CSpotlight: Exploring Computer Science

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in computer science specifically at the University of Minnesota?

I knew that I wanted a computer science degree. After my exchange year program in high school in the U.S., I decided that I wanted to come back for college. When I was looking at colleges, there were two main things that I had in mind - a good computer science program and a school that has good scholarships for international students. My exchange year was here in Minnesota, so I knew of the University of Minnesota. I applied to the University of Minnesota along with other colleges and the University of Minnesota had everything I was looking for. When I was applying, COVID hit during the middle of my senior year of high school. In all that uncertainty, I liked that I had people I knew in Minnesota, like my host family and the friends that I had made. The University of Minnesota worked really well with my interests and the computer science program has the best scholarships out of the other universities that I’ve applied to, so it just worked out really well.

How did you become interested in computer science? What are your specific interests within the field?

My first interaction with computer science was through my dad, because he's a professor of computer science himself. He's a professor at a local university in my hometown back in Spain. Growing up I would always see him spending a lot of time in front of the computer and he always sparked my curiosity with what he was working on. I was always into technology and problem solving. Math was one of my favorite subjects growing up, so when it came time to decide what I want to do, computer science seemed to be a really good fit for my interests. I think the fact that computer science gives you many opportunities - you can do a lot with a computer science degree. I knew that there would be a lot of flexibility. Most companies need a computer science-related role, so that was also really assuring to know. In different types of industries, there are always new learning experiences and if I ever want to change paths within the computer science area, I can try out something else. I’m still trying to figure out my specific interest within the field. I really like software engineering. That is what I have the most experience with at the moment. I’m just trying to figure it out as I go. I love to learn, and in computer science, there are always new things to learn.

Congratulations on earning Maximillian Lando Scholarship! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?

It’s really a great honor to be a recipient of this scholarship from the computer science department. It really means a lot, and I think that it's a really great accomplishment. It's a great encouragement for me to keep up my hard work during this last year of college. It’s easy to think, “Oh, this is my last year of college, I don’t really need to work that hard.” This scholarship really motivates me to keep up the hard work and also keep in mind all the academic and personal goals that I have had throughout the last few years. I’m really honored and thankful that I got this scholarship.

Tell us more about your internship experiences.

I had my first internship last summer. I was a software engineer at Beckman Coulter Life Sciences and moved to Indiana for the summer. It was a 10-week internship. It was a great experience. I was a little nervous going in, but they helped me so much. It was a great experience to see how a software team works in real-world projects. I was part of the SCRUM team, so I was able to see how SCRUM meetings work and how they decide to divide work, as well as how other teams in the company interact with the software, like HR and the legal team. I think it was a really good educational experience to learn about how companies work internally. For my intern project, I really enjoyed it because I had a lot of flexibility to work on exactly what I wanted to. They gave me a few ideas of what they thought would be useful projects and then I got to choose how I wanted to do it. It was nice to get that freedom to choose specifically how to focus on the project and they were really helpful. I had a mentor throughout the whole internship that checked in with me every week. I think I learned a lot about software development and the importance of  requirements, design and implementation.  I learned about that in a class previously, so it was cool how that came into play in the actual industry. It was a great experience. I was really happy that I was able to do that and it reassured me that I think that software engineering is the industry that I was to go into after I graduate.

Are you involved in any student groups? What inspired you to get involved?

I'm a member of ACM-W, the Association of Computer Machinery for Women. I was an officer for the last two years - I was the graphics officer and I was vice president last year. I think it’s just a great opportunity. I really like our mission; it promotes women and nonbinary people in the computing field and it's a great place to be. I met a lot of my friends through the groups and have had the opportunity to  network.It's really inspiring to help others, especially when I was on the officer board. It was great to plan the events and find ways to help the other students to be successful. I think it's just a great thing to be able to help one another. Some events are just hanging out together. I think that's just a great way to become part of a club and to meet other people with the same interests as you. That's one of the main clubs that I have been involved in since I was a freshman and I will continue to be a member and  attend all the events because I believe that it is a great club.

Have you been involved with any research on campus?

It wasn't in the computer science department, but I did some research with a professor in the civil engineering department. When I was awarded my scholarship package, I also got an undergraduate research scholarship. I had to use that scholarship before the end of my sophomore year, so that's why I ended up going with another engineering department. I felt like I didn't have enough background knowledge with the computer science department. I worked with Dr. Michael Levin in the civil engineering department, and I still did some computer programming so there was still a computer science aspect. But it was really cool to get to see how research  works It was really cool to actually get to see that other side of academia. And I actually just heard back from IEEE Transactions on Intelligent Transportation Systems and I got published, which is really exciting I’m really glad I decided to do research. It was definitely a little nerve racking to go into it without knowing what it was, and if you don't try it you'll never know. I’m really glad I decided to do it.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Try everything you can. Just go to club meetings and any events that you see out there. There are so many opportunities out there and you can really connect with a lot of people and find interests that you didn’t know you had. There are so many computer science clubs. I was at an event recently where all the clubs talked to incoming students so they could learn about the program and other clubs. Even I, as a senior, learned about some other clubs that I didn’t know existed. There are so many out there that you might find something that interests you. It’s a great way to meet other people and there are events that will help you be successful in the field, whether it’s industry or research. Getting involved is a great way to stay on top of the field and stay successful throughout your degree.

What are your plans after graduation?

I am currently looking for a full time job after I graduate. I am focusing on software engineering roles. I don't really have a preference of location, I’m just looking everywhere. I am interested in the tech industry;  it always caught my eye. I would love to work at Google, that's the dream. I'm open to exploring other industries and am  hoping to find a job wherever I can. I will attend the Grace Hopper Conference in September and I really hope to be able to make some connections with some companies and networks.

Are there any additional experiences you did that you would like to highlight in the article?

Being an undergraduate TA has been a great experience for me. I think it was just really rewarding to be able to help other students, especially knowing that you were once in their shoes. It’s rewarding to help them understand a hard computer science concept or see them succeed in a test or project. It's also, I think, a great experience personally to develop leadership skills and put yourself out there for the students. This is my third semester as a TA, and I think that I will continue to be a TA if I can next semester as well. I TA for CSCI 1933 Introduction to Algorithms and Data Structures. I just stuck with it because I really love the topic. I think being a TA once helps, because I’m already familiar with the projects and the assignments, and also I really enjoy the material.