UW grad invited to White House

Software engineering graduate David Hu helped work on the website for Obamacare in the U.S.

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo

David Hu, a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo, didn’t expect his life to be transformed in one semester, leading to one of his greatest accomplishments. This accomplishment is one that would allow for national recognition by the White House and from President of the United States, Barack Obama.
Hu studied software engineering at UW and graduated in April of this year.

During the course of his undergraduate degree, Hu did an internship at Google and spent his work terms at Khan Academy. This is where his career really began to prosper.

He wrote a blog post regarding his work at Khan Academy, which went viral with 40,000 hits within the first week. It became so popular that Hu was given the opportunity to do a TEDx talk on his work.

Aside from his many work placements, Hu also developed the website uwflow.com. This was a project he worked on with two other friends, which initially began in September 2012.

“We have about 7,000 users for it, and it basically allows students to plan courses, see what their friends are taking, see their friends’ schedules,” said Hu.

All of these achievements are what allowed Hu to work on a project with HealthCare.gov, which gained recognition from the White House and Obama. In 2013, he interned at Sift Science and was invited to work on the website.

HealthCare.gov allows people to sign up for Obamacare, which is a program meant to give Americans more affordable and quality healthcare. It acts as a marketplace for healthcare insurance companies, where citizens are able to choose the insurance company that they wish to invest in.

According to Hu, Obamacare works in a manner that encourages citizens to sign up for insurance. If one does not sign up for insurance, then one must pay a penalty. Obamacare is also required to pay subsidies for individuals and families of lower incomes, in order for them to enroll in the insurance program.

When HealthCare.gov was launched in October 2013, only a portion of people were able to sign up for it.

In order to mediate the situation, engineers were flown in from Silicon Valley in order to keep the service up and running.

There was also an effort to create a new website in order to replace the previously existing one, as the creators were not confident that the website would be able to support peak traffic days. This was the endeavor that Hu became a part of in November 2013.

“When I was working at Sift Science … my mentor was drafted to work on this project, and he invited me to also work on it,” explained Hu.

“I was a student at the time — I had not graduated yet — so what I offered was to basically work remotely in Waterloo as a student,” he said.

Hu continued that in order to focus on the important project with HealthCare.gov, he dropped a course, some of his previous responsibilities and barely attended any lectures. Despite this, the project did not impact him too much academically.

Finally, after the success of HealthCare.gov, the White House decided to acknowledge all of the tech engineers and celebrities who helped to make Obamacare successful. Consequently, these two groups of people were invited to the White House for a reception, where Obama and his wife gave a couple of remarks.

During his visit to the White House, Hu was also given the opportunity to play basketball on the White House courts and experience a mini boat cruise of Washington, D.C.

“I had fun there. It was sort of surreal actually,” said Hu. “I really enjoyed my visit. I enjoyed meeting people there, I enjoyed reuniting with people who I worked with remotely, seeing them in person.”

Hu is now currently a software engineer at Khan Academy, waiting to see what comes next in his career.

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