Alumni Spotlight: Ye Cheng, PhD GSNB'09, '11

“At Rutgers, I learned to never give up. You need to think holistically and creatively from the start to be a successful problem solver.” – Ye Cheng


Ye Cheng, who received MS and PhD degrees in mechanical and aerospace engineering, is a senior technical evangelist at MathWorks. In this role, Ye leads a team that helps university faculty members across the U.S. better use MATLAB for education and research.


Where did you do your undergraduate work?

I grew up in a suburb of Beijing and graduated from Tsinghua University in Beijing, which is a top Chinese research university.

Why did you choose the School of Engineering for graduate school?

I could have stayed in Tsinghua, but felt like I needed more experience and I wanted to see what was going on in the rest of the world. The U.S. has great institutions with strong research reputations and Rutgers is one of them. I liked the location – the proximity to New York City, beaches, and mountains. I also liked the fact that there were free buses to take you around the campuses.

Where do you work from?

While MathWorks is headquartered in Natick, Massachusetts, I work out of the DC office.

Did you go straight from the SoE to MathWorks?

Although I was a TA in Senior Labs during my time at Rutgers, MathWorks was my first “real” job. I started as an evangelist and have moved up to have senior rank. I’m now leading a team of smart and passionate engineers.

What is a Technical Evangelist?

I believe in MathWorks’ product MATLAB -- the common high-level language for technical computing that scientists and engineers speak around the world.  I work to spread the word about how to use it more effectively.

I used MATLAB at Rutgers and was grateful to have free access to it. It’s a great product that helps scientists and engineers visualize ideas and test complicated algorithms. It has broad applications across disciplines such as aerospace, biotech, finance, arts, music, communication, and more.

At Rutgers, MATLAB helped me do my research more effectively. When I taught Senior Lab, it was an important component. It’s the language of choice at Rutgers.

How do you spread the word about MATLAB?

I get to travel around the U.S .and visit different universities to see how they are using MATLAB. It’s interesting to see the surprising ways it’s used. For example, it can help analyze sound to make better music. Psychologists might use it to analyze behavioral data to make predictions. So, getting to see these broader applications is one perk of the job.   This also lets me help professors, teachers, researchers, and other professionals use MATLAB better in their teaching and research.

What do you like most about your job?

I like the travel and I also like the company. The people here are passionate and energetic. I had a similar experience at Rutgers, with my classmates and people in the lab. It went beyond professional relationships. We shared interests and were trying to accomplish the same goals.

Did you have a favorite professor at Rutgers?

I owe a lot to F. Javier Diez-Garias who was my advisor for both my master’s and PhD. He taught me a lot. Most of my research experiments had a lot of moving parts. He told me to never give up – it might work on the 94th try. There’s a sign in the labs: If you can’t fix it with duct tape, you’re not using enough of it. It’s so true.

You might not always have the time or resources you need, so you need to think holistically and creatively from the start to be a problem solver.

I also had a technical writing professor who gave me a low grade and said my writing was too “flowery.” I took this as a compliment. My job technically falls under marketing, so that I can use my “flowery” writing as well as my engineering skills.

What else do you value about your Rutgers education?

Rutgers is quite unique in its diversity. I lived in a dorm with other grad students. We were all from different cultures and backgrounds. It was a great opportunity to see things from different perspectives.

Do you keep in touch with professors and classmates?

I maintain a close relationship with my advisor and other faculty members. With my job, I’ve been helping a lot of Rutgers faculty with MATLAB. It’s great – I get to go back to my old school and visit spots I used to go to. I’m in touch with classmates, too.

What did you do for fun at Rutgers?

I liked to take the train into the heart of New York City and see Broadway shows, go to museums, and to good restaurants. Of course, I also liked to hang out in New Brunswick at popular places like Stuff Yer Face.

What do you do for fun these days?

I swim 2000 yards every morning before work to train for an annual open water swim race in Miami.

I believe in lifelong learning, so I also enjoy taking MOOC courses online.

Do you have a favorite app?

I have lots of apps. I love the MATLAB app. It’s fun and easy to use and I use it often.

I also love Audible from Amazon. I listen to a lot of books.

What are you listening to now?

I’m actually listening to A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. It’s not best on tape – I probably should be reading a print book.

I also just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s an amazing and inspiring true story about a World War II survivor.

What’s a favorite student memory?

It’s hard to pick. I have fond memories of Rutgers Day, when we opened the lab to show interested high school students and their parents what engineering was all about.

If you were to go on a vacation tomorrow, where would you go?

I might want to go to Mars. I just read Andy Weir’s interesting novel, The Martian, about a guy who goes to Mars. I’m fascinated by space and I’d love to travel in space and see Earth from above. More realistically, though, I’d like to go to Big Island in Hawaii and go snorkeling. I love snorkeling!