Career Advice: My Path to Technical Programming

In a few weeks, my final year at Fisk University will begin. Freshman move-in day is still fresh in my mind as if it happened yesterday. With only two semesters left until I complete my computer science degree, my enthusiasm can hardly be contained.

From an early age, my goal was to forge a career in STEM.

Initially, I wanted to become an astronaut. Fascinated by the study of the sun, stars and the universe as a whole, there was a desire to know what it was like to be in a rocket and to shoot to the outermost layers of our atmosphere. At 12, my desire to become an astronaut began to fade.

A new passion for paleontology, which is the study of animal and plant fossils, is surfacing. Wanting to understand the evolution of various species throughout the Mesozoic era (“the age of the dinosaurs”), I was captivated by the history of these once living creatures. I’ve often wondered how these creatures evolve and why certain creatures evolve specifically based on their location and climate. Moreover, the fact that I liked the appearance of dinosaurs influenced my desire to work in paleontology.

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Fast forward to my freshman year of high school, I revisited my love for astronomy. However, a new passion has unlocked in my heart: engineering. Throughout high school, I wanted to become an aerospace engineer. In fact, I knew 100% that aerospace engineering was going to be my career. And my life was planned.

I would go to the University of Central Florida to study aerospace engineering and do internships with many aeronautical companies, which would allow me to gain experience for my ultimate goal…to work at NASA. Specifically, working at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. And there you have it, my life perfectly represented before my eyes! All I had to do was run. My passion for engineering, however, decided to take another turn. This shift was towards a different kind of engineering. Engineering computer Science. By the time I graduated from high school, I was looking to become a software engineer. What would allow me to achieve this goal? Computer specialization.

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Before I knew it, I was moving my stuff to a dorm at Fisk, an HBCU in Nashville, majoring in computer science. I didn’t know what to expect, but I trusted the process. In doing so, an incredible relationship with my calculus teacher was forged.

She informed me of an opportunity to work with the National Science Foundation as a researcher. Through this interaction, she helped me land the internship for two consecutive years by conducting imperative research on COVID-19. During these two years, I focused on the New York data, building my own mathematical model. My research team and I presented at the MAA MathFest math conference in 2021. Gaining technical skills as well as skills in researching and manipulating big data, I was able to land an internship during my freshman year with NewDay Impact Investing, a start-up in the finance industry, as associate data analyst. Working with them for my entire junior year has been truly amazing.

Now I’m a rising senior currently interning at Target Corporation in Minneapolis as a frontend software engineer. A frontend software engineer – or frontend developer as many people call it – is an engineer who plans, designs, builds and implements UI (user interface) systems of software, websites and web applications. I gained invaluable experience that I can implement in college courses and the workforce for years to come.

For all those computer science majors, we know how hard our major is! Nevertheless, with hard work, dedication and support from my loved ones, I will achieve my goals. I aspire to be CTO at a large tech company. Even if achieving this will be far from easy, I am ready to get started. I will achieve this by continuing to grow my network, improving my soft and technical skills, and applying myself within the workforce.

Through the many changes of passion and professional ambitions, I’ve learned that it’s okay to change your mind. As long as you have a plan in place and the will to keep going, nothing will stop you!

About Mariel Baker

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