Alumnus Credits NSU Experience with Acquiring Position with Netflix

by Sharon Riddick Hoggard (M.A.’04)  -

Alumnus credits NSU experience with acquiring position with Netflix - Now he is helping the next generation of Spartans to grab opportunities in Silicon Valley

Ask Michael Chase, senior engineer at Netflix and 2012 graduate of NSU, what Norfolk State means to him, and he will tell you that the University faculty instilled in him confidence. “NSU gave me a lot of confidence in the ways I didn’t know I needed,” Chase said. “Confidence is key. It allows you to speak eloquently when you are speaking about your skills.”

That confidence played an important role in a journey that allowed him to take internships and positions from government to large corporations, to traditional industries in the world of finance to high-tech firms willing to carve out new frontiers. At Netflix Inc., the world’s leading entertainment streaming service company with 204 million paid memberships in over 190 countries, Chase explained his role as an engineer by saying he unravels challenges and creates solutions. “We solve issues that usually affect large numbers of customers, or partners and solving them with code — just trying to piece together how data flows from our system that ends up with a video playing on your screen or device.”

A DNIMAS (Dozoretz National Institute for Mathematics and Applied Sciences) scholar and computer science major, with a concentration in computer engineering, Chase began forming his confidence by working on projects in labs at Norfolk State. “I worked in the gaming lab with Dr. Rasha Morsi and served as a tutor in the STARS program,” he recalls. “Dr. Morsi is a leader in creative gaming. She really believed in me. She involved me in million dollar contracts and gave me credit for the work. She gave an incredible amount of freedom and trust that I would deliver.”

Chase continued to hone his programming skills by also participating in coding and robotics competitions. “Michael liked to program and was adept at it,” remembers Dr. Thorna Humphries, graduate program director and associate professor of computer science, who had Chase as a student in software engineering and operating systems. "He also participated in ARTSI, a collaborative robotics initiative,” she said. “He liked problems that challenged him in respect to programming. He took pride in the software products that he developed, in particular the one for his senior project. I knew that he would work diligently to become successful in the industry.”

Chase credits these opportunities, internships, faculty and others for helping him to get employment at Netflix. His internships, while at NSU, included two stints at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the Department of Commerce where he worked at the IT Help Desk assisting employees with computer issues. Working through the University’s Career Services Center, Chase received assistance in putting together his resume and got wind of an internship opportunity at JP Morgan Chase, the multinational investment bank and financial services holding company based in New York City. He snapped up the internship and worked with databases in the New Jersey office. Chase’s journey, impacted partly by NSU’s Career Services and his internship at JP Morgan Chase, taught him the necessity of giving back.

“My experience with the Career Center and JP Morgan taught me about reaching back, building those bridges so that there is that open communication. After I graduated, and whenever I found opportunities, I made it a point to reach out to Norfolk State however I could. I like to connect students with opportunities to advance their academic success and professional lives.” Discussing his belief in reaching back to help others, Chase mentioned his role in helping to bring the Netflix Boot Camp to NSU. He said he simply spoke up in a meeting of Netflix executives planning a trip to Washington, D.C.andsuggested they visit NSU. “NSU showed up extremely well. The company was convinced that the University would be a great partner because the faculty and students exhibited knowledge and skills. It left an impression.”

Dr. Aurelia Williams, Interim Vice Provost for Academic Administration, sought out Chase to participate in the computer science department’s Computer Science External Advisory Board. He grabbed the chance not really knowing initially how he could help. “I saw it as an opportunity to make things happen like the Netflix boot camp. I thought if we could just get NSU exposure to the west coast and Silicon Valley, it would be an immediate match or connection.” Chase served as head of the external advisory board from 2014-2020 and is still a board member. “His role on the board,” said Dr. Claude Turner, professor and computer science department chair, “was instrumental in bringing the Netflix initiative to NSU.”

Chase believes that companies like Netflix wholly embrace diversity and inclusion because they recognize that their customers want to see stories that they can better identify with. “We want to tell stories that entertain the world so people see themselves in these stories. We have to have diversity in the writing room, diversity in the green lighting room, and diversity in production,” said Chase. “That trickle-down effect is the power of diversity at the company and throughout all levels in the organization. It’s important to make sure that you have a wide array of voices as you’re solving these challenges that affect people all around the world.”

“Morally, it’s the right thing to do. Companies that are more diverse deliver higher revenue and better products.”