Student Profile: Melissa Nguyen

By Jennifer McEntee

: Melissa Nguyen
Program: Coding Boot Camp
Melissa Nguyen wasn’t sure she wanted to learn how to code while at school, despite pursuing research in some complex technical areas including ultrasound technology. It was only after she graduated from UC San Diego with a degree in chemical engineering last December, that Nguyen decided she was ready to stretch her mind in a new direction by learning the ins and outs of coding. To help her on that journey, she signed up for UC San Diego Extension’s inaugural Coding Boot Camp, a 24-week program that covers coding and data structure fundamentals to help students gain fluency in computer programming languages such as JavaScript, HTML5 and CSS3, among others.
Nguyen’s newly acquired web development expertise has already paid off. Her team won first place at Teradata Labs’ Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Service Hackathon on the UC San Diego campus in March 2017. The student team worked through a weekend to develop an algorithm that would recognize whether a driver was distracted and use that information to caution other drivers. Nguyen and her team wowed the judges with their thoughtful approach and with their comprehensive yet concise pitch.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m passionate about people and knowledge. I love learning and I think that’s why I want to be an engineer. I want to work in an interdisciplinary field in which I can use both my knowledge in chemical engineering and computer programming.
I didn’t really have a big dream to be an engineer when I was little. It just happened to be that as I worked toward the degree, I realized my path. I like the thinking process and the logic that helps me learn and solve problems. I also love to spend a couple of hours telling myself I can solve a problem and actually do it.
Why did you decide to study at Extension?
I always meant to take some classes on coding, but I didn’t have time. I saw it as an opportunity to have something that would go along with my degree and I just really like it.
What have you learned in Coding Boot Camp?
We are learning to combine our front-end and back-end web development together, actually. This is my first time in a boot camp and my first time in a coding program. I’ve never had this kind of intensive coding experience before.
The boot camp also gave me the confidence to participate in the hackathon. I never did anything like that before. I was very intimidated by the idea of it. This was about artificial intelligence and cognitive service, which was different from what we learned in the boot camp. I learned it on the spot.
I was really lucky to get a great team. That’s why we won: we worked well as a team and our idea was right in line with what the judges wanted. I never won first place in anything and the fact that we won the first time I ever participated in a hackathon is even crazier.
What advice would you give to incoming Extension students?
I would say, just go for it. Even if you had a bad experience with something in the past. I say go for it and try really, really hard to show yourself you can do it. Open yourself up to options.
How has your experience at Extension changed your life?
I was afraid of coding my freshman year. A professor scared me off. I knew that coding was something that I wanted to try to see what it was like. Eventually when I graduated, I saw the boot camp. I really enjoy it and I do think I have a brain for it. The boot camp gave me a reasonable sense that I could do it. I might try to get a degree in this, too.
The Coding Boot Camp is structured as three classes a week, with two three-hour classes and one four-hour class, and the next Coding Boot Camp begins July 25. Learn more at Students can apply online or by calling (858) 519-8997.

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