Vanessa Villa is fluent in gummy bears

12 Sep 2016

Vanessa Villa is fluent in gummy bears

We were won over instantly by Vanessa’s versatile outfits - somehow grunge and chic at the same time? Read on to hear about how gummy bears help her program, and the ways she disconnects from the world.

Tell us a little about you.

I’m entering my last quarter at California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, majoring in Computer Engineering. My small hometown of Fillmore, CA is agriculture based so I wasn’t really exposed to tech until I reached college. The family thought that since I was able to set up computers, I must be some sort of tech genius…That isn’t exactly how things worked out the first time I stepped into class. The introduction course was in robotics in C and it wasn’t till about the third project that things started to click. After that, every time I programmed I always did it with gummy bears or with friends and snacks.

One positive of coming from a town that was primarily Mexican is it did allow me to develop a deeper understanding of my heritage, animal/plant based agriculture, and speak Spanish fluently. Once, I was asked to give a speech to honor the high school AP Spanish teacher, Ms. Juarez, and had to present it in English and Spanish. She also was my first introduction to Salsa dancing. Little did she know I would later become dance obsessed in college. I love to dance; Salsa, Tango, Country Line and many others due to joining the Cal Poly Ballroom Team. This may explain my recent interest in sparkles.

Whenever things start getting busy in the quarter, I make sure to go out to the Rodeo Arena and take photographs, sketch, or just hanging out with the horses and cows. It is a space with little to no WiFi and a different perspective. Sometimes, that is exactly what a person needs to solve that coding bug.

Tell us about what you’re wearing.

My first outfit is very versatile. I wear it for those days that I have a presentation and want to go dancing later. Its comfortable and edgy with just a little bit of class.

My second outfit is more on the daring side. I like to think that it’s fun and certainly the best for exploring around. You never know when you are going to need to twirl or run around.

How did your style evolve to what it is now?

When I first started playing around with different styles, I knew that I had to be comfortable in what I was wearing. I liked to think of myself as a bit of a rebel sometimes and quickly fell in love with the alternative/punk look. I also loved the iconic and classic looks of Coco Chanel. Why not wear pearls with your black skinny jeans and acid washed top? Lately, I have been experimenting with brighter colors and I can’t wait to see how it goes.

I also can’t help but to have been influenced by my surroundings; I’ve become enamored with both steel toed cowgirl boots and just regular old riding boots. I always wear high tops when going out on an adventure. There is just something about them that means I feel invincible when wearing them.

Any advice for a young person thinking about getting into a STEM field?

If your field punches you in the stomach (which it will…last minute assignments are the worst) , punch back and do it the way your gut tells you to - if that’s by eating gummy bears at a hackathon, cool! If it’s by wearing a cowgirl hat while you code, that’s cool too!

Get an internship, shadow a professional, explore all of the field and find out what interests you and what you are passionate about. I think it’s very important to try and figure out what you like and don’t like about the field early on. Have confidence in yourself and your abilities…you may surprise yourself.

What would you say is the project you’ve done that you’re proudest of?

There was a project this past year where we had a client that wanted an app to count cell colonies in a petri dish. Between working on the problem with the assigned group and in a Computer Vision class, we made a kick ass algorithm that was better than anything currently available in the mobile app market. I really feel like that project gave us valuable experience in designing a product from start to finish for a client.

This was the first time that I had worked with these people. I had seen them in classes but never really interacted with them. It was really exciting to know that we were able to get this done even while coordinating around other classes. By managing ourselves in a way we were comfortable with, we were able to become friends and get a good portion of our project done. We got really close as a group and still are - it created a support system in my major that I didn’t even know I was missing.

The algorithm was a great product but the experience and bonds created is what I value more.

Anything else you’d like to share with the audience?

Don’t worry about what other people think and do what makes you happy!

At school I’m the unhappiest person when I’m stuck in my room by myself. My professors condemned collaboration in the introductory classes so that everyone would learn the material, but I do my best work in the computer lab. I need to goof off and have people around me to eat snacks with or talk about puppies and kittens.

Everybody has a different comfort setting and different interests, so acknowledge those and find ways to work around these situations.

What is the best way (if any) for people to follow you on social media?

You can find Vanessa on Facebook or Instagram :)