The accidental computer scientist

Computer science is versatile, it can be applied to many different subject areas, says Vickie Victor ’18.

By Sasha Nyary 

Vickie Victor ’18 might be called an accidental computer scientist. 

The child of Haitian immigrants who wanted the best for her, Victor had taken several college-level science courses in high school, intending to become a doctor. 

But by the time she got to Mount Holyoke College, she realized while she wanted to help people, she just wasn’t interested in the hard sciences. When her first-year advisor suggested computer science, she automatically said no. 

“My vision of a programmer was a nerdy white man in glasses typing on a computer all day,” Victor said. “But I went to sleep that night and woke up thinking, maybe I should try it. I took the intro class and fell in love.” 

Now a computer science major, Victor hopes to build a career in web app development. 

“I like working on websites with interesting components on the back end, like Twitter or Facebook, which are web apps, not just simple websites,” she said.

She’s off to a great start. She is studying computer science and software engineering at the Aquincum Institute of Technology in Budapest, Hungary, this spring. And she has a summer internship at Google’s YouTube offices in San Bruno, Calif., just outside of San Francisco. 

“I’ll be working on the YouTube Kids app,” Victor said. “I am so excited, since YouTube is the Google product I’m most connected to — other than Google search, of course.” 

Google was one of several possible internships Victor was offered for the summer, said Rachel Fink, professor of biology. 

“It is not surprising that Google, Apple and other tech giants were fighting over her,” Fink said,  “Vickie can talk a mile a minute when explaining a new passion, and she can listen with intense focus, open to new ideas. She brings a sharp intellect, a deep curiosity, a broad world view and a generous sense of humor to everything she does.” 

Victor is also a Posse scholar and Fink is her Posse mentor on campus. Each year, the Posse Foundation identifies and selects students with exceptional leadership potential from 10 cities, including Miami, Fla., Victor’s hometown. The foundation sends students in posses — typically groups of 10 to 12 — to its elite partner universities and colleges across the United States, including Mount Holyoke. 

Victor’s leadership on campus is indeed exceptional. Highlights of her campus activities have included working in admission as a Diversity Outreach Fellow, serving as a community advisor for Porter residence hall, cochairing the Computer Science Society, and helping run Hope Of Haiti, which raises money to renovate a school in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. 

“Whatever I do, I want it to be connected to Haiti in some way,” said Victor, who has a lot of family on the island. “I want the work I do to directly impact the places I cherish the most.”

Perhaps she will do that through computer science, which she described as “problem-solving through technology.” Her turning point for really understanding computer science, Victor said, was inspired by one of her final class projects: She had to build a game of Tetris, which she had frequently played in the past. 

“I had to program every aspect of the game, which required a deeper understanding of it,” she said. “It made me appreciate every single piece of technology I use today. The world is so technologically advanced that if you don’t have technical skill you’ll get left behind. It’s important to take control of your future and be a part of the change.” 

Haiti, computer science and diversity are three important themes of Victor’s Mount Holyoke life. Visiting the campus during a College admission event when she was in high school convinced her that this was where she belonged. 

“Being engaged with all the students and hearing their stories was really inspiring,” she said. “They were just a bit older than me and they had reached places I did not know were possible at their ages. It was clear that Mount Holyoke would help me reach my full potential.” 

As a Diversity Outreach Fellow herself, Victor is now one of those students welcoming prospective students to campus. 

“We tell them what is it like for person of color or a specific background or faith,” she said. “We give them the honest truth and show them how great Mount Holyoke is. Mount Holyoke — and computer science — has been the biggest surprise and joy of my life. I’ve learned more about myself then I could have ever done on my own. The support I get here is what makes me who I am today.”

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