Creative Computing
Semmes Scholar now at Microsoft, solving human problems
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Kylie Moden and Paul Myers at 2017 web awards

Kylie Moden ’17 could have gone anywhere to study computer science.

Moden, now a program manager for Microsoft’s Bing search engine, originally looked at 10 schools across Texas and the Southwest, and even received an offer from the University of Texas at Austin’s Turing Scholars program. But Trinity’s Semmes Distinguished Scholars in Science program—available to any student in the sciences—gave her a chance to be more than a major.

It gave her a chance to be herself.

“I didn’t want to be ‘shunned’ from having other interests—other schools were going to push me to only focus on my major. But Trinity encouraged me to be well-rounded,” says Moden, a native of Dripping Springs, Texas. “Yes, academics are important to me, but the exploration you can have at Trinity, that’s even more important.”

Trinity’s Semmes Scholars, in addition to receiving full tuition and funding for research, equipment, and conferences, get one other crucial boost: Even though they’re required to be science majors, they get to be science majors at Trinity.

Moden, for example, knew she’d be able to open multiple doors through a computer science major at Trinity. She founded Trinity’s Women in Computing Club, held invaluable internships, and attended national computer science conferences. But she was also able to keep playing music as a flutist in Trinity’s ensembles and orchestras and try her hand across several academic fields, all with small class sizes and enthusiastic, engaged professors.

“I wanted to go to a school where professors didn’t just remember me—they knew me,” Moden says.

That balance between the liberal arts and the sciences can be tricky to find, according to Moden. Most of the other small schools she looked at didn’t offer any strong science programs, let alone her specific interest. But when Moden toured Trinity’s campus, she saw the CSI building under construction, one of many clear investments in the sciences.

“Trinity wowed me,” she says. “It was so clear that Trinity was funding its sciences and valued its technology, where other liberal arts schools weren’t. This Semmes scholarship is proof how important the sciences are to this school, but there were so many other ways Trinity was showing me it cared about the sciences.”

But at Trinity, Moden also started thinking about how the sciences are about more than technology, facilities, formulas, or equipment: They’re about solving human problems.

Moden knew she wanted to study computer science throughout high school. She’d created her own iPhone apps, progressed through AP computing classes, and got involved with the National Center for Women and Information Technology. “I really liked solving problems with code, she says. “No matter what your interest is, computer science is involved. Doctors use it for patient analyses. Musicians are using it for music generation. Cooks use smart ovens. It’s a toolbox for solving all sorts of problems.”

But at Trinity, Moden didn’t just create pieces of code. She also founded the Trinity University Women in Computing (TUWIC) organization as a first-year. Moden was backed by the computer science department chair at the time, Paul Myers, who enthusiastically supported TUWIC and worked to get regular funding for conferences. “He was a huge supporter of TUWIC and the efforts to support and retain women in the computer science program,” Moden says.

To this day, the group’s cohorts of women provide mentorship on and off campus, run tech camps for young San Antonio girls, and attend national conferences.

And Moden also created networking connections through the computer science department, particularly alumni who’d worked at both Microsoft and Google and were able to give her advice on starting her professional journey.

Now, as a program manager for Microsoft’s Bing Search engine, Moden works on the user experience of different search results—the stock answers you see when you search for popular terms. “I work on a wide scope of experiences, from a search of a stock price, to a search about coronavirus,” Moden says. “The rich answers at the top of the results page are what I work on."

In this career, Moden uses her technical skills but also relies on her leadership, critical thinking, and problem solving abilities—hallmarks of Trinity’s liberal arts experience. 

“It’s a perfect marriage of all these things I enjoy,” Moden says. “My favorite stages of projects have always been the design stage, taking a higher-level view of the product. But now I get to work with designers, researchers, the development team, and leadership and management. That’s a lot of people to make happy.”

Moden says the human impact of technology can sometimes be overlooked. As a student, and even as an employee it can be easy to focus on the technical solution, however, the direct connection to people is always there.

"Right now, working on the Bing election experience, we're helping people learn how to register and vote,” Moden says. “Sometimes, you might forget the humans on the other side of the software. But in my position as a program manager, I’m constantly thinking about how my work affects humans.”

Jeremiah Gerlach is the brand journalist for Trinity University Strategic Communications and Marketing.

You might be interested in