Sidney Robinson is going into his third year as a computer science major and music minor at UC Santa Cruz. He is the social media officer for UCSC’s chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE), and he spoke with us about what that experience has meant to him, and what he loves about engineering.
How did you first become interested in computer science?
Growing up, my dad used to work IT for a few companies. We didn't have much, but we had this old computer, and I remember I used to play Hot Wheels flash games on it, because I was super into Hot Wheels at the time. Then on my fourth or fifth birthday, I got the greatest birthday present I've ever gotten. It was one of those small plastic toy computers, but it was Hot Wheels themed, and it had a bunch of learning and math games on it. Just having access to a computer while I was young and seeing what computers could do got me super interested in computers and computer science.
Why did you choose UCSC?
I chose to go to UC Santa Cruz for a few reasons. I really liked the location- it's beautiful, it's in the forest, and it's near Silicon Valley. I'd also heard that there was a lot of great research and a lot of opportunities here, and a lot of great alumni. I’ve met a few of these alumni through NSBE, like Desmond Vehar and Eron Lake. They both worked for Verizon Media, and they have helped me out and inspired me a lot.
What is NSBE and what made you want to get involved?
NSBE is the National Society of Black Engineers. We're an organization that helps elevate Black people and Black STEM students to a higher level. As soon as I heard about NSBE, I knew I had to get involved. I wanted a space for myself where I could feel comfortable, because sitting in 400 person lecture halls where you're one of four Black people can make it really hard to find community. It's really hard to envision yourself doing something unless you see someone who looks like you doing it.
NSBE helps Black STEM students by holding professional workshops, having bonding events, and sometimes going on trips to different tech companies. We are all about helping Black people succeed in a professional world that wasn't built for them. There's been a really big push for diversity recently because research has shown that if your team is more diverse, you work harder and you produce better products.
Our NSBE chapter also sends a big group to the NSBE national conferences each year. I went to the NSBE National Conference last year and the Fall Regional conference this year, and it was honestly mind blowing. You walk into a room, and there are Black recruiters, people who look like you, advocating for you. It’s just so nice being surrounded by so many Black professionals with such intense drive and love for the things that they're doing. I never imagined a space like that existing. It was inspiring for me. It was really eye-opening.
What other activities have you participated in at UCSC?
This year I participated in Cruz Hacks, and that was a great experience. I got to work on a project with the great team and present for the first time. I am also an RA, and in that rolethe communication and networking skills I learned at NSBE have helped me to do a really good job of reaching out to residents.
I also have a couple of side projects I am working on, like a Twitter bot that uses Python and Twitter API to scrape information from marching band competitions and directly tweet those scores. I’m a big marching band guy, and I wanted to make it easier for people to find these results. My friends and I have also been reprogramming and reinstalling software on old abandoned rideshare scooters that have been impounded to get them to work again.
What has been your best moment at UCSC so far?
I was sitting in NSBE and I got an email that said I got a second round interview with Microsoft. Everyone started cheering and erupting and high-fiving. It was just a really cool experience because I just felt so supported, and without those guys I wouldn’t have been there. I didn't know what to say. I was just so struck and so filled with joy at that moment, and I was just surrounded by so many great people... It's hard to describe those emotions, but they were fantastic.
We originally talked right before the COVID pandemic shut down campus, and before the devastating murder of George Floyd. How have things been going over the last several months?
The past few months have been extremely challenging. With everything going on I’ve been doing everything I can to not only take care of myself and my mental health, but also to check up on those close to me, and to advocate for change. I started an internship and I finished off the school year strong grade-wise. NSBE has been using online tools to stay in contact and check up with each other. We also had board elections and we are excited to have a new board coming in for the upcoming year. The new board is very excited to navigate connecting and bonding in a virtual world, and also to continue to hold a space for having tough conversations and pushing diversity in STEM. Change is coming, and I'm excited for it.