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R: Biggest hurdle in HS/college and how’d you overcome it?
JO: Being a deaf student at a regular high school was not easy. I did not receive any kind of help; I had to rely completely on my lip-reading skills to understand what the teacher said in class. The school was very supportive of me by slowing down when they talk, articulating their lips and always speaking in front of the students instead of having their back turned while they wrote on the blackboard. When I got in the university, that was where I received all kinds of help: Sign Language Interpreter, Note-taker, tutors after class, group study meetings, counselors, and many other activities.
R: What was your hardest class and how did you pass?
JO: The hardest course was definitely Capstone II. This is the culmination and the last course that every student will ever take before their graduation. Basically, this is the FINAL project that encompasses everything that I have learned so far since my first year. Depending on each student’s engineering discipline, Computer Engineering in my case, I had to remember all about software (C++, C#, Visual Studio, etc…)
For my Capstone project, we had a partnership with TrenUrbano (Urban Train) from Department of Transportation in Puerto Rico. My focus was to develop software to create an “Inspection Sheet” in PDF format for the Train Inspector’s laptop, tablet or smartphone and send wirelessly via email to Central Office.
Using the inspection form, the train inspector wants to thoroughly complete a checklist: rate various conditions and attach pictures, videos, commentary/feedback about the conditions of the train and the surroundings of the metro station facilities.
The idea is to reduce government’s bureaucratic procedures by eliminating paperwork and streamline the process by implementing an online version of the inspection form, thus increasing performance by minimizing the processing time for the government to process the inspection forms. The forms needed to be communicated faster to provide prompt feedback from leadership in order to fix urgent matters, communicating online between the Central Office to the field inspection agents.
For Capstone I, I had 3 months to document the client needs, establish framework, and create User Case, User Scenarios, Conditions, Needs/Wants, SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats), error mitigation, and other Software Engineering methodology. I created a 600+ page report and received an “A” for it.
For Capstone II, I literally had 3 months to start and finish coding everything the client asked me as well. To be honest, I did not finish within the given timeline since it was an unrealistic expectation for a single student to do everything and work for “free” to the client. I got a “D” for this course. I was more than happy to get a “D” and graduate now than doing it all over again back to square one and delay the graduation.
Capstone I & II was supposed to be a team effort of 2-5 students per project. So why did I work alone? To my surprise, nobody wanted to work with me, despite knowing them since my 1st year, taking several courses together and thinking that they were my friends. Right at the very end they ditched me all alone with no one to help me for my Capstone project.
That was completely unexpected and an eye-opening experience. I didn’t understand how they could do such a cruel thing to me when I thought we have developed friendships and comradeship during all those years. I was shattered, broken in pieces, astounded, then became mad, and mistrusted everyone around me. Finally, I realized how the real world would look like and I came into the realization that I must accept my situation, stand up for what I believe in, and look forward to reach my goals.
I would not let anyone stand in my way to reach my dream, especially since I was right at the very end of my goal. At that point, I made an unprecedented decision that no students in the history of my university has ever dared before; I challenged myself and everyone else by taking Capstone by myself, a one-man team. Everyone in the university was in utter disbelief saying that I am crazy and insane, Capstone is so hard, and that no one could do it alone, blah blah blah. I ignored them and dared to take it on.
When I got an “A” for Capstone 1, everyone felt like $#%¥, then for Capstone 2, I got an “D” which is understandably difficult and everyone acknowledged my efforts and gained respect, and the rest is history!
R: What was your major and what made you choose it?
JO: Since 7th grade, I loved math and my mom suggested me to become an Architect. When I got in 10th grade, I noticed that being an architect was not for me since I didn’t draw buildings and don’t have the creativity to draw, plus I am terrible at drawing anyway hahaha!
The main reason my mom suggested me to pursue Architecture was because I love building Legos. So, my next passion/hobby was the computer! I always loved all things about computers: hardware, software, technology, and video games! So naturally I decided to pursue Computer Engineering. Why did I choose Computer Engineering and not Computer Science or Computer Technician Repairman, or any other computer-related job? That was because I love to take on the most challenging career-path in a given field.
I remember that many people said that the university I planned to attend (Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico) was the most expensive and the hardest one, since it was very technical, it run by trimester (3 months) instead of semester, which means super-fast paced courses and about 50% drop-out in year one because it is so tough. The more people said it was tough, the more I wanted to join. Sure enough I got in and stuck it all the way to the end, proudly graduating, overcoming and accomplishing the biggest challenge in my life! The feeling is overwhelmingly satisfying knowing that I achieved where many have failed or struggled especially coming from a deaf individual, by showing them my example that there is no excuse to drop-out because it was “hard”, if you have the passion and the dedication to see the goal and reach to the end you will accomplish your dream. Just remember that no matter how long it takes for you to finish your dream, you will eventually get there one step closer for your dream to become a reality. My favorite motto is: Never give up!
Then I wanted to pursue a degree in Master of Science in Manufacturing Engineering with 2 specializations: Pharmaceutical Processing and Quality Management.
R: Why switch to a different major from your Bachelors degree?
JO: Well, my answer to you is that I love to expand my knowledge by gaining exposure in another discipline and not limiting myself to the same thing (i.e. Master in Computer Engineering). I think it is too redundant and you are only limiting yourself further by specializing in one field, instead of broadening the opportunity to work in multiple roles, just my 2 cents.
R: Describe your industry and the role you play in 2 sentences.
JO: My industry is Process Improvement. In the “manufacturing area” I apply process improvement methodology to prevent defects or errors from ever happening during the manufacturing process, whether it be pharmaceutical products, foods, technology, or goods. Also, I do improvement in the “service area” by reducing paperwork, enabling more streamlined and efficient customer service and less waiting time in line.
R: What is one luxury your career has afforded you?
JO: Being able to pay Student Loan debt that I took for my Master Degree in Manufacturing Engineering; which during that time was a big risk, honestly the BIGGEST risk I ever took because there was no guarantee that I would get a professional job after graduating and I literally had no job back then. It was a calculated risk, but totally worth it. My advice: just be mindful and plan for any contingency 5 years ahead in case that it does not go as you expected. One thing that I learned during summer internship at NASA it to always be prepared to have a backup plan, well… more like multiple backup plans: Plan A, Plan B, Plan C, etc…
Other than the student loan debt, I finally became free, namely “independence”, free to live alone in my own apartment, my own stuff, my taste and style, my furniture, my privacy, a peace of mind, it feels good to be an independent adult, no need to depend on my parents, it feels empowering, and I feel like I’m able to conquer the world! Oh and when the time is appropriate, I’d like to start my own family with a wife and children :-)
R: What are you reading/watching/listening to today (1 of each)?
JO: I read all things about high-end technology especially the sci-fi ones, you know that some ideas seem crazy at first, but in the future those things become a reality. I am waiting for teleportation, food replicator, warp-drive (see Alcubierre drive). Also I love reading about space, new planet discoveries (sometimes I wonder why I was born in this era instead of far in the future… (humanity unites under 1 banner, no war, no money, no hunger, no sickness, an idyllic utopian future). I generally watch Japanese Anime, sci-fi movies, too much Star Trek, Star Wars, Dr. Who, surreal movies (Inception). As for “listening”, I don’t listen since I am deaf hahaha! Don’t care much about music, thank God I don’t listen to those trash songs. You could say that I “listen” a.k.a. “reading subtitle” by watching Youtube videos.
R: How do you give back to the community or your school?
JO: I give back to the community by setting the example to the public to raise awareness that deaf are just as normal as any other people, just different lifestyle, language and customs. You could say that I am a “trailblazer”, I am continually creating and carving a new path, so that other deaf people can follow in my footsteps to achieve their own greatness.
R: Describe your ideal weekend or vacation spot.
JO: My ideal vacation would be to escape during wintertime to visit my family back in my home country Puerto Rico and experience the eternal summertime on the beach (Flamenco Beach, #3 best beach in the whole WORLD!) drinking pina coladas and swimming under crystal clear water, where I can clearly see through 4 feet of water the soft white pristine sand. I miss the beautiful green hills scenery in the background and the sunset is AMAZING! Words cannot do justice, you should Google it!
R: Outside of your day-to-day job, what else are you pursuing?
JO: I am trying to get certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and Lean Six Sigma (LSS) at the Master Black Belt level. For those who are not familiar with LSS, basically this is process improvement for literally anything there is to be improved upon.