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Mobile Software Engineering, Mentorship and Meeting Diverse Peers

Published on December 6, 2016 by Aaron Dubrow and Joseph Molina

Participants in the Integrative Computational Education and Research Traineeship (ICERT) program pose outside the TACC machine room on the first day of the program.

Tell me a bit about yourself?

My name is Joseph Molina. I am a first-generation computer scientist who wants to impact the world we live in with the amazing superpowers of computer programming. I was born in San Francisco, but was raised in a small agricultural town known as Soledad, California. My parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1995 in hopes of achieving a brighter and safer future for their children. Initially, both of my parents worked in agricultural labor around the Monterey county, but now my father works as a construction worker and my mother cleans houses. I have two younger siblings, Breanna and Kevin Molina. Being the oldest in the family has inspired and motivated me to become a successful software engineer in order to give back to my family and my community.   

How did you first hear about the Integrative Computational Education and Research Traineeship (ICERT) program?

I initially heard about the ICERT program through Joe Welch, founder of the CSin3 program at Hartnell College, in late 2015. Mr. Welch had informed me that the REU was seeking students and encouraged me to apply, but I did not initially apply because I thought I would not get accepted. In early 2016, I once again heard about the ICERT REU from Rosalia Gomez, who leads the Education and Outreach programs at the Texas Advanced Computing Center. She presented the program in an inspiring manner through a Google Hangout talk. It was after the second meeting that I took the initiative to apply to ICERT REU.

Joseph Molina demonstrates a working prototype of a Android mobile application to colleagues and mentors.

What did you know about advanced computing before you started the program?

I knew very little about advanced computing before starting the program. I knew supercomputers calculated billions of calculations per second and that the Stampede supercomputer was built in Austin, Texas.  

What kind of programming experiences did you have before the ICERT program?

Before entering the ICERT program, I had been programming for two years in various languages, such as Java, C++, Python, PHP, HTML & CSS, JavaScript and in Android. Furthermore, I had worked on a Python-based image manipulation application, two 2-D games and two text based games. I also had experience working for a local ag tech startup named HeavyConnect, in Salinas, California.  

What did you think the program would be like?

I expected the program would provide me with a rewarding learning experience. I imagined myself working on my assigned project at TACC and touring the amazing city of Austin. I expected obstacles that would challenge me along the way and working together with my mentor to solve them. In addition, I thought I would be accessing and utilizing the Stampede supercomputer on a daily basis and expanding my personal network by meeting both my fellow interns and engineers at TACC. Overall, I expected to grow in both my personal life and my life as a student.  

Tell me about your experience?

The experience I had in the program is one that I will take with me for the rest of my life. I not only expanded my knowledge of computer science, but improved the overall confidence I have in my programming skills as a software engineer. The experience was vital in pushing me forward in life. The program created memories and experiences that I still flashback to in California when I have doubt in my abilities.

What did you find most interesting about your summer experience?

Meeting the engineers and interns. Before the program, I had not met any programmers from Virginia, let alone anyone from Puerto Rico. I found the fact that the program was able to recruit students from various ethnicities and background and allowed us to work together really gratifying. Getting to know the personal stories, the drive and inspiration from each intern allowed me to learn just how small the world can be and how much we can get along and relate to.  

What did you find most rewarding?

What I found the most rewarding was that, despite not finishing a prior project in Android back in California and not having confidence in my abilities, I was able to deliver a working prototype of my Android project. Before my acceptance into the REU program, I was nervous whether I would be able to deliver on my project and if I would be able to work alone. I immediately shattered this doubt and learned how to work, learn, and solve problems on my own.

Personally, it was a unique and joyful moment when I could tell my mentor, Ritu Arora, that I had a working prototype and see the happiness in her face. It was the first experience I told my parents and friends about when arriving back in California because it was what I had envisioned myself accomplishing. I had accomplished exactly what I wanted and that is something I will never forget.  

What are you most proud of?

I am extremely proud of being selected to present my project at the XSEDE16 conference in Miami, Florida. Living all my life in a small agricultural town, I could never dream of visiting Texas -- let alone Florida -- as I had no reason to go. Yet my hard work and determination allowed me to visit both of those states in a single summer. I am proud to have presented my project in such an honorable conference and having the opportunity to once again meet students and engineers. The connections I made at TACC have not ended after the program. I continue to keep in contact with friends, the staff at TACC and Ritu Arora, my mentor.  
Joseph Molina presents his research at the XSEDE16 Conference in Miami, Florida.

How has the experience changed your career plans or goals?

Through the program, I was able to target what field I would like to work in. I had such a wonderful time working on my Android project that I would not mind developing mobile applications as a career and would love to continue to bring new ideas to life.  

Can you tell me a story that best represents your experience with the program?

I remember being extremely nervous as the project deadline was approaching and I needed to finish one more project objective in order to present the working prototype to my mentor. The objective was to connect the Android application to a MYSQL database in order to scan the barcode of a product and retrieve its ingredient list. It was a process that was filled with obstacle after obstacle. At first I had trouble setting up database, as I had never done so before. Furthermore I did not know hot populate the database with an already existing database. I remember getting the project to properly function only for it to malfunction moments later, but I knew I could not give up as my mentor was counting on me and I could not possibly go home with an unfinished project. After speaking with Keith Waggoner, a fellow intern, I figured out a solution, but it required removing all the work I had previously been working on. It was 2 in the afternoon when I began working on the new solution. I remember typing the last line of code and pressing, "run" on Android Studio, seeing my phone begin running the newly designed app, grabbing a nearby granola bar, scanning the barcode and seeing the ingredients neatly display on the screen. My face immediately lit up with joy and I rushed down the stairs to show my mentor that I had working prototype.

"The fact that the program was able to recruit students from various ethnicities and backgrounds and allowed us to work together was really gratifying."
Joseph Molina, Hartnell College undergraduate and participant in TACC's ICERT program
This experience perfectly illustrates the relentless work ethic and tremendous amount of grit I have achieved in the course of two years. It's a story I will continue to retell to my classmates, friends and family when they do not believe in their abilities.    

Why are programs like this important?

Programs like the ICERT REU are important because they provide an excellent opportunity for a student to grow and to demonstrate their skills. There are very few programs that offer a student such a wonderful opportunity to learn, grow and travel to amazing places. The ICERT REU specifically wished to accept to students from minorities and from various ethnicities, which sets it apart from other internships. Having mentors in life is also vital, as they provide advice, tips and expertise and inspire students and push them to the best of their ability. Lastly, the program is an excellent opportunity to expand one's network by meeting student from across the globe and meeting the engineers at the TACC.


Faith Singer-Villalobos

Communications Manager | 512-232-5771

Aaron Dubrow

Science And Technology Writer

Jorge Salazar

Technical Writer/Editor | 512-475-9411