it easier to switch.
Q: And now you’re at Instagram! What does that mean to you?
A. I credit my UC San Diego degree and the Grace Hopper Scholarship Award for reinforcing my resume when I applying for software engineering jobs, like the one I have now. I joined Instagram just over a year ago and I’m proud to be the first full-time female engineer at this fast-growing company. We touch over 150 million people so that’s really special. And it’s great now that Instagram is a part of Facebook, so we can leverage all the women here!