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Computer Science Graduate Lands Job with Microsoft

CS student Alejandro Castaneda
Photo courtesy of UTEP
CS student Alejandro Castaneda
Alejandro Castaneda, a native of Ciudad Juarez,Mexico, will soon graduate from UTEP and leave the only home he’s ever known. A model student, Alejandro is graduating with a master’s in computer science. He earned his bachelor’s degree in computer science from UTEP in 2006, graduating with highest honors. Though many people think it been an easy road for him, Alejandro faced many challenges and wasn’t always the model student he is now.

When he came to UTEP in 2001, Alejandro spoke little English and during his first semester he found himself failing most of his classes. That’s when he decided he would drop out of college altogether.

“I was so disappointed in myself that I couldn’t make it here, said Alejandro.” He went to the academic services building and requested the form needed to drop all of his classes. But instead of completing the form right there, he decided to wait until the next day to fill it out. When he returned the next day with his completed form he learned that he had missed the deadline. It was the day before.

Forced to finish out the semester, Alejandro decided he would give it one more try. “I remember it was the worst semester because I had to study like you have no idea to keep up with the classes.”

But Alejandro did more than just keep up with his classes. He drastically improved his grades. In fact, he improved them so much, that he finished his first semester with a 4.0 grade point average. “When I got my grades I couldn’t believe it. I actually went to talk to academic services and said ‘maybe these are not my records.’ But they showed me my records and said ‘these are your grades.’ So I thought if I did it one semester, maybe next semester I can do it again. And that was my motivation. At the end of each semester I kept saying, ‘Well, if I pass this semester, maybe the next one I can do it too.’ And I kept going until where I am at right now.”

Despite his challenges, Alejandro studied hard and quickly turned into a model student. He made friends that helped him develop his English skills and he became involved in a number of research projects as an undergraduate student.

As a graduate student, Alejandro served as a teaching assistant for computer science introductory courses. “I really like to teach people,” said Alejandro. “I like to encourage students not to drop out of their classes because it seems hard.”

Alejandro’s graduate research focuses on the development of an approach (CI-Learner) that facilitates extraction of trust related meta-information from scientific portals and related websites in order to construct a social network. The social network is organized as a trust network based on people, organizations, publications and trust relations derived from publication co-authorship.

Last summer, he also participated in an internship with Microsoft. “I worked with the Windows Vista division,” said Alejandro. “More specifically, there’s a feature on Windows Vista on the desktop search where you can search for your files really quick. I worked with that team. I was the tester for their applications and I developed a program to test the accuracy of the results obtained from using this search feature by inspecting a computer's local settings and document indexing information."

Alejandro’s summer internship at Microsoft led to a job offer. “I’ll be working with the same team,” said Alejandro. “My start date is August 15.” In August, Alejandro will move to Seattle, Washington to pursue a career with Microsoft, leaving the only home he’s ever known. He says that although he is sad to leave his family and friends in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez, he is proud of his accomplishments and looking forward to the future.

“I’m really excited about this new job,” said Alejandro. “I’m really happy with the things I’ve done to the extent that I can’t believe myself to be in this position right now and to have the knowledge I have right now.”

“My motto is like the motto Dodge has. ‘Grab life by the horns.’ When you see the bull in front of you, there is nothing else to grab but the horns. So that is my motto. Keep working really hard and many interesting things will come.”