Jake Bowen, Bachelor's in Mathematics '09

The Math-Data Connection

How Studying Math Led Him to Facebook

Jake Bowen ’09 is a data guy. That’s what drove him to become an Analytics Engineer at Facebook. What he loves about working with Facebook data is that it’s about how real people connect with each other — “some of the most interesting data you can work with,” he says. How did Jake prepare for his dream job? By studying math — first in USF’s bachelor’s program, then San Francisco State University’s master’s program.

How did the Math program prepare you for success after graduation?
The USF program offered a variety of math classes and some of those have been useful in my work since — notably, Linear Algebra. I’d advise anybody wanting to work in analytics to focus on linear algebra. Professor Paul Zeitz’s Problem-Solving Seminar is amazing for thinking about how to approach problems you’ve never seen before. However, what’s been most valuable throughout the years are the relationships I formed with the faculty. When I expressed interest in topology, Professors Zeitz and Cornelia Van Cott took on weekly one-on-one study sessions with me to focus on learning it.

Going into my graduate classes, I felt more prepared than a lot of my classmates. The encouragement and passion I received was just amazing. While it's true that the immediate skill sets I need today differ from those more academic topics I focused on once upon a time, there are softer skills I learned then which I still carry with me. Prof. Zeitz asked me to lead a study hour and a few other teaching-related things for some upper division math courses, which was not only an incredible shot of confidence but the beginning of a passion for helping those around me. This served me as I worked in high school classrooms on a National Science Foundation grant in grad school, and now at Facebook as I transition into management.

Why did you want to major in Math at USF?
I always planned to major in math — I have been passionate about it since childhood. I never considered another major and I declared immediately in my freshman year.

I chose USF for the faculty, and I'm really glad I did. USF values passion for education in their faculty, and it really shows. A lot of schools, the faculty will be absolutely brilliant, but you'll hear horror stories from the students about how uninterested the faculty are in teaching, how it was a distraction from their research and little more. At USF, every professor is excited to get up and teach every morning and as a result, students walk out with a deep and thorough understanding of their topics, wonderful relationships with their professors that they'll treasure for years to come, and in many cases, a passion for education themselves.

What are some of your best memories from the Math program?
Some of my best memories from my undergraduate days are the tea hours the Math department holds every week. It really cements bonds with your peers and your professors, and it's an opportunity to talk about your passion in a social setting, discuss recent advances you don't fully understand yet, and grow as a budding mathematician. We would talk about fun, cool problems and you might hear about whole branches of math you didn't know would excite you. And of course, it's great for future networking — those other math majors you're sitting with, the ones who are passionate enough to attend department tea, are precisely who you'll want to be sharing your resume with as you all head out into the workforce.