When UNC moved to remote instruction in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so much changed for the Class of 2020 and their peers. Today, as we continue to navigate this unprecedented situation and try to recreate the campus experience, while remaining committed to quality teaching and research and providing opportunity for students, our UNC Computer Science alumni are rising to the challenge. For Cassidy Soutter (B.S. 2020), her commitment to supporting others and bettering society grounded her Carolina experience, and thus prepared her for today’s challenges. She’s found ways to continue to give and support her UNC CS community, while also starting a career that aligns with her experiences and beliefs as a Forward Deployed Engineer at Palantir.
In late spring, bearing witness to the consequences of COVID-19 on society, including the grief, loss, and impacts on mental health, Soutter searched for ways to create opportunity for her fellow UNC CS students. Specifically, Soutter hoped to help those students that experienced the loss of an internship or job opportunity. The result was UNC CS Summer of Code, a program for UNC CS students whose internships had been canceled due to COVID-19. Soutter connected with UNC CS staff and then led the program, which paired approximately 50 students with nine community partners who needed custom technology solutions, many of which stemmed from adapting to COVID-19. Additionally, 15 alumni and faculty mentors participated, answering students’ questions and guiding them through the process of creating a contract with the client, designing a product, and then developing it. The six week program culminated with a day of presentations to showcase the work of all of the teams.
Reflecting on the program and process, Soutter said, “It’s incredibly difficult to make a one-size-fits-all solution for students of all different backgrounds, but we had a successful first launch and I look forward to improving the program for upcoming summers.”
The technology developed by students had immediate impact and still serves the clients well today. For students, the opportunity to participate in Summer of Code may not have been how they imagined spending their summers, but it still provided growth and skill development, with many sharing that this experience filled the gap created by the cancellation of their internship.
How did Soutter arrive at leading efforts to support the Summer of Code program? As a North Carolina native, Soutter’s choice to attend UNC was a no-brainer. Initially, Soutter had her sights set on a future as an opera singer, singing in the world’s most famous opera houses. After arriving at Carolina, she realized that her calling was in a much different place: computer science. Having a family member working in tech influenced her change in course, but a larger influence was the recognition of the impact one could make by working in the tech field.
“Since I was little, I have felt that my purpose in life is to make the world a better place and uplift those around me. Seeing how dependent our society is and continues to be on technology led me to understand what an expansive impact I could have by bringing my perspective to the problems that tech tries to tackle. Technology empowers us to reach parts of the world and the universe that we never thought imaginable,” Soutter said.
While at UNC, Soutter was involved in a myriad of opportunities that helped her to understand that contributing to work that resulted in a positive impact on society was crucial for her moving forward. Soutter was one of the founding members of the student organization CS+Social Good and later served as president for two years. This and other opportunities solidified what was important to her.
“Because technology is so powerful, it is our responsibility to treat it delicately, considering implications of our work and protecting the privacy of the people,” she said, reflecting on what she valued in her career search.
Currently, as a Forward Deployed Engineer at Palantir in New York City, Soutter works in the US government space, helping some of the world’s largest organizations see how their data from many different sources is connected.
For Soutter, Palantir could not align any better with her goals of making a positive impact on society, “Every day, I get to practice my skills while helping people and growing into the technologist that I want to be.”
Moving forward, Soutter hopes to continue to stay connected to the department through mentorship opportunities, such as her current role with CS+Social Good, where she is serving as liaison between the student organization and Rewriting the Code, a non-profit whose mission is to support women in technology. Soutter was involved with Rewriting the Code as an undergraduate student and currently serves on the Alumni Board. She also hopes to continue her work with Summer of Code, providing more opportunities for students in the upcoming summer.
“The professors encouraged me, the staff of the department joined me in my efforts, and I consistently felt supported to raise the bar for what I felt I was capable of. No one gets to where we are alone. I gained so much from my time at UNC that it’s my turn to give back and continue trying to make an impact,” Soutter shared.
The UNC CS community is made better every day through the work and dedication of our alumni – we recognize that this is one of many stories of our alumni making an impact during this challenging time. If you are interested in connecting with the department to share about your current work or experiences, please contact Erin Lane at email@example.com.