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Oscar Parra: Undergraduate

Department: 
Computer Science
Degree Program: 
Computer Science, B.S.
Hometown: 
Los Angeles
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Oscar Parra

Oscar Parra studied computer science at UC Santa Cruz and has spent the last year working at  Odaseva (an all-in-one cloud data management platform), where he is currently a solutions engineer. Oscar is a first generation student and spoke with us about his college experience, what he loves about working in tech, and his advice for new students. 

Why did you choose to study computer science at UCSC? 

I had a mentor in high school named Gaby Morales who was working as a site coordinator for Communities In Schools and had graduated from UC Santa Cruz. There was a program between Communities In Schools and Creative Artists Agency... to teach high school students from underrepresented communities about technology… It just took off from there... I also attended a program called ORALE, Oportunidades Rumbo A La Educacion, through MEChA de UCSC. It's a two day program where they bring up Latinx and low income students to campus. I got to meet student leaders who are actually there at UC Santa Cruz... So UC Santa Cruz is a very special place to me. There's a long history to it. 

What surprised you most about the campus when you got here?

I remember just flying there, getting to San Jose, and then we hopped on a bus… and just as the bus was rolling up the hill, you could see deer kind of prancing around… As someone growing up in Los Angeles, it was just a whole different kind of world.

What was the most challenging aspect about being a first generation student? 

The duality of privilege I think is the hardest thing… There's always this guilty feeling of privilege and being first generation American, and in my case of my parents being immigrants… You are between two worlds where you go back to your community and you see poverty, you see lack of education… and then you go back to the university you get to interact with people who come from very privileged backgrounds. Initially it was incredibly hard, and I actually was going through a lot of depression in my first year because I just saw people moving a lot faster and making a lot better decisions at the university… It made it really difficult because you're in this duality of privilege where you already have a lot more education than your parents, but at the same time, you also see how far behind... you are in comparison to some of your peers. I struggled a lot in my first year with some of the courses, because I wasn't really prepared adequately… [In my public high school] class sizes have doubled, and teachers don't have as many resources. 

UC Santa Cruz became very special because I saw Latino students and other students who went to more prestigious universities, and they did not get the attention that I got at UC Santa Cruz… There were professors and lecturers here who said, “Look, I'll let you retake this test,” or “What can I help to make it help you pass this class?” because I think they understood that from an economic standpoint I was low income and it wasn't that I wasn't capable, it was just that I was two or three years behind my peers when we first stepped on campus. 

What do you do now and what do you love about it?

I'm currently working as a solutions engineer for Odaseva, a Salesforce independent software vendor. We started off as a backup and restore tool for inter-Salesforce enterprise customers… I work as a solutions engineer, basically working with prospects and customers and trying to identify solutions that they're looking for at the enterprise level… It's important that we protect the data and that we provide privacy rights and also ways to manipulate that data and make sure that we can drive innovation from an operations perspective. So that's what I do, and it's incredibly fun. It's really challenging, working at the enterprise level. Typically if I went to work for a bigger company, say Google or Salesforce, at this stage in my career I would probably be working more at the SMB [small to medium sized business] level, so customers with smaller budgets. One of the things I like about working at startups is that you kind of have to just jump into the pool and sink or swim... It's a bit heavy, but it's a lot of fun. It keeps me on my toes and I think my education from a computer science perspective from UC Santa Cruz is second to none.

What is your advice for current students? 

So there's a few things that I think everyone should consider. So, think like a founder- that’s the first one. I think my goal initially was to work at Facebook at Google, and now I think, “how can I create the next Facebook or Google?”... The next thing is network, network, network. Don't ever stop networking! You never know where that next opportunity is going to come from. Next is, continue investing in yourself. Anytime I ever had money in college... I took the money and I bought books. I went to conferences, I basically said, so I have $50. What's the best way I can invest this $50 in moving my career and my goals forward?

The last thing is, really know your values and know who you are… I realized, being first generation American, that I value hard work. I value being persistent. I value being kind of gritty. So if someone tells me, I can't, I'm going to go ahead and do it. That's just me. Really understanding your values and what you identify with is very important. So when you have to make a decision on whether to go to that party on Thursday night or to study for an exam on Friday, you asked yourself, “What are my values, and what do I want to be in a couple years?”, and then the decision is really easy. It just depends on what you value and who you are.