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Gabriel Garcia Montoya: Undergraduate

Computer Science and Engineering
Degree Program: 
B.S., Computer Science
Mountain View, CA
Undergraduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz

How did you decide to study engineering?

After I was born my family took me to Mexico where we lived for eight years in a metropolis called Nezahualcóyotl until it got really violent. The cartel started moving in and kidnappings started. My dad was a successful business owner and when I was about seven, the cartel threatened to kidnap me and my sister. So my dad bought us kids a ticket to the U.S. and we flew out the same day. We lived in Texas with my uncles for four years. My parents couldn’t just leave Mexico. They had to deal with a lot of things there and handle some business before they could finally join us. It sounds like a sad story but it helped me to become an engineer. My parents sacrificed a lot for me. We had a really good life in Mexico. What has always resonated with me is that my parents left all of that in Mexico, even their jacuzzi, for us to be safe and have a better life. I decided not to waste that and to go to college. I’m going to college to study engineering, first and foremost, for myself but also for my parents because they sacrificed so much for me and it would make them happier than anything for them to see me graduate. It pushed me toward engineering, that I could maybe someday help and give back to them.

What has been your favorite class and why?

My favorite class was Computer Science 12B with Professor Darrell Long. Although his class was extremely difficult, it really helped me grow because I wasn’t relying on someone else’s work to understand, but rather he was making me build my own cookie cutter and work off that. All the projects he assigned were relevant to real world examples. He’d teach us how to apply the data structures of computer science to real world scenarios. I even got an internship through this class because I talked to one of the recruiters about bloom filters and the compression we did in Darrell’s class and he was really impressed because often students won’t learn about this until grad school. I wouldn’t have been able to do this unless Darrell had told us how to apply it.

What do you like most about Baskin Engineering?

There are a lot of professors who really care about students and their learning. For example, Professor Larabee really pushes for you to learn and she teaches in a way that makes it intuitive for students to learn. She gives us a quiz every week, which I think really pushes people to not slack off because you have to pass these quizzes which reinforce the things you’ve learned and ensure that you can’t slack off. My favorite professors are Darrell Long and Ethan Miller. I really look up to them. They’re extremely smart, they care about whether their students are learning, and they’re not just giving us busy work. They teach us things that further our understanding. To me, one of the most important parts of learning is understanding what we’re learning, not just being familiar with it. It’s important to understand the basics and Darrell and Ethan both really push and drill into you whatever they’re teaching.

What advice do you have for incoming students?

Try to be confident in yourself. I know it sounds cheesy but it’s the truth. If you’re not confident in yourself, you’re not going to do as well in your classes. If you don’t think your skills are there yet, be confident that this class will get you there and don’t be scared. The other advice I’d give is to not get discouraged. I went through that mistake my freshman year. Although I love computer science, math is not my forté, especially calculus. I’m decent at it but my first year I wasn’t managing my time correctly and it took a wake up call for me to realize I needed to get myself together. I was getting discouraged from even majoring in computer science. But I thought to myself, “I really love computer science and I know this math is important for my future career,” so I spent more time on it and that helped me get a head start on my other computer science courses and it helped me continue studying computer science because I needed calculus to continue. So, don’t get discouraged if a class is hard. Understand that it’s hard for a lot of people and you’ll eventually build the skills you need to succeed. There’s a reason they’re teaching it.

What do you like most about Santa Cruz?

I love the forest. It’s like being in science camp every day. You can go out for a run on a trail, you can go to a swimming hole, you can go to the beach whenever you want. So it’s like being in a little paradise and there’s always somewhere you can escape to. I think nature is very calming and soothing so with the stress that comes with college, Santa Cruz is a great place to relieve that stress.

What do you do for fun?

I’m a really geeky guy so part of the geeky stuff I do is study security. I watch a lot of talks on DefCon about security stuff and try to apply it but more as a hobby. Back in high school I loved breakdancing and I was the president of the Hip Hop Club in Cupertino. When I came here I stopped dancing but then realized, “School is great but you have to balance it with a hobby.” So I recently started getting back into breakdancing and joined the Breakdancing Club on campus.

What do you like about engineering?

Engineers are very versatile. When you’re doing engineering you can switch industries very easily and also the work we provide can be applied to many fields. If you’re doing computer science, you can write code for a heart pacer or a drone or put that code in space. You could go anywhere and it’s applicable to any field. The mind of an engineer is very versatile because it’s problem solving. That’s what engineering teaches you. If you’re good at problem solving and you’re a good engineer, you can be good at a lot of things and you can take that thinking cap with you to a lot of fields.