Class of '14: Austin Lin
Chicago product has the best seat in the house
A couple of things to include on your resume for that White House job: theater major and computer science expert.
Blending science and the arts worked for Austin Lin, 24, who graduated from the University of Illinois this weekend with academic distinction — from Washington, D.C.
Lin landed a technology internship at the White House's Presidential Personnel Office last summer and wound up with a permanent job there this spring. He had to finish his last class remotely and couldn't make it back for Saturday's UI commencement, but he planned to watch it via the web.
"People often ask me what it's like to go to work every day at the White House and the first thing I point out is that I work on the White House complex," Lin said. "Then I tell them that while walking in the gates every morning is a rush, it's the people that make this a really special place to work. Everyone I work with is exceptionally smart, driven and hardworking. It's an environment that pushes you to be your best."
Lin was born in the Chicago area and lived in Lake Forest before coming to the UI. But in between he lived in Minneapolis, Singapore and Chicago because of his father's job as an executive with United Airlines.
"It was a great way to grow up and gave me a very different perspective on the world," he said.
Lin wasn't sure what he wanted to do with his life but chose theater as a major, with a concentration in stage management, because he loved working on the technical side of stage productions in high school.
He'd also been a self-taught computer programmer since middle school, so he took two freshman computer science classes to fulfill general education requirements.
He worked as a stage manager at Krannert for theater, opera and dance productions, winning an undergraduate prize for outstanding stage management.
Lin also received a research fellowship from a program at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications called SPIN — Students Pushing Innovation. That experience helped Lin win a spot in the White House Internship Program. He'd been interested in politics since he was a kid. "Out of the blue one day while working up at NCSA, I got a call from the White House to do a phone interview. A few weeks later I was accepted," he said. "It was all quite surreal."
He was assigned to data work and software development for the technology/operations team at the personnel office, which handles all presidential appointees and most political appointees across government — "everything from Cabinet secretaries down to the most junior level assistants."
He returned to school last fall but then one of his White House supervisors got a new job over winter break. Lin was asked to interview and was hired.
He hasn't met President Obama — not yet anyway. But he attended a speaker series with Vice President Joe Biden, First Lady Michelle Obama and other senior administration officials, who talked about their jobs and path to the White House. It was "a really incredible opportunity for someone interested in the world of government," Lin said.