How Futureforce Tech Launchpad Accelerates Our Students' Futures
Daniel Ortiz, a CS student at Florida International University, fundamentally changed his career path after completing Futureforce Tech Launchpad
Earlier this year, Salesforce launched the Futureforce Tech Launchpad program to cultivate the next generation of tech leaders. Powered by CodePath, Launchpad is a 10-week paid summer program for rising college juniors to work in San Francisco at the Salesforce Tower. Participants learn full-stack web development, gain mentorship from Salesforce's engineering teams, and immerse themselves in the company culture. In the last five weeks, the students formed groups to complete capstone projects, working closely with Salesforce's technologists to put their newly gained skills into practice.
We spoke with Daniel Ortiz, a computer science major at Florida International University, who completed the Futureforce Tech Launchpad program in the summer of 2022. Daniel recently accepted an offer from Salesforce to return next summer as a software engineer intern.
Please tell me about who you are and your background.
I live in Miami. I am a Florida International University student and part of the Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE) Code Program. Through that club, I found out about CodePath. I had been interested in tech for a long time. I am an immigrant. My family came from Cuba, so there has always been a disadvantage because they have to learn new technologies and adapt to an entirely new culture and country. I'm sure you've heard many examples of how kids are the ones who learn technology the fastest. I was that kid. I had to teach my parents how to use Gmail, how to submit their tax forms online, or whatever need they had. Over time, I used technology so much because it was my responsibility. I ended up loving new technologies, and that's how I entered the field.
What is your major, and what specific domains within computer science interest you?
I'm currently in my third year and getting my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science. My university doesn't offer my specialization (artificial intelligence), so I've had to seek out organizations like CodePath. I love AI. I was a research assistant for an artificial intelligence lab based on natural language processing and culture at my university. I researched how AI was used in cybersecurity and tackling misinformation online. It was very cool research and made me realize how much I love artificial intelligence.
For UPE, the club that I mentioned earlier, I am the program manager for a coding program. I lead workshops where I teach people based on my projects and research. I inspire people to take an interest in AI, learn how AI works, and discuss ethical concerns. Sometimes we discuss how to create new models–how to get a bunch of data and then train the model–and what neural networks are, and so forth.
What made you apply to the Salesforce Futureforce Tech Launchpad program, and what was the experience like?
I applied to Futureforce Tech Launchpad to get outside of what I already knew (AI) and expand into software engineering. It's not commonly known, but a data science/AI/machine learning engineer and a software engineer are two very different paths, requiring different skill sets. Of course, there are skills in common, like Python, the programming language. You can be a software engineer and do ML both with Python, but they're still very different. I was doing more AI stuff, and I wanted to explore software engineering and the actual creation of applications. When my friend told me about Futureforce Tech Launchpad, I thought it sounded perfect.
The whole experience of the program was incredible. I traveled to a brand new city and experienced life in San Francisco. I learned full-stack web development from CodePath, which has an incredible curriculum that makes you learn at a rapid pace, and I met people who are now very close friends of mine. We learned about web development for the first 5 weeks of the 10-week program, and we created a project for the last 5 weeks. For our project, we targeted a user group we understood well: tech interns in San Francisco. The problem we tried to solve was that so many tech interns came to a new city and wanted to discover events and opportunities to connect with their friends, fellow interns, and other people in the area. So we created Avent, which is our website, and the Avent app. You can think of it like Eventbrite, but specifically for interns and young tech professionals–because we understood our demographic's pain points and user needs. We created this website to connect interns across one company or several.
Tell me more about Avent and your role.
Our team is super proud of Avent. The UI/UX is awesome. The idea behind Avent was you could post events, RSVP, and find other people who were going to those events so you could connect with them. For example, maybe there's a concert that is open to everybody and sponsored by this company. You could go on the app, see that a fellow intern was going, and join them to connect.
I was the product manager and developed the website's backend. I had to think about the users' needs while developing the backend to make sure everything going from the server and database made sense. I went outside the scope of what was taught by using AWS, which was fun. AWS was a little crazy, but it was a cool and different experience.
Both teammates were fantastic, and they also received return offers. I can't wait to see them next summer!
What were the biggest takeaways from Futureforce Tech Launchpad?
I have two takeaways–one technical and one as a leader. For the technical aspect, one cool part of the last five weeks was that we were given a lot of liberty in terms of what tools to use. Of course, to a certain degree, we were expected to use the tools we learned over the first five weeks, but we also had the liberty to explore outside and learn new technologies while developing the project. My team decided to use AWS because the application of the cloud was super important. For example, from a technical perspective, it's a terrible idea to store profile images–or any kind of images–in a typical SQL database. If you try, you end up creating a really, really slow database. Using AWS as a third party to store images is much better. I thought that was cool because it opened my mind to the power of cloud infrastructure and gave me more insight into companies like Salesforce and why its offerings are so essential. I realized the importance of the technologies I was working with, making me appreciate engineering even more as a career path.
As for my other takeaway…I'm an extrovert. I can articulate my ideas relatively well, so I naturally fall into leadership roles when I'm on teams. My manager was terrific–she was one of the industry's earliest software engineers. She is both technically adept and a fantastic leader who is incredibly articulate. Her feedback helped me a lot. I was in a leadership position and tended to take control of the conversation whenever we had team meetings. But then, after one of these meetings, my manager told me that while I was good at articulating our progress, I wasn't giving my teammates a platform to speak on their own. Even though I was mindful of my teammates, I wasn't allowing them to hold their own and share their opinions. That opened my mind because I thought I was doing it right by articulating the ideas for my team. In reality, I wasn't giving them a platform to communicate their ideas. I realized that was something I could improve on–and I furiously tried to improve on that over the next week. That elevated my leadership ability because I realized my ultimate goal should be to give my teammates a platform from which to strive.
How has the program changed your thinking about your future career path?
It completely changed my career path–for the better–because all of this exposure as a software engineer was so important. I was going toward AI–and I still am–though I realized the power of getting into the industry. That was the primary way Launchpad shaped my roadmap. I was planning on going to graduate school because if you go into AI or data science, it's almost mandatory to go to grad school for a master's or Ph.D. If you try applying as an undergraduate to AI opportunities, it's incredibly challenging because there are limited spots. But after completing Launchpad, I realized I love application development, which I would get to do less as a grad student. I love learning on the job and applying AI in the real world. So that was where it fundamentally led me. Before, I was going toward data science, which is more theoretical and mathematical. Now, I realize I want to do something with AI but as a software engineer–specifically a machine learning engineer. Through Futureforce Tech Launchpad, I realized I could still go into the code and implement AI technologies without getting too theoretical–which is awesome.
What would you tell a future student about the program?
Be patient with yourself. The first few weeks are hardcore in terms of how much and how quickly you're learning. It boosted my self-esteem in healthy ways because I realized I could learn rapidly. I was surprised at myself and my friends. It would typically take an average of months to learn, and we did it in weeks. As a result, I did feel very stressed at times. I felt upset at myself–like I should be able to learn more and faster (even though I surprised myself). But I spoke to myself and said, "Relax. You're doing fine. You're passionate about this–everybody in this room is passionate about this. You can reach out for more help if you need it. If you didn't meet your goal for the day, that's okay. Reflect on how and why you didn't reach it and just improve yourself for the next day. You keep doing this, and you will see the desired results. Then, towards the middle of the project phase, we finished faster than we expected as a result of having these 1% improvements day by day.
I would also say, "Have fun." Going outside the office and eating lunch for an hour is okay. I often felt like I had to stay or wait until after work to eat my lunch because I needed that hour. But I wish I had told myself to relax and breathe. In that hour that you genuinely take a mental break, you will recuperate and work even better than you would have if you just worked through it. So that's my main lesson–to be patient with yourself, maintain the passion, and be happy that you're in this experience in the first place. It's incredible.
What are you working on now, and what are you looking forward to in the future?
My year as the AI Code Program Manager is coming to an end. I have loved this experience of being able to teach others AI. I also worked on the web dev track and taught a backend workshop for the first time, which was super cool–and I could do that because of my skills from Futureforce Tech Launchpad. I have since passed on the skills I learned during the summer, which was awesome.
As the year's coming to a close, I will be running for Vice President of my club, and I will probably get the role. I'll continue to host workshops and try to get more people into tech. For the longer term future, like 5-10 years down the line, I want to create real change in the education system using novel AI-based approaches. I would love to have a nonprofit and transform education using machine learning where it makes sense.
Finally, as you mentioned, I recently accepted my offer at Salesforce. I'm excited to see what the future holds and to continue building my software engineering skills in this exciting environment!
Be sure to stay up to date on the Futureforce Tech Launchpad program here. Applications are open now.