As computer science major Jose Cisneros enters his senior year, he does so with more than a year’s worth of industry experience under his belt and three full-time return offers in hand. His three software engineering internships — at Microsoft, Snap Inc. and Cisco Meraki — have provided a wealth of real-world knowledge, complementing the technical skills gained as a student in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences (ICS). He has developed features for web and iOS applications and networking hardware, written requirement specifications, and helped launch new products.
He also spent a year as a student athlete, competing in the discus and hammer throw events for UCI’s Men’s Track & Field team in 2020. Currently, he is a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at UCI, which aims to change lives by empowering the Hispanic community to realize its fullest potential. (Learn more on Instagram at SHPE@UCI.)
Here, Cisneros talks about what first motivated him to study computer science, how it was competing as an NCAA Division I student athlete, and what advice he has for prospective students.
Why did you decide to study computer science?
Growing up, I always had an interest in computers — whether it was watching videos or playing online games with friends — so I knew I wanted to do something with computers in my career. This passion grew during my junior year of high school, when I joined my school’s programming team for the Zero Robotics competition hosted by NASA and MIT. During my time on this team, I learned the basics of programming, and my team qualified for the finals, hosted at MIT, where we got to run our code on SPHERES satellites on the International Space Station. My experience on this team solidified my interest in the field of computer science and led to my success as an undergrad.
What brought you to UCI?
UCI has a lot of attributes that made it an easy choice for me. Aside from having a great computer science program, having a school dedicated to computing played a huge factor in my decision. UCI is also in a great location in Southern California, allowing me to stay close to home.
How was it competing as an NCAA Division I student-athlete for Track and Field?
Competing at UCI was an amazing experience that I am fortunate to have had, as I met some of the most dedicated and passionate individuals, who coach and compete at the highest level of collegiate athletics. As a member of the team, I competed in the discus and hammer throw events, where I met some amazing coaches, as well as friends that I could share the ups and downs that come with being a student athlete. My former teammates were some of the hardest working people I’ve met, balancing full-time school schedules, doing athletics and often working part-time jobs. Overall, I had a fantastic experience and wish for the continued success for our Track & Field program and UCI Athletics as a whole.
Can you talk about being a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers at UCI?
Being a member of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) has been a great experience that I anticipate getting only better in the future. I’ve gained a lot of career development knowledge and exposure to different companies and job postings through SHPE, and I’m incredibly grateful for the people I’ve met and resources provided. My membership has been solely a remote one due to COVID-19 and taking time off school to work, so I’m looking forward to getting to know more people and engage in person for the 2022-23 school year!
What’s the secret to your success in landing internships?
What has really helped me land internships is persistence. These companies receive thousands of applications from students who have had computer science around them their whole lives, attended higher ranked schools, or already had work experience. Despite feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome, I understand that if I never apply, the answer will always be “no.” So I apply as early as I can (late summer to early fall), and I practice my responses to questions about data structure and algorithms. I also network with other students and professors to learn about more opportunities.
Over the course of my time at UCI, I’ve applied to hundreds of positions, interviewed with dozens of companies, and, in the end, I’ve interned at three different places. The main piece of advice I can give is don’t be afraid to apply, and persevere through those automated rejection emails and difficult LeetCode interview questions. There will always be another opportunity around the corner!
How have your internship opportunities enhanced your ICS education?
My time interning at three companies has provided me with great industry experience and networking opportunities. Each company gave me a better idea of what path within software engineering I would like to follow, and what aspects of a company and team I find most desirable. Throughout my internships, I’ve developed features and bug fixes for networking hardware to iOS and web applications, allowing me to reinforce my knowledge from my ICS coursework here at UCI. I even had the opportunity to help launch incredibly interesting products, such as Pixy at Snap! I’ve written requirement specifications and presented them to hundreds of people across engineering, business development, and marketing, making me overall more excited and prepared to take on upper-division coursework and projects.
Have you had a favorite professor or class at UCI?
Professor Michael Shindler has by far left the largest impact on my life, and he’s a huge reason why I’m glad to have attended UCI. Whether it’s taking his offerings of ICS 46 or CompSci 161, or just talking to him after class about life and career opportunities, he’s been a great person to go to. I had a great experience learning about different data structures and algorithm paradigms with him, and the coursework gave me the confidence to apply to internships.
What has been the best part of your experience at UCI?
The best part of my experience here at UCI has been meeting new people. Across my different ventures, I have made a ton of friends and connections that I hope will continue to last post-grad. From my first friend at SPOP [the Student Parent Orientation Program] to the connections I’ve made in upper-division courses, I have a great support system around me that I can always turn to when I’m lost, and I’m grateful to UCI for connecting us.
What are your future plans?
After a successful summer at Microsoft, I’ve now received full-time return offers from all the companies where I’ve interned. I’ll spend the remaining recruiting season interviewing for full-time positions to lay out the different paths I could pursue for the next stage in my life. Until then, however, I’ll be finishing up my upper-division coursework, enjoying my last year at UCI and making the most of my break between college and adulthood.
Do you have any advice for prospective students?
My advice is to keep your mental health as a priority. During my time at UCI, I’ve tried balancing lots at once, whether it be coursework, athletics, internships or clubs, and maintaining a healthy mental state is something I wish I paid more attention to. I’ve had a lot of success as an undergrad, but those are merely the highlights after numerous attempts and failures. So for prospective students, do your best and don’t let any hiccups along the way discourage you, because there’s always another opportunity for you!
— Shani Murray