Nestor Colindres Interview

How are you doing, how has life been?

I’m doing great. I’m excited that next week is spring break but it’s like a double-edged sword. I’m excited that next week is spring break but that means all the midterms fall between this week and the week after spring break. It’s like I’m almost there for a vacation but I’m going to be stressfully resting.

How did you first start out your academic journey

How did I first start off my academic Journey? I came from Community College, I first attended College of the Canyons right out of high school and I will be studying business administration for the first 2 years of my academic career. Midway after that I kind of decided that that’s not the right I wanted to go. I wanted to go more in the technical side just because I always found that so fascinating. I went ahead and switched to computer science when I was still in College of the Canyons and then about a year after I went to CSUN. I’ve been at CSUN for about 2 years at this point. I’m a senior expected to graduate actually this upcoming summer and it’s been an absolute blast just trying to learn as much as possible. Throughout the whole academic career I’ve met wonderful wonderful people. I have established some great relationships with the professors just because they were able to help me out so much. I have so overall my academic career has been amazing.

What was your Major?

Previously before I switched to comps psy it was business administration with discipline of finance. When I switched it was computer science, so right now I’m doing computer science with a minor in mathematics.

When did you start taking your academics seriously? Whether that was in highschool or you were just always serious about your academic success.

When I was in college of the Canyons I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have. I would take the easy classes to pad my GPA and when it came to mathematics I kind of struggled a lot. I didn’t really take it seriously where I should have set aside time to study, review my homework and all those things. It wasn’t until pre-calculus at College of the Canyons where I was like “okay I probably should start taking this seriously” and that’s when I switched my Majors as well. It was like really hard for me to start getting good habits because I never had good habits before then, in terms of studying. After that pre-calc class, I would say that I kind of did a 180 and started really trying to pass my classes with A’s, study as much as I can, review things and I would say that has really pushed me to excel.

Are you a first generation student?

I am actually, My parents weren’t from the United States. I have three siblings where I am the youngest of them. My sister graduated from the University of Los Angeles something and she majored in Business Administration, my second oldest brother actually graduated from CSUN in mechanical engineering, and then my oldest brother is actually in the military.

Who inspired you to go to college?

What inspired me to go to college? That’s a very good question. *laugh* *deep in thought*. Nobody really Inspired me directly, I wanted to go ahead and have a very nice and successful life. I know success is defined differently by different people but in my version of success it would be something I’m doing that I enjoy and also feel like I’m contributing to something. Also not having to worry about like “oh no am I pay my bills this month”. I was like looking at different people, you know like movies and TV shows where people were studying these really cool majors and I was like “you know, maybe going to college will set me up for that”. To be honest, when I first went to college I was like “oh no, college is not right for me. I don’t like it” but I was thinking about alternatives. I was like “okay well if I like drop out right now I will have nothing else going for me” and I feel like I wouldn’t really be successful in my own definition. I like computer science, I like technical stuff. So I decided to go ahead and do a complete 180 and really get my habits aligned in terms of how to be successful. After doing so the rest is history. So to answer your question, I don’t think I had somebody that made me want to go to college, it was more of just being around and seeing other people going to college as well as watching it on TV and movies.

What accomplishment of yours convinced you that you would thrive in college?

Oh that’s a good question. Okay so my first experience of thinking this is something I really wanted to do and that I could really accomplish a lot in college was in highschool. In high school Kennedy High School, they offered this program where after school you could enroll in college course classes. these college courses classes were offered by Channel Islands and so I went ahead and enrolled in one called “social business” class. it was after school where the class would meet up and we had a professor come over from Channel Islands to teach. One of the assignments was to create a fake business that solves a social issue. I was assigned a team and throughout the semester we had to compete with other teams within the same class in terms of how does my business exceed or solve a problem in the current world. The top three in class or top three groups were given the opportunity to actually present in front of Paramount Studios, in front of like thousands of people. I think it was actually like 4000 people. In order to do that actually, you had to go to Paramount Studios. Then present in front of a panel and then the panel only chooses one group to present and my group was chosen. and so I had to go up on stage and talk about my social business. I was scared you know because I was in front of a thousand who i didn’t know who were judging. However the experience was absolutely thrilling, it was exciting and that was the day I was like “Maybe I do want to go to college”. it felt like this was something I could potentially do. This pushed me into realizing that college could be something I could do.

Did you gain any other knowledge or gift from this experience?

It was funny, because of that they awarded me a scholarship and I think it was provided by Paramount studios and another thing that collaborated with them.

Speaking of accomplishments, I learned through ARCS that you were accepted into an APX position at NASA’s Jet propulsion Laboratory

That is correct, that was a combination of all my past accomplishments.

What is an APX position and What do they do at NASA?

So an APX position at NASA stands for academic part-time. So essentially NASA JPL’s basically saying we want you to work for us and we will pay you for it. APX is a kind of a path to becoming a full-time NASA worker once you graduate. Thankfully my team has said during the interview process that this position will be converted to full-time once I graduate. Last year I also worked for NASA as an EO intern for NASA JPL, which was just education office. It’s more of like “we want you to gain experience working at NASA GPO for about 3-4 months” since it was during the summer. CSUN was paying for that so it’s more like you know yeah you can definitely you know work for us but academic part time I had an interview I had an interview.

How was the interviewing process?

There were two interviews. The first interview was just to get to know me better and then the second interview once I passed the first one was with a panel. This panel was like the team leaders from my group, so the questions were technical. Then once I passed they brought me on-bored and I’ve been at this internship for about three weeks now. It’s been an amazing experience. It feels like I’m like a small fish in a big pond kind of thing. Thankfully, I have amazing support from my team who answer any questions I have. They show me how to do things and it’s a great learning experience.

What barriers and obstacles did you face to reach this position?

I think the biggest obstacle for me was Covid. Covid really put a lot of the resources that I wanted to get initially out of Outreach for me. At that point a lot of resources shut down or just said that we can’t meet in person so we have to meet online and that is not the same for networking. I really wanted to network, which I think is very important. I also had to overcome getting out of my comfort zone. Looking back at it now, I’m surprised at how much I’ve accomplished. I decided that it’s okay to feel nervous and uncomfortable. If I had kept thinking “I don’t want to do this because what if I failed” or “what if I don’t succeed in what tasks are given to me”. If I had just focused on my studies and just graduated then I would have done so without a job lined up. Thankfully because I pushed myself to exceed, I would say that I’ve been happier with the progress I’ve made and the practice I received.

Has the work at NASA been enjoyable?
 Oh yeah absolutely. Okay so the first internship was through ARCS and that was my mentor at Nasa was Dr Kyle’s Havelund and also Dr Mitch Ingham. During my first internship, ym project was basically based on creating a model-based programming language for hierarchical State machines, the language is called Proteus. Dr Klaus Havelund and Dr Mitch Ingham have actually published an I Triple E on this. We were just continuing to fix the bugs add functionality in this language. I took over this project from the previous fellows and it was just me and Katie Ortiz as the fellows. When we first got to NASA, we had to basically create this thing called a code generator that takes our language and translated to a different language and when I first got to NASA I was like, “what am I doing here? like this is crazy”. The work atmosphere there expects to see progress every week and it was like very fast-paced but when I got there I had no idea what a code generator was supposed to do. The fact that the proteus language was so complex made it difficult to understand how it works initially. Although with the guidance of Dr Kyle Dewey and Dr. Klaus Havelund I was able to get up to speed really quickly, where I was able to start producing results by the second week of my internship. It was such an amazing experience because I feel within those three months I had learned more than I ever have. owards the end of my internship we had to present to our group section our progress we made throughout the internship. We had to create a PowerPoint presentation and walk through what we’ve done. I was so glad towards the end, as people were asking questions. We were the third group presenting and the first two groups had nobody asking questions. I felt worried as I thought “oh man, I hope people find mine interesting”. So when they started asking questions I was so happy But also scared as they were asking really hard questions. The presentation though made me realize that I would want to work at JPL. The atmosphere was amazing, I was interacting with different groups, experienced how different groups work and I loved the culture there. It made me feel like it was college 2.0. I also loved the research. That’s one of the things I really enjoyed. So feeling that I could get paid to do my research and work towards finding answers to impossible questions sounds amazing to me. In the end, my whole experience at NASA has been great.
Was there a problem at work that you are proud you were able to solve?
So the problem was that I didn’t know what I was doing. When I first joined I felt overwhelmed, I feel scared to be honest. Just because the things I had to learn in such a short amount of time felt very overwhelming. That’s when I really started to push myself to ask questions because the last thing I wanted to do was do nothing and have no results to show. Which would cause them to ask me “what’s going on” and I would reply with it “oh it’s just that I was stuck and didn’t ask questions”, that’s the last thing I wanted to do. So the first thing I had to overcome was really just to ask questions and understand that it’s okay to feel like things are overwhelming. Others might have been overwhelmed too. I had to remember that I wasn’t the only one to experience that. They could have also experienced that and understand how it feels. That’s why I asked questions, got up to speed and thankfully because I was very proactive while they were very supportive, things were able to progress smoothly. This is why the biggest obstacle I had overcome was just asking questions.
Has the position at NASA brought on more stress?
I mean yeah, every new responsibility that you take they’re always going to be a layer of stress. But is that stress toxic or is it not? toxic stress is the ones that are unnecessary that like bring people down and it’s just it’s hard. But Thankfully at NASA it the type of stress where you can smile and say “I have a deadline” because its a good type of stress. It’s just been an amazing experience and so far people have been amazing. Like on Pie day when we had a meeting with our group at NASA. Right after our meeting one of my managers / mentors looked at me and they were like “you guys just want to go get pie?”and we were like “yeah let’s do it”. So literally right after the meeting we walked out of JPL and went to we went to Old Town Pasadena where we got some pies and started eating. The place was called “I like pie”. We had a good time and it just feels like such an awesome place that I would love working at. It just feels like everybody’s supportive, everybody’s a team member, that they were there because they like the challenge and want to go ahead and be a part of something great. It’s just been a blast to interact with these people.
How do you deal with stress?
You always stress because of deadlines but I feel if I had deadlines and the work culture was stiff, then it would be a lot more stressed . like If I felt that I couldn’t even talk to people then it would just bring more stress to me. Because people were very open and very talkative, they helped me feel less stressed then a place where I just couldn’t do that.
How did you first hear about the opportunity to work at NASA?
I was first given the opportunity to intern at NASA through ARCS. Through them, I was able to get my foot in the door.
Has anyone in ARCS given you advice to help you reach this accomplishment?
Oh yes! Professor Kyle Dewey has been an amazing Mentor for me. I go to him when I have questions, when I am confused about something at NASA or at CSUN. He has been a tremendous help to me. I feel as if I wouldn’t have gotten this far without him. So yeah, I absolutely received advice from an ARCS staff member. Professor Kyle Dewey has been an amazing resource.
How did you first hear about ARCS?
I remember the day where my friend,Rebecca Carbone said that they signed up for a program called ARCS and that I should sign up for it too. I had never heard of ARCS before. I asked what it was and they said “I don’t know, I just found somebody who had ARCS under their LinkedIn experience and it was like a researcher”. So I went to the map location and ARCS website to look at their application, this was after their deadline so this was just for an associate thing. I was looking through the different projects that they had and the one that really caught my eye was compiler design for Professor Kyle Dewey where my friend also worked. I went ahead and signed up with Kyle Dewey and introduced myself to him. Kyle Dewey asked me basic questions about my background and I told him my technical background, that I like to explore new things, and that this project is something I would like to explore. He brought me on as an associate and that was the first big step of me really setting myself up for success.
How has ARCS prepared you for work similar to an APX position at NASA?
Yes. So how our project worked was that every week the fellows and the associates met with the professor to give weekly updates and showing what we did, how we did it, and then asking questions about it. This showed me that I could do the same thing at NASA as they are so similar. We would have a weekly meeting where we would do our task and then the next meeting we kind of just do a stand-up, where we were like “oh what have you done is there?”, “any questions that you needed help with” or “need it answered”. That aspect of it really helped me feel comfortable working at NASA JPL.
Has your time with ARCS helped you evolve in any way? Whether that was within what type of work you were interested in or personality wise?
Oh yeah. so before ARCS I knew CS had different branches of expertise but I didn’t know the extent of it. So when I joined ARCS, I was exposed to more compiler design and embedded systems and once I started working on them and understanding how it works, I couldn’t go back to what I used to do. I used to do web development and stuff like that. Web development is fine,it’s a great area but not my cup of tea. My cup of tea is basically embed systems . Because of ARCS I’ve done designs on my own personal projects, like creating my own 3D via, my own drone with a microcontroller, As well as my own 3D printer frame. ARCS has just been an absolute blast, I’ve been having fun with the better systems.
Has ARCS been like a sort of stepping stone to help you reach your Position at NASA?
It was a way do I say it? ARCS was definitely a stepping stone but that stepping stone launched me. like I took that one step and then that one step just sprung and then I just flew. Hehe, I would say it’s definitely more than a step stone. It was more of like a way to really see all the possibilities I could have. ARCS showed me multiple networkings that I could have and because of ARCS I met so many wonderful people that have amazing skills and that I can learn from. Like I have a really good friend at ARCS named Sako and he’s an Electrical engineer. We talk about microcontrollers or like what he’s in with this 3D printer and how to fix his 3D printer. I wouldn’t have really met him without ARCS so again ARCS is just an amazing experience. In the end, yes. I believe ARCS was a stepping stone that just launched me.
What is your Main Goal/Driving Force… academically, professionally, life in general?
Main goal in life , honestly just finding satisfaction in work in life, go to work and do things that I find so interesting, my main goal
What is your Main Goal/Driving Force… academically, professionally, life in general?
My main goal in life is just finding satisfaction in the work I do. With money obviously hehe. My main goal though is just to do things that I find so interesting. Like right now, my main goal in NASA is just help with the development of the Europa Clipper and just thinking that I am helping this satellite that’s going to go to Jupiter to take pictures of the Moon Europa. This is going to be so amazing, I feel that satisfaction already. That’s why my main goal is just my embedded system stuff and just finding ways to not only progress my skills but like also help answer questions that a lot of us have about the universe in general.
Do you have any future plans above?
Oh man, my future plans are to Graduate so I can become a full-time employee at NASA JPL. Continue to help develop Europa Clipper and then eventually I want to start my own business. I want to use the skills i’ve learned from ARCS,from NASA JPL and create my own business where I focus on autonomous systems, like AI. Because you know AI is the future and I would love to incorporate my personal project, which is the Drone to like something that I could go ahead and create. like an autonomous system for it and to see if that even works. In the end, just like my own business eventually.
Do you want to be a CEO in the future?
Ah, I don’t know why but the word CEO, it feels weird to me. I just want to be a Founder and see if the product that I create is something the market wants. I know that creating a business is hard, like 8 out of 10 businesses fail. But if one of my businesses fails or one of my projects fails I’ll just create a new one then a new one, then a new one and a new one. All I need is one business to succeed and I feel like that’s going to be an amazing experience. I have a business administration background. My dad is in business so like I’m surrounded by the business world and I feel like a part of me still wants to do business. I feel that the small business part of me is never going to go away. That is why I want to create my own business so I can incorporate business administration with computer science in the same thing.
How did you feel when you found out you got into NASA?
Okay so when I first got into NASA I felt… how did I feel? I felt excited because my biggest worry was graduating without a job. I also had another interview with NASA JPL for a full-time position before my APX one. Unfortunately they wanted to bring somebody on board within the next month 2 months and I didn’t graduate for 6 months. But then a supervisor who I interviewed for suggested that I go ahead and apply to the academic part-time one because him and I really clicked and we were just talking Non-Stop. So I went ahead and applied to that and then had the interviews. When I got that notification that they wanted to extend an offer to me, I remember waking up. It was funny because I woke up at 8:00 a.m. and I got that email at 7:30 a.m. So I looked at my phone and went back to sleep because I was just not conscious. And when I woke up again I was like “I had this weird dream of getting the offer” and then I looked at my phone and I was like “oh my god it actually happened”. I felt so happy, so excited because I want to work at JPL for years and it’s just like my dream job. It felt amazing that I was able to get an opportunity to go ahead and get this position.
Do you have any helpful words or tips for people who are interested in a work position like yours?
oh yeah, the thing that really got me to exceed as much as I have, would be just getting out of the comfort zone. like I said, if I didn’t get out of my comfort zone I wouldn’t have done any of this. That first step can be traced all the way back to that social business class, when I had to present. Getting out of my comfort zone took a while to do but the more practice I had, the easier it became for me to be like “let’s do this opportunity”. I would say just practice feeling uncomfortable and and pushing yourself to do things that will benefit you in the future. I think that’s the best advice I can give because that also encompasses a lot of different aspects of like trying to be successful. For example networking, I think networking is super important but you won’t be able to network if you feel like you don’t want to talk to these individuals because you might feel uncomfortable. If you get out of your comfort zone and say hello or start interacting with people, you’ll start building your network. Know it’s okay to fail, I failed so many times throughout my academic career. In terms of things like “oh I’m going to do this “, “I’m going to talk to this person and see how it goes” and “I go up and I talk to them and it just doesn’t click” and it feels kind of awkward. It’s okay to feel awkward, it’s okay you tried because not everybody is going to be receptive to your networking and that’s fine. Although I feel like if you get used to feeling uncomfortable, going up to people and trying your best, and taking any opportunity you can, it’s all going to work out.