Center Snapshot: Wei Zhang
Image above: Wei Zhang, a software test engineer in NASA Langley's Science Directorate, plans to spend her time off of work doing more reading, traveling and volunteering. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith
By: Denise Lineberry
To swim professionally or not to swim professionally, that is the question that would determine much of Wei Zhang's future.
Born and raised in Shanghai, Wei started swimming at 5 and by time she reached high school, she was invited to swim professionally.
"In China, I would have put much of my focus on swimming," she said. "I would have gotten a basic education, but not much else."
Wei's mother preferred that she focus on her education. Her mother also preferred her daughter stay close. Wei's training would not have made it possible for her to remain close to home. Ultimately, she decided not to swim.
In hindsight, she is happy with her decision. "If you’ve seen me, I am not very tall. I probably would not have made it very far professionally," she said. "I possibly would have gone on to become a coach."
Wei earned her bachelor's degree in China, and then decided to pursue her master's in the U.S. Her father had a friend who lived in Virginia Beach, so when she began applying, Old Dominion University (ODU) was her first choice. ODU also chose Wei.
She enjoyed living in the U.S. so much that she decided to stay after graduation. Like Shanghai, there are four seasons, and she was quickly making friends.
While at ODU, she also met her husband, Jeff and they had a son, Jordan, 3.
Wei thinks of the employees at NASA Langley as a big family. For almost three years, she has worked as a software test engineer for the (Archive Next Generation) ANGe team at the Atmospheric Sciences Data Center (ASDC). "I am responsible for finding defects in ANGe before it goes to production," she said.
Her previous work in quality assurance taught her to "approach testing in a methodical way." And the software engineer side of her resume gives her "insight into the programmers' minds."
Her work at Langley tops off that knowledge with an environment that she appreciates. "What we do here is not for the sole purpose of making money, like almost all of corporate America," she said. "What we do here can actually make a huge difference in the environment."
For Wei, "there is always something new."
Her curiosity has developed her interest in traveling. It's an interest that is spurred more by the experience of different cultures, rather than a destination.
She and Jeff have traveled to Barbados, Mexico and various places in China.
They have also traveled to many states in the U.S., keeping to a mountain tradition every year. Wei enjoys skiing and her husband, snowboarding. They have been to Colorado, Wyoming, California and upstate New York. They also frequent Virginia’s mountains and began to take Jordan to Massanutten Resort when he was 2.
"We just took him back again earlier this year after he turned 3," Wei said. "He did very well. We were kind of surprised to see him almost doing it on his own."
Jordan has already traveled to Shanghai to meet her family. Her parents and her sister still live there. "He was almost 2 for that visit and he doesn't remember much," she said. "We are trying to take him there every other year."
Now that Jordan is more communicative, Wei is teaching him Chinese. She'll have some extra time to continue teaching him on the way there … about 13 to 16 hours.
"Last time he did exceptionally well," she said. "He listened to his portable DVD player and slept, and we quietly walked around when he needed to get up."
Wei is grateful for these opportunities with her family, and also for her career. These aspects of her life would not have been possible if she had pursued a life as a professional swimmer in China.
"I'm glad I listened to my mom," she said.