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Google engineer urges students to create technology, not just use it

Google Software Engineer Jessie Chavez talks students about his career WashingtMiddle School Wednesday May 16 2012 WashingtMiddle School Aurora. Chavez

Google Software Engineer, Jessie Chavez, talks to students about his career at Washington Middle School on Wednesday, May 16 2012 at Washington Middle School in Aurora. Chavez was speaking as part of the proposed STEM Partnership Academy program of AU and Aurora school districts | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: June 18, 2012 8:25AM

Middle school students from around Aurora got a chance to peer into life at Google on Wednesday morning, seeing what it takes to enter one of the nation’s fastest-growing fields.

Jessie Chavez, a software engineer with Google, spoke with eighth-graders at Granger Middle School, East Aurora Magnet Academy and Washington Middle School about his life and his job. And he explained to crowds of both English and Spanish-speakers how a kid in bilingual classes through fourth grade went on to work as an engineer for one of the world’s most well-known Internet companies.

“If you make the sacrifice in college, you’re going to make up for it right away when you get a job,” Chavez said, comparing the salaries and job opportunities for computer scientists and professional athletes.

More importantly, he tried to dispel the myth that computer scientists are uniformly “geeks with crazy hair, glasses and no social lives. Computer scientists come in all shapes and colors.”

And they work all over the world, sitting on bouncy balls in Google’s corporate headquarters or bouncing through space as part of the Google Sky project — like Google Earth, but for space.

“You might think that wanting to work in sports you’d have nothing to do with computers,” he said. “Wrong. These days, if you want to be a top athlete (and) work on your swing, you’re keeping track of your form, your position, your strength, the muscles you’re using — all of that is computer generated.”

Google’s education outreach programs are usually centered in cities like Chicago or Mountain View, near Google offices. But since Google has lent its support to Aurora University’s STEM Academy partnership with four Aurora school districts, the company has begun lending its talent and resources to encourage students to focus on science, technology, engineering and math.

Other tech business partners have even pledged to have a seat at the table as the STEM Academy designs its curriculum, preparing the students who enroll there for rigorous STEM coursework in college.

But on Wednesday, Chavez just tried to spark imaginations and point students in the right direction.

“Preparing a population to be a 21st century workforce means everyone needs to interact with data,” he said. “We need people more engaged with producing rather than just consuming technology.”

Chavez even showed the eighth-graders a project in its infancy, one they might be working on as computer engineers when they graduate from college in 2020.

“What if you didn’t want to bring your phone with you?” he said, before showing a preview of Google’s Project Glass concept, eyeglasses that feature built-in maps, calendars, phone, even the ability to tell you how many feet you are from your nearest friend at any given time.

“If you choose careers in computer science, you’ll be engineering these,” he said.

Students said meeting Chavez made them think about pursuing a career in computer science.

“I think I can,” said eighth-grade student Rubi Nava-Diaz. “But it does seem hard.”

Nava-Diaz said she has been interested in a career with the FBI but she now sees a computer science career as another option.

“I thought it was just sitting at a computer desk all day, but you can make something new,” she said. “You have a job where you can have fun.”

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