If you’re a local student, you might already know senior Kazeem Salaam, a computer science major at UCI in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). Perhaps he helped you better understand Python or C++ through the 4.0 Club, a free tutoring service for ICS and engineering students at UCI. Or he might have introduced you to the MIT App Inventor as a K-12 web application instructor, or to Raspberry Pi as a volunteer for the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) youth program, Engineers of the Future. Or maybe you’ve watched his video on How to Use LeetCode. Because when Salaam isn’t studying software development at UCI or interning at Amazon, he’s often sharing his knowledge with others in the classroom or documenting his own experiences on his YouTube channel ZeemTheDream, encouraging students — especially those from underrepresented backgrounds — to explore careers in STEM.
What first sparked your interest in computer science?
Growing up, my dad really inspired me to learn about programming, but I never fully took the initiative to learn more. When I got to my senior year of high school, I did extensive research into computer science and all that it entails. I found it very interesting and was really drawn to how software engineers solve everyday problems using programming languages. After that, I knew computer science was the major that I wanted to pursue.
What led you to UCI?
UCI has a great computer science program and the campus is very beautiful. After going on a campus tour, I knew it would be the best fit for me.
Have you had a favorite ICS professor or class?
I personally enjoyed ICS 31 with Professor Shannon Alfaro. It was my first programming class ever and also the most exciting. I had a great experience learning about the basics of Python, and it sparked an even greater interest to learn more about what programs could accomplish.
Can you talk about being featured in the video, “The 2%: Navigating UCI as a Black Student,” and your involvement in the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE)?
I think that video was very important in showcasing what it entails to be a Black student at UCI and to have a welcoming space. I talked about how for me, NSBE was that welcoming space that not only provided networking opportunities with people who looked like me, but also provided different computer science opportunities to advance my career. Having clubs like NSBE is significant because it allows you to visualize and attain a successful future by having a community of peers whose goals/successes are aligned with yours.
What motivates you to teach youth and to volunteer for NSBE Engineers of the Future?
Before committing to my computer science path, I was very hesitant and unsure of whether my goals were possible. By volunteering with youth, I hope to inform, encourage, and inspire others like me to pursue a career in computer science or STEM, if they are interested. I enjoy volunteering because I know that it can have a huge impact for future students.
What motivated you to create ZeemTheDream?
I started the YouTube channel to document my journey as a Black computer science student at UCI, and it has developed into me sharing some of the knowledge that I have acquired through different experiences. The goal for me has always been to help people, and with my YouTube community, I believe that I can continue to produce helpful content that captures how I’ve navigated not only through college, but my life and work in the tech industry as well!
Can you also talk about your recent summer internship at Amazon?
My internship at Amazon was a great experience because it allowed me to work on an existing team with many established software engineers. Throughout the internship, I got the chance to independently work on an impactful project and roll it out to production. I was treated as a team member, which granted me the benefits of asking questions about existing architectures, diving into the Amazon company culture, and developing my skills as a computer science student.
Any advice for prospective students?
My advice for prospective students would be to apply to internships as soon as you can. Internships allow you to apply what you have been learning in school and actually understand how it is relevant in the industry. At the end of the day, the work you do in an internship will be the most similar to the work you do after college.
What are your goals for your senior year, and what are your plans for the future?
My goals for this year are to do the best that I can academically, but also enjoy the remaining of my undergraduate experience. I plan on having the most fun that I can! My plan for the future is to start working in the industry and develop a way to give to my community. I have always been passionate about helping others who look like me and whose goals are aligned with mine, so I’ll keep finding ways to inspire others.
— Shani Murray