Inside Moravian
e-Newsletter of the Moravian College Campus Community 11/12/13
 

ABOVE: For his interview with Google, Matt Lang, assistant professor computer science, had to cut short his month-long backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail, again demonstrating the search engine’s power to find anyone anywhere, even those hoofing in the wilderness somewhere between Harper’s Ferry and the Delaware Water Gap.

 
 

Google Finds Its Next Computer Expert in Moravian Faculty Member

‘Love for Moravian’ Makes Departure Difficult, Says Matt Lang

If you search online for the name “Matt Lang,” one of the top results is a biographical website for Moravian College’s very own assistant professor of computer science. It makes a person wonder if, before Google hired Lang away just a few weeks ago, raiding the College of a respected faculty member, part of the company’s hiring process includes using its own search engine to investigate its new hires. Maybe the answer can be Googled?

“This is not what I had planned for my career path,” explained Lang, sitting in his PPHAC office in late October, just a few days before he pulled up stakes to begin his new position as a Google software engineer. Days later he made the cross-country drive to Mountain View, Calif., solo.I love teaching. I love Moravian. This wasn’t something I was looking for. I don’t know if I would have sought this out, if they had not sought me out.”

In fact, when he accepted to interview on-site in mid-August, he did so with his Moravian students in mind. “When I agreed to the interview, it wasn’t because I wanted the job at Google,” he reasoned. “I thought it would be a really interesting thing to do, and when I returned I could give my students better advice about technical interviews at places like Google. Plus, I thought it would be a fun, paid trip to see Google’s headquarters.”

Fast forward to his job offer a few weeks later, Lang explained he felt compelled to accept, even if the decision tore him up emotionally. “Visiting Google, and seeing what I would handle in the position, it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” he said. “It’s not an opportunity someone says no to.”

Of course, it also meant saying goodbye to a program he helped build with Ben Coleman, associate professor of computer science, and his dozens of students within the major. “I really do care a lot about my students,” he said, pausing ever slightly. “For me, the personal relationships that we have are the most important part of my job. To see that come to an end has been really painful.”

The Stories Are All True

Once in California for his interview, Lang saw first-hand that all the hyperbole, myths and legends surrounding Google’s campus are in fact quite real. “It’s like every story you have ever heard about Google is true,” he explained.

While shuffling between interviews, Lang caught glimpses of the laidback work environment, with employees battling at the ping pong and pool tables and jamming on Rock Band, not far from the designated massage room. Throughout the course of his introductory trip, Lang learned about the company-provided breakfast, lunch and dinner meals, as well as the doctors, barbers, therapists and car service on site. Most errands could be crossed off without ever leaving campus. “They try to make it so you don’t have to worry about anything but work,” he reasoned.

pullquote

“A lot of the problems have relatively straightforward but inefficient solutions.
The real challenge is not in finding a solution,
but finding a solution that is efficient.”

– Matt Lang


While the general setting was relaxed, Lang called his process “tense,” participating in five technical interviews where his skills were literally put to the test. “It was a lot like an academic interview where it is this daylong process and you meet with several different people,” he said. The five interviews consisted of a brief introduction followed by Lang standing at a whiteboard trying to make an algorithm more efficient in the session’s 50-minute window.

Lang explained that much of the work involved commonly occurring issues the interviewer encounters.  “A lot of the problems have relatively straightforward but inefficient solutions. The real challenge is not in finding a solution, but finding a solution that is efficient,” he said. While the process was “mentally exhausting,” Lang excelled and received a job proposal a week later.

At Google, when a candidate interviews for a software engineering job, they aren’t interviewed for a particular team, project or position, according to Lang. Now that they confirmed Lang had the technical skills, his resume was shared with different teams on a myriad of projects. After speaking with each interested team lead, Lang selected a project in the Geo Team that is responsible for products like Maps and Earth.

In total, it was just a matter of weeks between Google’s inquiry email to Lang and his decision to uproot from Bethlehem, his home since 2009. “It’s funny because when I got the email from the recruiter, I didn’t think it was serious right away,” he recalled. “It could have just been spam mail, right.”

A Hard Goodbye

Of all the amenities Google offers, they likely won’t provide the same level of comfort as Lang’s office, his beloved coffee machine, and the periodic interruptions of students coming by to break up a monotonous study session. “The coffee pot is always on,” said Lang, shedding light into what he will miss most. “I am usually here until 7, 8 or 9 o’clock at night, so all the kids working in the lounge will come in for a cup of coffee or something else. I’m going to miss those interactions.” Those same sentiments were shared for the students groups and clubs he’s been affiliated with like the College’s ice hockey club, and various professional computing societies.

Regarding his three fall semester courses, Lang will finish instructing them remotely through online chats. He also plans to return in early December to see one course’s work on display at the Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown.

“I plan to host semi-weekly meetings via Google Hangouts,” Lang explained, before breaking into a laugh. “I have been saying Google Hangouts a lot lately. I feel like I get a dime every time I say Google now.”

When asked about Lang’s influence on his education, Alek Szilagyi '14, a computer science major at Moravian, recalled how the professor impressed him at their first meeting during a campus visit. Once he enrolled, Szilagyi explained, Lang didn’t disappointed because he “pushes you to test your boundaries.”

“Dr. Lang will give you assignments that are incredibly daunting and will have you scratching your head, but he never gives you anything you can’t handle,” he continued. “He is always getting you to push a little bit further. Looking back, I can see clearly how much I’ve changed as a computer scientist and how he has helped my understanding and my experience at Moravian.”

James Moore ’13, who graduated last May and works for the Vanguard Group in Malvern, echoed Szilagyi’s praise for Lang. “He really cares a lot about his students, and always went the extra mile,” Moore said of his former professor. “He really put himself out there, and made himself available to his students.”

During the waning moments of his last two days of classes, Lang fully realized it was the last time he’d see most of his students. It was heart-wrenching, evident by his tears welling up inside. “When students graduate, you see it coming. Plus, commencement is this culminating event and it is about saying goodbye and seeing them off to their lives. This is different. It’s more abrupt. It’s not about me seeing them off, but them seeing me off. But we will still be attached … in a lot of ways.”

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