For Computer Science Senior Jonathan Nguyen, Coding Is a Creative Outlet

by Katie Assaf

LSU computer science senior Jonathan Nguyen says he found his calling, his creative outlet and his career through one thing: coding.

Going into his fifth year at LSU, Nguyen is specializing in software engineering while also mentoring younger students and leading a university robotics team in competitions around the country. He says these pursuits let him explore and embrace the creative, problem-solving aspects of computer programming that attracted him to the field in the first place.

“That’s always been a fun part — if I have an idea for something I could find a language or some sort of framework that I can actually express that,” he says. “And [coding] is great for that.”

Choosing Computer Science

Growing up, Nguyen was a gamer and a technology enthusiast. He says he liked to “fiddle around” with settings on an older computer that he got at age 4. He was an imaginative child but struggled to find a way to express that creative energy.

“I tried my hand at things like drawing, and it turns out I have bad depth perception when I draw,” Nguyen says. “But computer science, coding and I guess writing in general was something that was a good outlet.”

Entering college, he didn’t know exactly what career path he wanted to take. He says he started in chemical engineering because he loves math and science, but eventually found that computer science was a better fit. He attended — and now staffs — the Encounter Engineering Bridge Camp for incoming freshmen, which he says is the place where he really discovered his fondness for computer science.

He switched his major to computer science and says he feels at home at LSU, which he chose because of the Engineering Department and the university’s proximity to his hometown of Chalmette.

Mentoring Other Students

Nguyen is also in the Society of Peer Mentors, a group that lets him work with other college students and assist elementary- to high-school students on computer science and robotics in their technology classes. The mentors act like technical advisers and let the kids do all of the work.

“I guess for me one of the great parts about it is when you teach them how to do something and then they go and do it,” Nguyen says. “The cool thing about the robot is you can see it in action. And so you’re really seeing every time that they sort of overcome one of the obstacles of the challenge.”

He says working with the students has allowed him to develop a more extroverted side. He used to be a quiet student, but going through Society of Peer Mentors has helped him interact with people, build leadership skills and give speeches, he says.

In addition to direct mentoring, Nguyen also helps organize outreach events like engineering days or STEM days.

Competing with Robotics

Not only does Nguyen mentor younger students in robotics, but he actively participates in robotics competitions. He created the Bengal Robotics Team, which combines students of multiple talents and fields to build robots for competitions around the country.

Nguyen and his team really wanted to compete in these tournaments, so they got startup money and scrap materials to put together a robot. They went to their first competition in Atlanta with a 30-pound robot they built themselves. The team has since built other robots, such as a “camera bot” to get footage from the battles.

Nguyen says the robotics tournaments are more collegial than competitive. Most team members are friendly and are happy to lend each other tools, assist with designs and even post their designs online for others to build off of.

While building robots and coding them certainly isn’t easy, with Nguyen’s team and the friendly attitude displayed by his peers, he hopes to compete at many other robotics competitions in the future. “We take what we have and we set a goal or a design objective and we just work with it,” he says. “We just take the punches as they come.”

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