You moved to the United States when you were in middle school. How was that transition like?
During my first 3 years in the U.S., I was still getting used to things around me. Most of my focus was on learning to communicate well in English. I attended ESL classes, and eventually tested out the program in the 8th grade. By that time, I became better acclimated to the culture around me but I still didn’t know how to get involved with extracurricular activities. Once I got to high school, I decided to join the robotics club. I didn’t go to their meetings during the fall semester because of soccer practice but once the season came to an end, FRC (FIRST Robotics Competition) kicked off and I decided to dedicate more of my time to robotics.
What was the FRC experience like?
It changed my life. I got called in one weekend after church to help assemble the robot. I didn’t want to at first, but decided to help out. That day, I was assigned a mentor and given the task of building the robot’s arm. We continued working on the arm until I became more familiar with the robot itself, the program, and what we were trying to achieve. I helped assemble the electronics and build the robot’s chassis, while watching others program the robot to move around. We would stay up past midnight in the school’s cold attic to work on the robot.
We went to our first competition at the DC convention center and I was already excited about robots, but being at the event and seeing participants from around the country — and even some from other countries — inspired me on a different level.
How did you get started with computer programming?
For a long time, I did robotics and that was pretty much it. But then CodeNow happened and I just wanted to know more about programming-related things. Growing up, I had always been interested in STEM and anything electrical. It was really cool figuring out how to make things work.
I went to a magnet school in DC and my teacher let me borrow a book called Game Programming for Teens. I wanted to see if I could make a game but I had no idea what was going on. When I went to the CodeNow workshop, things were coming together and I was getting really excited about programming. After the workshop, I continued learning different languages. I think wanting to make things for the robotics team was why I kept getting better. Eventually, I got my first rails application online, and it was the most treacherous thing ever. I still remember every painful moment, but I learned a lot from that experience.
In 2011, my friend and I decided to make a game that was robotics related. We ended up getting invited to the White House Science Fair because our game had won the Open Platform (high school) category at the National STEM Video Game Challenge. I had no idea what to expect, but it was an amazing experience.
What has been your biggest “a-ha!” moment?
I get a-ha moments all the time. The cool thing about coding is that it’s still pretty new. There is so much innovation. People are always doing amazing things and they’re absolutely mind-blowing. It’s really cool to actually understand how problems are being solved.
“Eventually, I got my first rails application online and it was the most treacherous thing ever. I still remember every painful moment but I learned a lot from that experience.”
You interned with Bloomberg in New York City last summer. What was your biggest take away from that experience?
I was contacted during the spring of my first year at RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology). We connected through CodeNow, and they wanted to set up an interview with me. I got invited to intern with them for the summer, which ended up being pretty cool since I was working at such a big company in New York City. But the one big take away is that I made great friends and my code is alive!
What advice would you give someone interested in programming?
Right now, I have been helping organize hackathons at my school. It’s important for people to do hackathons because it’s how they get to practice things that they’ve learned. It is also how you get to meet people who are interested in the same projects that you are interested in.
Wilfried is a Computer Science major at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is currently preparing for an internship with a well-known startup in San Francisco this summer. Follow him in his adventures