Internship with IBM leads to growth for Yesenia Salazar

December 17, 2020

Yesenia Salazar was interning with IBM last summer when it started to become clear that undergraduate students would not be returning to the Homewood campus in the fall.

A rising fourth-year student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Salazar was open to taking her fall classes online. However, when IBM offered to extend her internship focusing on hardware development through the rest of the year, she decided to take a gap year, and will return to finish her degree in the fall of 2021.

Yesenia Salazar

“Being at IBM has been great because it’s clear that I’m being treated as a peer by people that I would consider my tech leads,” Salazar said. “I have gone from an intern who would have a couple specific projects to being involved with several different projects and teams at a time. This has led to me no longer feeling like a timid undergraduate student who is interning, but rather a full-fledged engineer on the team.”

Salazar’s role with IBM has been entirely remote, so she has been able to conduct her work from her apartment in Baltimore, and later her Airbnb’s throughout Washington State. She has particularly enjoyed the opportunity to extend her work for IBM beyond hardware development, which she believes has made her a more well-rounded engineer. This work has ranged from programming the forward kinematics of a robotic arm and gripper to using computer vision to automate mainframe-manufacturing inspections.

Salazar says she also became involved with IBM’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) efforts, especially during the summer when there was a large number of social justice demonstrations happening across the world. She ended up carving out a role with the company that included moderating and participating in panels with leaders on those subjects.

“I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts on DEI and my experiences as a first-generation Pell-grant recipient Latina of color in tech, a largely white and Asian male field,” Salazar said. “This led me to be invited to lead intern panels at Grace Hopper ’20 and events targeting Latinx interns and early professionals. I have been very happy to also be able to speak with different professionals in the DEI sector at IBM, even one in England, since I have taken on that role.”

When she concludes her time with IBM on December 31st, Salazar will move to Mountain View, CA for an internship at Nuro, a self-driving car startup, as an embedded software engineer. For the summer of 2021 she has already received internship offers from IBM, Deloitte, and Aptiv, but plans to apply a few more places.

Despite the excitement over her future plans, Salazar “cannot wait” to return to the Homewood campus for the fall 2021 semester. She says that the encouragement she has received from the ECE department has been essential to her development as an engineer, and she is looking forward to being back in that environment.

“I’m transparent about needing help when I need it and I am incredibly grateful for the support I’ve received from a wide range of people with the ECE department because without it I would not be where I am,” Salazar said. “Being a Latina of color in tech there are intersecting systems of exclusion that make the experience onerous, so being treated as an equal and with respect when I have felt vulnerable has had a major impact on my perception of myself as an engineer. I have found that anybody who is sitting in the ECE lounge is willing to talk to you about what classes they took or even help you with the homework that you are struggling with. I believe because the department is small everybody is friends, and it is beneficial for people to help each other out, which I think is an environment that you don’t find in most collegiate engineering departments.”

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