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Life and Career Advice from an Alumna
for Aspiring Computer Scientists and Engineers

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Jennifer Arguello graduated from the Jacobs School in 2000 and is the co-founder of the Latino Startup Alliance.

Always ask a lot of questions.

Look for mentors and sponsors.

When you teach others, you will learn more.

Luck is really opportunity plus preparation.

Stereotypes and preconceptions really are dares.

Those were the five pieces of advice that computer science alumna Jennifer Arguello  gave a group of prospective Jacobs School of Engineering undergrads April 5 . The studentswere taking part in an overnight program run by the IDEA Student Center at the Jacobs School. The event was part of Triton Day at the University of California, San Diego.

Arguello, who graduated from UC San Diego in 2000, has put these principles into practice in her professional life, which has taken her from several start-ups to Tellme Networks, a subsidiary of Microsoft, where she worked on the Xbox Kinect device; to Mozilla, the company that developed the Firefox browser; to becoming the co-founder of the Latino Startup Alliance in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is also an alumni board member for the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the Jacobs School.  

Arguello knew early on that she wanted to be an engineer. “Radio Shack was my favorite toy store,” she told her audience. “I was one of those kids who liked to break things, to see how they work.” When she was 6, her parents got her a keyboard that hooked up to a TV monitor. Arguello figured out she could use the keyboard to type commands and get the computer to talk back to her. She didn’t realize she was actually programming until 10 years later, when she took her first computer science class in high school.

At UC San Diego, she went to Warren College. She got an internship with IBM and Hewlett-Packard through the Inroads program. “Internships help you see what you’re going to do in the real world,” she said. Arguello also joined the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, where she made many friends. She advised her audience to join student organizations at the Jacobs School. “These are the people who are going to go through blood, sweat and tears with you,” she said. She also worked as a computer science tutor.

After graduating, she worked for a series of start-up companies. She then landed a job at Tellme Networks and went to work on Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect device. Her day job was to play the Kinect games before they were publicly released to make sure they were working well. “I got to tell my friends that’s something I worked on,” she said. “I attribute that to my education here at UCSD.”

At Mozilla, she was sent to work in Barcelona, Spain, because she spoke Spanish. “Getting a great education helps you get around the world,” Arguello said.

Finally, she decided to quit her job to start a company that developed educational video games. But it didn’t pan out. That gave Arguello the opportunity to think about her life goals. Her education again helped her go through that difficult time. “I had a very strong foundation here at UCSD, so I know that I have options,” she said.

She is now a co-founder of the Latino Startup Alliance, which aims to promote and cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit within the Latino community and to increase the amount of innovation led by Latinos not only in Silicon Valley but also across the United States.

She also is an advisory board member for the World Wide Workshop Foundation, which aims to close the digital literacy gap in poor and rural communities across the United States. The foundation uses social media and gaming to get students excited about science and engineering.

“Lift as you climb,” she said.

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