Breanna Ovid Nery is a fourth year Computer Science major from Long Beach, California. She is currently in charge of Mentorship for Hack Sprint on ACM Hack. Last quarter, she was Director of Hack on the Hill. She is also one of UCLA Radio’s Web Managers, and in the past, she also was the Publicity Chair and Webmaster for SWE (Society of Women Engineers). After graduation, she will be joining Autodesk as an SDE. Her favorite app is Franz, which she describes as Slack/Messenger/GroupMe all in one.
Why did you join ACM?
I went to the first General Meeting in my freshman year, when ACM was still a small club. I was really inspired by the board at the time. They were just so welcoming and as a freshman who didn’t really know anything about computer science, it was nice to see that I had people looking out for me. Even though they were upperclassmen, they still took the time to talk to me and ask me how I was doing. Then junior year came around and ACM Hack was blowing up with all their new workshops. I was really inspired by how they were doing things that I wished I had when I was a freshman, so I really wanted to help out those people who were like freshman me, who knew nothing about Web Dev or iOS. What I really like about ACM is that it brings out the practical side of CS. They kind of show you what you can do beyond your classes — you can make things now. It’s the fun side of CS!
What do you like the most about ACM?
It actually used to intimidate me, but I like how big it is. There’s so many different people to meet and everyone has their own focus within CS like VR or cybersecurity… instead of just being general CS, it’s more like, Do you like reading research papers? Join AI. Do you want to make games? Join Studio. Do you want to learn how to make a web app? Join Hack. And what’s great about ACM is that you don’t have to be a CS major and you don’t have to have a stellar GPA. At the first ACM GM, they literally talked about how their GPAs were really low like 3.0, and that made me feel so much better because I used to think I needed a top GPA to do well, but you don’t. CS is for everybody.
Do you have a favorite memory from ACM?
I have multiple I guess. The most recent one would be ACM retreat and getting to meet other people on the team because I only interact with Hack on a weekly basis. And then the other one would be that first general meeting. It was in Haines and that was where I met my current friends for the very first time. We were freshmen and it was right after the GM and we were just like “Wow, ACM’s super cool!” and we were all walking back together and we got dinner on the hill together. And that was my first time hanging out with CS people outside of class.
Why did you choose CS?
When I was trying to figure out my major, I knew I wanted to do something with a computer because I enjoyed being on a computer. I was thinking about why I enjoyed being on a computer and I think it boils down to the little interactions we have with applications, both web and mobile, like just scrolling down a site and getting a cool animation that furthers the story… I wanted to be on the other side, to create an experience through code. I knew I wanted to do something creative too, but I couldn’t draw, and Photoshop was hard for me, but with coding I could just write code and make something happen. What’s cool is that with CS, it applies to every single field. You could work on a project that’s about stats, but another day you could work on something that connects art history or something.
What do you want to do with CS?
One thing that I really want to do is to give back to my community. I don’t really know how to go about doing it, but for a while I’ll be working remotely from home back in Long Beach and I really want to somehow give back to either my high school or middle school. We didn’t really have a notion of programming classes, like our APCS class was taught by the chemistry teacher. If there’s a way I could give back by doing a web dev class after school or something, that would mean a lot to me. I remember being so overwhelmed in high school — I didn’t really know the difference between HTML and CSS and Python… so being able to come back and teach would be really cool.
Another thing I’m really excited about is doing more open source work. I really hope to be like that cool open source contributor on Twitter (laughs) and do open source talks.
Why open source?
There’s so many cool projects that are just being maintained by developers and not tied to any specific company — they’re tied to people with ideas that want to better whatever community they’re a part of. It’s also a cool way to meet people from around the world, and a lot of apps that I use are also open source, so the idea that I could make someone’s day better by just helping out is cool.
Besides that, do you know what industry within CS you want to work in? Like what application of CS you’d like to pursue?
I’m going to be doing full-stack web development for my job. But one of the projects I’m working on is going to be a machine learning project. I don’t know if I want to go into that route yet, but it’s either machine learning or virtual reality. I’m really excited about the prospects of virtual reality. I also always wanted to go into HCI (Human Computer Interaction) or UX, maybe after 15 years of coding… I’ll move into that career.
Ahh that really ties into your answer to “Why CS”.
Yeah, that really is the core of it I just really like how we interact with technology. Maybe starting on a UX path from the beginning would have been good but I also like that I know how to code and can transition into UX and have both skills.
What do you like to do outside of CS?
I like going to concerts… I really like music so I’ve been trying to go to as many concerts as possible. I also have a radio show Sundays at 7pm where I talk about geek culture and the latest news in that sphere.
What do you like about concert experiences? What makes it different from just listening to them at home?
I like being able to support your favorite artist. We’re in this era of streaming and they barely make any money off of that so I like supporting them by going to their concerts and buying their merch. I also think the energy of the crowd really heightens the experience. When they perform live, sometimes you want it to sound just like the recording but a lot of times, artists add on their own inflections depending on their mood that day, or customize it to whatever city they’re in, or react to the crowd, and that sort of connection you can have to the artist in that moment of you cheering them on and receiving their energy, and them responding back to that, is a really cool experience to have.
Do you have a favorite show you’ve been to?
I think it would be when I first saw Kanye live on his Yeezus tour. That was a concert experience that really changed what a big stadium concert is. He made it feel like it was a Broadway show. There was a giant mountain on stage, a yeti that appeared halfway, Jesus was in the show… it just felt so theatrical but then there was music at the same time. In terms of more intimate performances, seeing Daniel Caesar last November… I got a photo pass for it so I was up front and I got to hear the music too.
What’s your opinion on festivals versus tours?
I think I primarily go to festivals for a economic reasons. I’ll justify it by saying, “Oh, I get to see all these artists for this single price.” But truthfully, while I like the festival experience because it’s non-stop music all day, I low-key also hate it because… I’m short… and you get really tired by the end of the day and you want to sit down, but you have to stand, and the crowd squishes you… so I don’t know. I feel like I’m just going at this point because I’m like man, I can’t miss this opportunity but… I would probably rather go to a solo concert more.
Have you ever met any artists?
Yeah! I met BADBADNOTGOOD after their show and also Daniel Caesar after his show.
Oh my god. (Jenn loves Daniel Caesar)
Daniel Caesar’s really nice! It was at his first show last year in February and he waited at the end for everyone to meet him and took pictures with everyone.
But my favorite story is one back in Long Beach. So Snoop Dogg is from Long Beach and he went to my high school so he likes to come back a lot for alumni games. I didn’t actually go to that alumni game he was at but I came out to the parking lot after the event and there was this car that was blasting music and a bunch of dudes hanging out around it. We passed by the car on our way to our own car, and the dudes were just like “Hey, you wanna meet Snoop Dogg?” And it was literally just Snoop Dogg hanging out, in front of the car, vibing to music and smoking in my high school parking lot… So we took a picture in him and he was like “Stay in school.”
So Snoop Dogg went to your high school?
Yeah, he like went there for two years and then got kicked out or something… but he really associates himself with Poly (Long Beach Polytechnic High School).
What are your favorite artists?
Is that your favorite genre?
Right now it is. It changes like every two years. For a while I was really into more electronic music like Flume. And there was also, what would you consider The xx?
Ambient pop? Lo-fi pop?
Yeah, lo-fi pop. that was definitely a moment.
When did your whole thing with Kanye start?
7th grade. I was on GaiaOnline and a friend of mine had the entire Graduation album on his profile, and it auto-played, so I had no choice but to listen to it. I only knew his singles at the time, but I listened to the entirety of Graduation and I loved all the other tracks too. Champion is one of my favorite songs to this day. I started following his blog and he was really into fashion and art, and I was like “Wow! What a multicultural man!” I was embarrassed to be a Kanye fan for a while because he can be really obnoxious, but when I saw him live in 2013 on the Yeezus tour, he went on this entire motivational rant about believing in yourself. He was like, “If you’re a fan of Kanye West, you’re a fan of yourself!” And I was just like, Yes Kanye!! It was just so cool to have such a connection to an artist… where an artist does a five minute speech saying like, f**k the haters and believe in yourself.
What do you think about his journey or transformation? He’s changed a lot over the years.
I love it. It gives people the opportunity to be like “I like the old Kanye” or “I like the new Kanye” or “I only like Kanye from this album and this album. And it made me kind of set the expectation that for an artist to be truly successful, they need to change, they need to explore and develop. I used to be a huge Beatles fan and they also did that, they completely changed their sound and tried new genres. Toro y Moi also does that, and he’s amazing. I like how Kanye just constantly improves himself and he’s not stagnant. And it makes me more excited for whenever he releases new music because you don’t know what genre or aesthetic he’s going to go for next.
So are you a fan of all his albums or are you like an old Kanye, new Kanye…?
I could listen to all his albums, so that’s why it’s really hard for me to rank his stuff. When I do rank his albums it’s more for personal reasons like I like Graduation a lot because it’s the album that got me into Kanye. So I would say I’m more of a “holistic” Kanye fan.
What do you think about Kim and Kanye?
I used to be a Kim hater! I used to be like, she only got famous because of sex. I don’t really know all of the things she’s done, I tried to not invest my time in learning about her. But then I started following her on Instagram because I just wanted to see more photos of Kanye and their kids… but one thing that stood out to me was that on her birthday, she invited all her fan accounts for a brunch, including the Kanye fan accounts, like TeamKanyeDaily, and they all had brunch with her. That gratitude that she has towards her fans is really nice, and she even brought out Kanye to meet the Kanye fans, which was really sweet. Artists don’t have to go out of their way to hang out with their fan account people, on their birthday much less, so it was a really nice gesture.
Ok, I want to know this because I’m also a huge Frank Ocean fan but when did Frank Ocean start for you?
I think it was when nostalgia, ultra came out. I actually heard a cover of Thinking About You by Jessica Gonzales first, that American Idol runner-up, and then I found nostalgia, ultra, and… it was just my jam. I remember back then I had never been to a concert before and I was trying so hard to go to a Frank Ocean concert at that time, but my mom was like “You’re 15, you’re too young to go to a concert” and that was when channel ORANGE first came out. I followed him on Tumblr too and he was one of the first artists that came out about his sexuality and was really open and honest with his fans, which was really nice to see. I think now, being a fan of Frank is like being a fan of an enigma because he’s so mysterious.
What’s your radio show, Geek Squad, about?
We’re trying to make it about news in geek culture. I kept the topic really loose because I wanted to make it also apply to anime… ’cause down the line I want to do something related to anime and its culture. But basically it’s half news updates and half commentary. We choose a topic every week to talk about. So our first week was talking about our reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi and expectations for the next movie. This week was discussing every DC film, and next week’s theme is Star Trek, both the TV series and the film series.
What are your favorite series/franchises?
Star Wars is definitely my favorite one. Harry Potter. I really want to do an episode about Neon Genesis Evangelion. Also the entire Marvel cinematic universe.
Did you grow up with these or how did you get started?
Yeah so for Star Wars, my dad bought the box set and we watched it together. Then I started playing the video games and it just really stuck with me. Most of the other series started in childhood too. I think that’s also where the passion comes from, just by virtue of the time you spend with it and growing up with the series and seeing all the new developments.
How is Long Beach compared to LA?
I think a good analogy would be like LA to Long Beach is like SF to… Millbrae or something. Where LA and SF are like the city and Long Beach and Millbrae are cities but are different. Long Beach kind of straddles LA county and the OC, so there’s a lot of different sides to it. Long Beach is known for its downtown area, the port area, but it’s also known for having some really dangerous neighborhoods (laughs). So it’s like a ghetto but it’s also super gentrified all at the same time. What I like about Long Beach is that it has all the diversity of the different neighborhoods but compacted into one city. It has the beach but it also has the downtown area and suburbs. It’s like a mini LA but way easier to travel across.
So do you like Long Beach better than LA?
I don’t know, I really like the area around UCLA. I like Long Beach for when LA gets too overwhelming, but there’s so much to explore in LA.
Do you have any favorite spots in LA?
Sawtelle. Access to that diversity of Asian food is really cool. I really like KTown. I love all the different shops — there was a mall I went to once with a giant food court that was just all Korean food. I love the taco trucks… Leo’s and El Chato. I think I’m more of a Leo’s person now because Leo’s is more reliable.
O my god yeah El Chato is sometimes just… not there.
I’ve gotten ghosted by El Chato… too many times! Once I Ubered there after a concert and it was just not there and our Uber driver was like… “so where are you going?” and I was like…. “I don’t know!” So yeah, a very… UCLA experience.
Do you have places in Sawtelle that you like to go to the most?
Both of them??
Probably Annex. I haven’t been to Annex in a long time but Annex was my first time at Tsujita so it’s like the honeymoon experience… I can’t say.
Ok, I’m going to write Annex. I’m an Annex or die person.
I also really liked Seoul Sausage. It’s no longer called that, but I really liked it.
I always thought that I needed to do it the “right” way, but I wish that I just did it.
What advice would you give to your younger self or incoming freshmen in CS or UCLA in general?
I was always super scared about my grades so I was more conservative about the clubs I got involved with. I told myself I could only do two clubs max, and they should be engineering clubs because that’s good for professional development. I never really took the time to explore the whole other side of campus in terms of the arts and media. I wish that I did that earlier. I think it would’ve diversified my experience more, maybe joining a fitness class or hiking club, just something that I would normally never do, because in college you have the opportunity to do everything and anything, with all these new people.
In terms of CS, I was always like I need to study up before I can make my first web app or consume all these tutorials and docs first, but I wish that I just dove into it and did it. I always thought that I needed to do it the “right” way, but I wish that I just did it. Instead of focusing on what was the best way to make something… just make something.
In regards to the first point you made, since then, have you tried to explore north campus orthe arts?
Yeah, I never thought that I would want to do a radio show. I never thought that my music taste would be interesting enough — I mean it’s not about music taste, I found out, it’s not about which hip band you’re listening to — but that’s why in my junior year, I decided to join UCLA Radio and see what happened. I still decided to play it safe and join the web team and do coding, but this time I was hanging out with other people who liked music (laughs) that was a big step. Then I decided to do my own show for the first time and I realized that it was a really creative platform. Even though it still gave me a lot of anxiety to talk about my opinions on air… you might as well just do it! You always have your friends and family who are willing to listen to you and whoever’s curious to stop by. I always tell myself that I’m not going to remember it 5 years from now so might as well just do it.
What was your first show about?
My first show was about fonts. It was called Times New Roman. Basically, every week, me and another DJ would center a playlist around the aesthetics or vibes of a font. To make it interesting, we would choose really random fonts that we found in the Google Font library — just so everyone could view the font online. My first show was about Webdings and when I look at Webdings it makes me think of vaporwave culture, so the whole show was about the history of Webdings with random vaporwave music in the background.
What kind of music would you play for Times New Roman?
That’s the thing, we actually never did Times New Roman for our show because… it’s hard! For me, Times New Roman invokes standards and uniformity. It also has Law & Order vibes. If I had to do a show on Times New Roman, I’d probably do something related to Law & Order.
Do you have a favorite font?
There’s a font called Bree Serif, which is my name! It’s a really cute typewriter-like serif. But in terms of just normal everyday usage, I really appreciate Avenir and Futura for how clean they are.
Have you always been into fonts?
Yeah! So when I was trying to have my fledgling graphic design career, I used to collect fonts and categorize them. I would literally go on DaFont and download random fonts that I thought were cool and categorize them… it brought me so much joy just to build this little font library. I’m not formally trained or anything, I know the very basics of typography, but I just like it because of how they look.
So you used to be interested in graphic design?
Yeah, that’s why I did publicity for SWE. I started off doing basic Photoshop. I used to be on GaiaOnline and you would make like banners and profile photos. I also used to be on Neopets and I would make custom graphics for my pets’ page. I used to be a Microsoft Paint person, and that was a lot of fun. I was like eight.
Are you still interested in doing that maybe on the side or something?
I’m interested in it but I’m nowhere near others. Like in ACM Design, there’s people who are like, this is their lives, and they know how to use Illustrator and Figma. But if I had the opportunity I would do it. Like I created the graphic for our radio show and that was fun, trying to recreate a comic book-style panel.
UCLA Radio is about having a platform to share whatever your wildest interests are.
How did you first hear about UCLA Radio and how did you decide to join?
I heard about it through other friends who wanted to apply. At first I was like “ehhh, isn’t it weird to talk about stuff on air”, because my roommate at the time was like “man, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a show that combined like Kanye’s music with anime?” and I was just like, do people really want to listen to that?
So that was sophomore year, and I was like I don’t know. But then junior year came around and I was in that “I need to try new things and explore new clubs” mood, and I saw this Facebook post that there was a web team for Radio. And I remember reading the app like, ok, this is just regular web dev stuff, but then on the bottom it said “If you like Frank Ocean and Pink Floyd as much as we do, you should definitely join the team!” and I was a huge Frank Ocean fan so I was like f** it, I’m gonna do it! And it worked out, so here I am!
Yeah, thanks Frank.
Who was head of Web back then?
His name was Chris. He’s working for Apple now, but he sort of started the new foundation for the radio website we have now, because back then radio used to literally just be a play button. But now it’s a full-blown React app with an API and a mobile app, and I was really lucky to join right when they were developing all of that. Now I have to continue on the legacy and maintain the code.
It actually sort of started my passion for open source because the radio repository actually has over 20 contributors and there’s so much history. Instead of starting from scratch, it showed me how I could contribute to something that already existed. I learned all about the pull request process and actually using git for what it was meant to be used for, instead of just like pushing to master… and actually having your code reviewed… it taught me so much about actual software engineering and I actually got to see all of that happen when I did my internship.
I even got my Autodesk job kind of because of radio. In my interview, we talked about radio and my manager used to be a DJ a long time ago, and my interview was to make a feature for radio. It was cool, like radio literally gave me my job.
Earlier in the interview, you said that UCLA Radio is more than just abstract music taste so what is Radio about, to you?
I think UCLA Radio is about having a platform to share whatever your wildest interests are. It’s a way for you to express yourself, without judgement, because we joke that no one really listens to our station. And that’s the thing, if you just imagine that no one is really listening and it’s a way for you to just voice your opinions for whatever you want to talk about, it’s really liberating.
We have a zine coming out and it’s about the experience of being a DJ, like a “dear diary”-esque zine where people talk about their personal narratives, and that’s what I feel like radio is. It’s your own little diary to the world, but through your voice as a medium. Like I could talk about Star Wars in my diary, but now I get to talk about it with people. And you’d think that for a station, you only need sound and music expertise, but we have a whole marketing team, a fundraising team, a promotions team, there’s just so much to it. The web team too like the fact that I can do serious web development for a radio station… it’s really cool.
I feel like you dedicate a good amount of time to your clubs. Like with radio, there’s a whole app you have to maintain and decide on what new tools to use to build and re-design parts, but you’re also in Hack and you do a lot of marketing and you’ve made a whole documentation site…
How do you balance your time between clubs, classes, hanging out with your friends, and your own personal time?
The reality is that you put classes at the least priority. And this is something I learned because of ACM! It’s because Akshay was like, yeah, we have guys working for Facebook and their GPAs are literally a 2.0. I was like, you’re telling me I could have a job still..? And that’s when I sort of realized, for better or for worse, because you can’t f** around that much but, there’s so much more to college than just schoolwork.
Actually one of my 2018 goals is to respect the stuff I’m learning because I’m recognizing that there’s a lot of value in the classes that we take, but I’m not afraid to catch up over the weekends to put other things that are important first, and those things are the communities I’m in, ’cause that’s what’s going to become lasting memories. I don’t remember the things I learned in M51A, but I do remember what I was doing that winter quarter, being in Radio and contributing to the site, and being in SWE at the time, because that’s the lasting impact that I have. But yeah, to maintain all of these things, I definitely sacrifice sleep too.
What would you say motivates you to keep doing CS, or pursue your interests, or keep going after what you’re trying to go after? ’Cause sometimes you can find yourself in a rut so when you are in those times, what helps you get out of it?
I think it’s knowing that, when you’re working on a project or an app, there’s a person at the end who’s going to use your product and validate the work you did.
In terms of CS education, when I hate my classes, I remind myself that it’s a privilege to be here and that I’m lucky to even go to a four-year university and to go to UCLA where we have all these amazing professors. There are people who have to rely on online classes and don’t even get a degree out of it so they have to do double or triple the work because I get to have a B.S. in the end. So I remind myself that I should be grateful that I’m here.
interview by Jennifer Liaw. 1/25/18.