Alumni Spotlight: Victoria Houed

Victoria Houed (BSIE '16) was recently selected to be part of the Georgetown University McCourt School of Public Policy inaugural Tech & Public Policy Visiting Fellows program. Victoria was kind enough to give us an update on what she has been up to since graduating in 2016.


What have you been up to since graduating in 2016?
After leaving Purdue with a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering, I moved back to Chicago (where I was born and raised) with no plan, job, or money. One day while applying for jobs I got a call from a friend to build a light-up jacket for Chance the Rapper, which ultimately changed my life forever. 
Because of the “cool” factor that the Chance project added to my resume, I ended up getting a job as a junior developer at Cards Against Humanity building the logistics software that shipped millions of games all over the world. While working there, I started a nonprofit for Black women in technology called BlackByte, which created a social space for black nerdy women like myself to support each other in our tech careers.

Victoria Houed

After a few years of building up my software chops, a friend of mine ran for Mayor of Chicago. I supported his campaign by managing his tech team, but I ended up getting interested in the impact one can have by shaping policy. Soon after that I applied to TechCongress, a fellowship for engineers to serve for one year in the Legislative Branch. I got the fellowship, moved to DC, and ended up working for then-Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, at the start of 2020. The pandemic hit two months after I started, so I spent a year working on COVID relief legislation and covering her tech policy portfolio with her senior advisors. 
The final day of my fellowship was the insurrection(!) so I wanted my next job to be something a bit more relaxed, while still allowing me to utilize my newfound policy chops. I decided to go to a philanthropy created by Google ex-CEO, Eric Schmidt. At Schmidt Futures, I built out a tech policy think tank called Plaintext Group and taught the organization's grantees about the science and tech policy landscape. 
After realizing I missed being in government, I decided to go to the Department of Commerce to support their Chief Data Officer and Acting Under Secretary for Economic Affairs on artificial intelligence (AI). I am currently the Director of AI Policy and Strategy within the Under Secretary’s office. 
How has your degree in IE helped you along the way?
My IE degree has helped me in two ways. 
First, during my senior year at Purdue, I took an experimental IE class that asked us to evaluate ourselves as a system. One of the activities we did together was create a mission and vision for our lives. I still have mine today (this screenshot is from the original class presentation from 2016): 


This has allowed me to make career decisions easily as I always have a clear direction for my life: use my strengths to serve and support the people around me. 
Second, after leaving Congress I started building a curriculum for teaching how to influence science and tech policy in DC. My IE education helped me apply systems thinking to the policy ecosystem. I teach this new way of approaching policymaking to universities across the country, to scientists, technologists, think tanks, philanthropies, and more.
What sort of advice would you give to a high school student or first year engineering student that may be considering industrial engineering (or maybe doesn’t know about ie?)
The coolest thing about IE is how versatile it is and how it can take you to career heights you never imagined. My education allowed me to work with some of the most influential people in our society, from artists, to policy leaders, to CEOs, and more. I did not come from a well-off background, my grandparents from one side came here from Cuba and Peru with nothing and my family from my other side came to Chicago during the Great Migration with nothing. My education allowed me to be the first in my immediate family to have a thriving career. 
If you are a generalist (meaning you enjoy learning a little about a lot), are a people person, and are analytically brained, this is the perfect major for you. 
During your time at Purdue do you have a favorite memory/instructor/professor? If so, what/who?
My favorite professor was Dr. Wenzhuo Wu, who allowed me to join his lab as an undergraduate to work on nanomanufacturing. I recommend students who want to get technical lab experience to reach out to him! 
My favorite memories come from the clubs that I was involved with - IISE (Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers) and BoilerMake (the Purdue hackathon). We got into a lot of “good trouble” and I still regularly see members from both clubs to this day.