High-profile companies within reach for recent grads
Much like aspiring baseball players hope to “make it in the big leagues,” engineering students strive to land a job or internship with a company or brand so well known that it needs no further explanation. Computer science alumnus Thomaz DeSouza worked his way through teaching and internships to land a job with Microsoft Corp., which he started not long after graduation.
DeSouza, a 2012 graduate, is a software developer and tester at Microsoft’s main campus in Redmond, Wash. His job involves how clients’ application user data is stored.
“I work with apps and how your user account data is associated to an app,” DeSouza said. “Let’s say you download Skype, so when you log into your Windows account, you’re also logged into Skype. Once you’re logged into your machine, your credentials are saved somewhere, safely encrypted on your machine.”
He is also part of a team that aims to test all possible software scenarios.
“My team is a Microsoft accounts and clients team. The project manager comes up with the problem, and my team breaks the problem down,” DeSouza said. “I come in from a different angle and try to find the ways something could fail.”
Learning to teach
DeSouza said he credits his time as a undergraduate teaching assistant for helping him learn not only how to find and focus what he was passionate about, but also how to help others do the same.
“I started off as a chemical engineer. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to study because my dad [Guilherme DeSouza] is an associate professor in electrical and computer engineering, and I wanted to try a different path.
“While taking my chemical classes, I started taking computer classes on the side. My freshman year, I sat in both classes and knew which one was more interesting to me. I switched to computer science the next semester.”
Teaching runs in his family. DeSouza’s parents are both on the faculty at Mizzou. His father, Guilherme, is an associate professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. His mother, Luiza, is an instructor in the MU Mathematics Department. DeSouza worked as a teaching assistant for CS faculty members Markita Price, an associate teaching professor, in 2012, and instructor Joe Guilliams in 2010.
“My parents gave me advice on how to teach,” DeSouza said. “I connected with the students in the lab, and I think they really saw my passion for the subject.”
DeSouza described a student who he inspired by relating the subject matter to that student’s favorite video game.
“There was a student who loved World of Warcraft, but he was on the verge of failing the class. Once I told him that his favorite games are dependent on the databases being taught in the class, his eyes lit up, and he turned around,” he said.
While in school, DeSouza said he hadn’t thought about looking into multiple companies.
“At the time, Dish [Network Corp.] was at the Engineering Career Fair, and that was the company everybody applied for. That was my dream. My mom was like, ‘why don’t you do more?’” DeSouza said. “My mom pushed me and pushed me to apply for Microsoft. I applied online. I thought ‘there’s no way they’re going to call me,’ and then I got a phone call.”
It was a call for an internship position. DeSouza, who was a senior at the time, flew to Microsoft’s headquarters in Redmond, Wash., for a daylong interview that seemed a little bizzare to him at first.
“They asked me to do a word ladder starting with ‘cage’ and ending with ‘bat.’ At first — I’m not the best at English — I was scared, but then I started solving the problem, and I realized that he was only looking to see that I was getting answers and making progress,” DeSouza said.
There was one topic that DeSouza said he was worried might not work in his favor: his GPA, which was 3.14.
“The final question at Microsoft was, ‘Why is the GPA so low?’ I responded, ‘I thought it was harder to get a GPA of Pi than a 4.0.’”
Picking a job in industry over an academic career wasn’t the easiest decision, but teaching isn’t something he’s completely ruled out.
“Teaching and staying to do my graduate work at Mizzou would have been awesome, and so would the opportunities at Microsoft,” DeSouza said. “I ultimately decided to leave for new life lessons and challenges.”
Passing on knowledge
Hoping that current college students can learn from his example, DeSouza said it’s never too late for students to start thinking about what they can do as undergraduates to prepare themselves for their careers.
“Don’t think your life hasn’t started yet. It’s here,” he said, referring to advice he’d give to freshmen or sophomore engineering students. “Don’t be afraid to fail. Don’t wait until you’re a junior or senior to go out and apply.”
For older students, DeSouza said the best advice he can give is for them to remain genuine.
“For juniors and seniors, you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve established yourself a little more. As you’re interviewing, applying and trying to get these jobs, be authentic. If you’re authentic, it will show in what you do and people will see that. Really be yourself.”