This is a guest blog entry written by Jamie Flores. If you want to read more stories, visit viterbiadmission.usc.edu/latinxlives.
Hi, I’m Jamie Flores! I graduated in 2021 with a degree in Computer Science. I am originally from Fort Lauderdale, FL. My dad moved to the U.S. from Nicaragua, and my mom was born in Virginia. Growing up, I spent most of my time swimming and drawing. At USC, I was president of Code the Change, a student organization that builds software platforms for nonprofits in L.A. I was also an undergraduate TA for the data structures and algorithms class, interned at Google and Google Health, and was president of a computer science organization. I am now a full-time software engineer at Google Health.
When I first started at USC, I was pre-med and a biomedical engineering major. Freshman year, people usually spend a lot of time studying in the common rooms of freshmen dorms. While I was doing that, there were several people who I lived with studying computer science, and their homework seemed more fun than my chemistry homework. I took that as a pretty strong sign and switched into computer science on a whim. However, I had never written a single line of code in my life.
I didn’t expect to feel imposter syndrome, but I definitely did. It felt like everyone else had been coding since they were in preschool, and I was struggling to catch up. This exaggeration was far from true, but it took awhile for me to realize. I was very close to switching out of computer science, but luckily, I did not because I had some very supportive friends.
I guess what I want to say here is that you are bound to struggle anytime you take on a new endeavor. It’s a natural part of the process, but it can feel draining when there aren’t many people that look like you around you. What helped me was knowing that others, who I looked up to and had been very successful, felt the same way I did at one point or another.
I think being a mixed LatinX/Hispanic student also makes for a unique experience, one that I didn’t expect. Social life at USC can be segregated at times. As someone with both Hispanic and White backgrounds, I sometimes felt like I was turning off one side of myself and turning on another depending on the situation I was in. Sometimes being mixed comes with other people questioning who you are or are not. Freshman year, someone was trying to deny that I am Hispanic and even asked me, “are you phenotypically Hispanic?”. I grew a lot in college when I realized it does not matter how others want to label me.
Anyone from an underrepresented background in their field may feel out of place. What makes it worse is feeling you are the only one experiencing these things, but chances are you aren’t alone. Once you start talking about these things, we find others who feel the same or at least empathize. Through student organizations, classes, and random roommate assignments, I have found my life-long friends. We all start somewhere. College is about trying new things and growing, so don’t be afraid to take on something you’ve never done before. You might find something you love!