Graduate Spotlight: Gary Tou, Future Tech Startup Creator

Graduate Spotlight: Gary Tou, Future Tech Startup Creator

Gary Tou, ’23, seemed destined to do something in life that involved computers. Growing up, technology was all around him, from his dad’s work in IT to his first introduction to the world wide web. In the second grade, his journey into the tech realm was crystallized when he started building drag-and-drop websites. 

So, it seems more than serendipitous that he would find himself majoring in computer science as an undergraduate at Seattle University, with some of the world’s tech giants in our backyard. 

“With Seattle U’s near proximity to the top innovators in technology, it has provided me with unique opportunities including my senior capstone project with Amazon Alexa to detect profanity within Alexa’s content,” says Tou. “It’s been an amazing journey and I’m glad Seattle U has been a part of it.” 

At SU, Tou found an environment that nurtured his interests and gave him the freedom to explore, learn and grow. “The computer science program provided me with that environment. From the start, this community encouraged me to explore different areas of computer science and helped me strengthen my skills and passion for the field."

As uniquely experienced by the graduates of the Class of 2023, studying and learning during a global pandemic meant a marked shift from the norm of an in-person classroom experience to one that was entirely virtual or hybrid. For Tou, this period sparked a desire to create something at first out of a feeling of boredom. After gathering a group of 10 friends who are students themselves in the tech space to brainstorm ideas, out came synHacks, which empowers youth to tackle current global issues, like climate change, through computer science—including coding—by providing industry mentorships and hackathon experiences.

“Oftentimes, the leap from learning how to code to applying those skills to solve real-world problems is a big one,” says Tou, who is a co-founder of synHacks along with An Doan. “My personal goal was to help bridge that gap and provide a platform for students to learn and apply their skills in a fun and engaging way.”

One of the events launched by synHacks during the pandemic was “Hack the World,” a weeklong hackathon that connected nearly 400 students from across the globe, representing 30 countries. 

For those not in the know, hackathons are popular coding gatherings where people come together to collaborate on ideas, learn how to code and build software applications that adhere to a set theme. Beyond the chance to collaborate with like-minded peers, hackathons can help build and grow new skills and create a tangible product like a website or app.

“I attended my first hackathon back in 2018 and it was a life-changing experience,” says Tou. “Hackathons introduced me to a network of programmers who loved building crazye projects. … If you’re interested in learning how to code, meeting other programmers or building silly projects with newly made friends, I highly recommend attending a hackathon!”

For “Hack the World” Tou and the synHacks team spent four months planning to bring their vision to life. “Before this event, I had never planned a large event before, let alone one that covered all time zones across the world,” Tou explains.

“Everything from finding judges and mentors to organizing workshops and securing sponsors for our $100,000 in prizes was a new experience for most of us. The largest takeaway for me was the newfound appreciation for the amount of work and effort that goes on behind the scenes to pull off an event at this scale, all to ensure a memorable experience for the students involved.”

In addition to his studies and his work with synHacks, Tou found time as an undergraduate to give back as a mentor to middle school and high school students who are interested in STEM. Mentoring future generations is important to Tou, who himself benefited from mentors and role models who helped guide and support him since his childhood. His first taste of mentoring others came in high school when he worked part-time as a teaching assistant, introducing students to programming. 

“Mentorship has been a way for me to share my experiences with others, such as fixing a bug in a popular programming language. It has also helped me solidify my own knowledge, because as many of us know, teaching is one of the best ways to learn,” says Tou. “Above all else, I hope that through mentorship I can show students that following their curiosity and passions can lead to amazing opportunities.”

Among his accomplishments Tou is also the recipient of this year’s College of Science and Engineering Reverend Edmund B. McNulty, S.J. Award, which recognizes outstanding graduates who typify the qualities of scholarship, leadership, dedication and inspiration.

Says Tou, “I am grateful to have been recognized for my work and it holds a deep significance in my academic journey. To me, this award also represents the culmination of my computer science undergraduate education and the beginning of my career.”

Looking back at his time at SU, Tou says it’s the little everyday things that he’ll miss most, “from late nights in SINE (Sinegal Center) with friends finishing up assignments to grabbing ramen and boba after a long day of classes. I value every moment of it and will definitely miss Professor Xin Zhao’s unique and engaging lectures in the Refactoring and Software Design class.”

Post-graduation, Tou will be working in the financial technology sector as a software engineer. Ultimately, his dream job is to launch a startup that helps people manage their finances. 

“Personal financial literacy is a topic that is often overlooked and managing finances at an organizational level can be a daunting task,” Tou says. “The idea of applying technology to improve the financial lives of others is something that excites me and I am looking forward to seeing where this journey takes me.”

When not coding, organizing a hackathon or ruminating on his next potential startup, Tou loves to take photos, particularly of nature. His photography has even been featured on digital news sites like BuzzFeed. 

This is the final story in a series featuring graduates of the Class of 2023. Visit The Newsroom to read previous stories in this series.   

Written by Tina Potterf

Monday, June 12, 2023