Saron Belay


How many years have you been in tech?


Tell me about your background. What were your early years like?

When I was in high school, I was very passionate about biology and chemistry. I took AP level biology, chemistry, and physics courses. When I started applying to colleges, I had my mind set on majoring in biology. I imagined myself going to medical school in 5 years and completing my residency at John Hopkins. You know, the usual “I-want-to-be-a-doctor” dream. Never in my wildest dreams did I see myself studying computer science in college. Never did I imagine myself geeking out to coding challenges.

How were you exposed to tech?

My first exposure to tech was my first semester of college. Even though my long-term goal was medical school, my mother encouraged me to take on computer science as my primary major. Her logic was that no highschooler really knows what s/he wants to do with the rest of her or his life, so it is important to have a plan B. A biology major is almost useless outside of medical school or without a PHD for academia/ research. However, regardless of my future career goals, computer science will propel me forward because it is an advantageous tool practically in any other field.

What is your current role?

Undergraduate CS Student

What is your proudest accomplishment?

As a minority engineering student on campus, I have always wanted to have a close support group who understands the struggles I faced. During my first year at WashU, I stumbled upon the Natonal Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) which helped me connect with other minority engineering students. That was great generally speaking, but it wasn’t specific enough for my needs. When I joined NSBE, there were 3 active members majoring in computer science and I was one of them. In order to expand my network, I searched for another student group and came across Women in Computer Science (WiCS). I was really excited to join the group, but unfortunately, WiCS was a relatively new student group with an exec board full of seniors. None of the exec members had time to promote the group or even organize events. At first, I was very disappointed. But as an afterthought, I hunted down the faculty advisor for WiCS and expressed my dismay. I offered ideas and events that I’d like to help implement for the group. The professor immediately asked me to serve as the acting president and pull a group of ladies together to revive WiCS. That was in December 2016. Today, I’m the president of WiCS with a new, enthusiastic exec board and a $4000 budget approved by the CS Department. I’m really excited to collaborate with my fellow women techies to redefine WiCS and harbor a nurturing environment for others like me.

What are you learning right now?

I’m currently learning swift and iOS development. It’s really fun!

What was the last fear that you faced? How did you feel after you conquered it?

The last fear I faced was a hackathon called ArchHacks. It’s a big event organized and hosted by WashU students. I signed up for ArchHacks as my first hackathon last year and I totally freaked out at the event. I felt like everyone around me was better at coding and smarter than me. I finally had to bail on my team because I could not handle the overwhelming anxiety. Looking back, I feel like I highly underestimated myself and could have competed at the same level as everyone else. I haven’t completely stumped my fear of Hackathons yet but I will definitely face it again. I have signed up for the NSBE Hackathon at the 2017 national conference (end of March). I have a good feeling about this one!

What advice do you wish someone had given to you? What advice would you give to others starting out?

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and can’t do. Most importantly, don’t EVER underestimate yourself! Your mind is the limit.

What are your hobbies?

I love scenic walks when it’s nice outside. Netflix and movies are bae. Also, I have a guitar sitting in my room. I’m going to learn how to play it one of these days, and I guess I’ll add that to my hobbies.

What do you like about St. Louis? The midwest? Why do you live here?

School and a full scholarship brought me here but all the free stuff (especially in the summer) keeps me here. On a more serious note, STL has become an important tech hub that is exploding with startup innovations and I want to be a part of that revolution.

Who inspires you?

My mother, hands down.

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