Meet Mario Camacho (’23), a senior concentrating in Computer Science, who will be working as a Software Engineer for Netflix after graduating! Mario is a first-generation, low-income college student interested in music, movies, and basketball.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Mario and I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Both of my parents are from Mexico and they immigrated here at a young age —  at the age of 18. They immigrated to Chicago because most of their family was already living there. My parents had me when my sister was five years old, so she’s pretty older than me. We grew up specifically in the south side of Chicago and, in terms of living, it was like a traditional immigrant family. In terms of growing up, I would say my older sister is a big mentor for me. She taught me a lot of stuff, like how to be safe and work hard. 

As for my parents, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. My dad was always telling me “you got to stay focused” and “you got to work”, while my mom was always the comforting one. Even though my mom was pretty intense with school, she always encouraged me to do what I wanted and she wanted to make sure that I had a future and such.

Describe your semester with a color and tell us why you chose that color.

I would say green. Green isn’t my favorite color — red is — but I feel like red gives off too much of a mean and angry impression. Green is definitely my idea of what the semester has been so far because everything has been really good. I have had a lot of free time. I’ve reconnected with a lot of friends and people that I’ve just missed during COVID and it has been really good. I feel like now that I am not working as much, I kind of have time to just reflect on the years that I’ve been here and grow a bit from that. I feel like I could soak up all the information from classes and other people, but if I don’t have time to reflect, I don’t feel like I’m growing. So, yea, I would say green.

How do you think your identities shaped your college experience?

I think being first-generation and low-income has definitely blessed me with a lot of experiences. At a young age, I had to grow up pretty early and, in a sense, it has helped me be independent. In a college context, I feel like it has helped me realize who I am truly able to connect with. I find it pretty difficult to connect with people that haven’t been through similar experiences, which can be a good and a bad thing. But I believe that it has helped me realize who could potentially be my real friends and who I feel most comfortable around. I would also say that being independent does come with a few issues, such as imposter syndrome because then it feeds into the idea of “if I can’t solve this problem by myself, then why am I even here?”. It’s a big issue that I have learned to break down these past couple of years.

With a software engineering position lined up for you after graduation, what advice would you give fellow CS concentrators?

Similar to what I mentioned before, I suggest just putting yourself out there, which is easier said than done because even I still sometimes struggle with it. But, it’s okay to feel like you don’t know something and to just ask a bunch of questions. It’s okay to just talk to a bunch of professors about even the tiniest things. During freshman year, I struggled a lot with my classes because, as I mentioned before, if I couldn’t do something on my own, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be here. It just led to a lot of bad grades on homework assignments and exams. But, it’s important to remember that there’s a reason why CS teaching assistants exist, which is to help you. Similarly, groups like MOSAIC, which is a program for underrepresented students studying CS, exist to help you. Even at times when you feel like you should be able to solve it and you’ve spent hours attempting to solve it but can’t, don’t feel bad if you need to ask for help. Everyone is here to support each other and support you in this process.

In what ways have you begun to take care of yourself?

I feel like my sophomore and junior year were definitely a grind. I would spend all my time just working to get stuff done and it felt like I needed to catch up to others, in terms of getting internships over the summer and such. That’s always a big thing — getting internships over the summer. Also, being able to take all these classes and getting through them, especially junior year, was a lot. I didn’t have to and I don’t know why but I just overloaded myself with a bunch of CS classes. I would spend a ton of time, day and night, just working on computer science, but luckily I had friends that would stay up with me. When the sun would come up, we would just order iHOP — it was a little rough. It was still a bit good to be around those types of people, but you know that’s not taking care of yourself — that’s just like surviving. So, I told myself, just recently over the summer, that I was going to just relax and I wasn’t going to take the hardest CS classes. I decided I was just going to take random classes that I thought were interesting. 

I think this mindset stuck with me even more over the summer after I worked. I had been working a nine-to-five, a typical software engineering thing, and it felt kind of lifeless. I felt like I needed to do something else. Yes, making money is cool and you can finally buy whatever you want, but it still felt like that wasn’t taking of myself like working is not taking care of yourself. So, I told myself that this year I’m just going to chill. I’ve been reconnecting with old friends and just doing random stuff. I recently went to a Brown Outing Club event and it was fun. I had a good time and just talked to random people. I really like talking to other people just because it feels like I can learn a lot from them and their experiences, so I feel like, in a way, it’s just like taking care of myself. I just like to soak in new ideas and experiences — that always feels good. 

Also, I’m able to just finally spend time with my friends playing games for like hours and not doing anything else. So just being able to get my mind off of schoolwork, trying to succeed, and other stuff. Sometimes we should still be focused on striving to be successful, but sometimes you just want to lay in bed, watch a movie, eat, and not worry about anything. In this sense, I’ve been taking care of myself. I am recharging from all the years that I’ve just been working. I have a lot of sleep to catch up on and a ton of recharging to do, which is the plan for this semester and the next.

What are some of your future aspirations?

In the beginning, it was applying to Brown, becoming a CS concentrator, and getting a full-time job that pays well. It was always for my family. My mom and dad worked day in and day out. They didn’t take weekends off and worked 12-hour workdays. It was rough, but they still did it. They didn’t complain and still somehow had the time to cook food for us. My mom especially, I don’t know how she does it, but she does. So, a lot of it was so my parents didn’t have to work anymore after I graduated. Even now, I tell my mom that she could stop, but she’s still working. My sister has a full-time job and I’m going to be working in a couple of months, but she continues to say that she has to wait until after I graduate in order to support the family. I tell her that she has already spent all her time working and supporting the family for so long that it’s now time for me and my sister to do that for them. It’s a little sad because my parents are on the older end and seeing them work for so long, you just want them to have time to enjoy life. My mom is like, now you have to buy me a beach house in Mexico and I tell her I am totally fine doing that. 

My new job is going to be in California so I’ll be moving there. I was working full-time for my internship with Microsoft in Seattle and they told me “Okay, have fun”, but now they’re like “We’ll move with you to California”. And honestly, I think it could work. The weather is nicer and they were not excited about the Seattle rain. We also have some family in California, so we have talked about that. But, to sum up, the biggest thing is just being able to support my family. That’s definitely one of my biggest goals and I am basically there. 

I also have an even bigger aspiration. In high school, I used to volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club every day for two years straight and a lot of the kids reminded me of myself growing up. A lot of it is just being able to have a mentor there to support you and lead you in the right direction. That was my sister for me. And my sister, obviously, didn’t have an older sibling so she went through a lot of rough patches, but she saved me from a lot of those rough patches growing up. I still think that it’s super important to have a support system. I know a lot of people will say “you have to pull yourself up from your bootstraps”, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t have any boots in the first place. People need support and I want to spend a lot of time outside of work being able to do that. I wanted to support people specifically in Chicago, but since I’ll be moving to California now, I think just being able to support people that are going through similar struggles and experiences is enough. 

That is definitely one of my big things — just being able to support people that are like me and grew up like me. Now, as I grow older and will be able to establish myself, I want to be able to put that to use to repay my community and those that share the same identities as I do. I don’t want to stop caring about the people I grew up with and the communities I lived in, so this is a future aspiration of mine. It’s like a rest of my life type of thing.

After your time at Brown, what is one thing that you learned that you will never forget?

I definitely think that it’s don’t be afraid to learn from others and don’t be afraid to reach out. Talking to a random person for an hour and just having conversations with people, learning from their experiences, goals, and ambitions helps you discover new things and grow as a person in general.