Student Spotlight: Tommy Chong
Tommy Chong is a senior pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science through the Department of Computer Science, part of Florida State University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Chong, a Panamanian, transferred from FSU’s Republic of Panama campus to Tallahassee in 2020. He is currently a computer science assistant intern at FSU’s Innovation Hub, a space on campus for studying, collaborating and design thinking as well as home to FSU’s 3D printers.
What year are you in school, and when do you expect to graduate?
I am a senior, and I expect to graduate in Summer 2022.
Tell us a little about your background, where you’re from and what brought you to FSU.
I was born and raised in Panama. I enrolled at FSU’s Panama campus in 2018, and thanks to the Latin-American Caribbean Scholarship, I was able to transfer to the Tallahassee campus in 2020 with in-state tuition. I picked FSU because of the benefits it brings as an international student from Panama, and the computer science program was exactly what I was looking for.
What inspired you to pursue a major in computer science?
I have always loved computers and technology, and becoming a software developer is one of my dream jobs. I am astonished by the idea that you can develop a software able to do anything you tell it to do — the limit is your own imagination.
What aspect of your areas of study do you find most fascinating? What are some exciting projects/ goals you’re working on now?
Studying how computers learn to interpret code is fascinating. In my programming languages class, we learned about compilers, programs that translate computer code written in one programming language into machine language. I found this really interesting; studying them makes you think outside the box. I also find machine learning extremely interesting. It essentially gives computers a brain, which is scary yet impressive. Computers are able to learn data the same way as the human brain, but 10 times faster. This allows computers to create quick and efficient solutions. Machine learning will allow computers to think beyond us, and I believe it is going to be the key for a more innovative future.
I am currently working on a website at the Innovation Hub called CreatorConnect. Its main goal is connecting students and staff who may be in need of people with a specific skillset. Anyone from FSU can create a profile displaying their skillsets and projects like 3D-design, marketing, photography, etc. Their profiles will be public with contact information, making it easy to connect with others for a project, startup or just networking.
Tell us a little about your role as a computer science assistant at the Innovation Hub. How did you become involved the Hub, and what’s your favorite part of the job?
Over the summer, I discovered the Hub thanks to the internship listings on the NoleNetwork and recommendations from my friends. I visited the Hub and I fell in love with the place. I find it creatively inspiring and a great place to relax. I have fun with the VR systems, and the free 3D printing is unbeatable. My favorite part of my internship is the Hub’s environment. Everyone is willing to help others bring their ideas to life, and the Hub pushes me to become a better software developer. It also helps me build skills in design thinking, communication and teamwork.
Are there any faculty or staff who have helped or inspired you?
I want to give my special thanks to the FSU Panama City campus’ computer science program director and teaching professor David Gaitros; he was my professor for several classes in my degree. The computer science program at FSU's Republic of Panama campus allowed me to take online classes from the Panama City, Fla., campus. Professor Gaitros was able to make the most complicated concepts easy to understand, and I could not have asked for a better professor for those crucial classes. I am in the position I am right now thanks to the knowledge and help he offered.
What has been the highlight of your undergraduate experience thus far?
I have made some amazing friends, and they always push me to become the best version of myself. I’ve also met a lot of amazing people who have inspired me to keep going forward to get where I want to go. I want to be able to innovate the future and leave my mark on the world.
How has COVID-19 impacted your activities and research?
I haven’t had the opportunity to explore many on-campus resources because of COVID-19. It also delayed my transfer process to the Tallahassee campus. However, as a computer science major with many online courses already, it had less of an impact on me than for students of other majors.
Following your graduation, what are your plans? Even though you might miss FSU, what are you looking forward to once you graduate?
My plan is either to earn a master’s in electrical or aerospace engineering in Canada or stay in the United States and get a software developer job, preferably in Colorado. I’m excited to work on big projects as a software developer, and I want to create a startup company with a main goal of creating technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
What advice do you have for fellow students?
My advice is to take advantage of all FSU’s resources, because they can most definitely help students achieve success. College is not only about getting an education, but also about the connections you make along the way. You can have fun and still be a great student in college; it’s all about balance. And you should always take care of your mental health. Being mentally healthy promotes productivity and effectiveness in school and or work. As for success, if you really want it, you can achieve it.