When play turns into passion

Arody Deleon, a senior majoring in computer science and engineering.

Arody Deleon shows the robotic arm he developed to play tic-tac-toe.
Photo by Douglas Levere

Arody Deleon, a senior majoring in computer science and engineering, was inspired to explore robotics and coding when he was in high school. At UB, he took his passions to a new level. 

Arody Deleon is what you might call a “digital native.” The oldest child of Dominican immigrants, Deleon grew up surfing the internet (whenever the dialup connection was free) and gaming on the family computer that he had helped his father build when he was 9. 

Today, Deleon is a senior at UB majoring in computer science and engineering. In spring 2018, as a junior, he became a TA with the department. Since then he has assisted with three classes, running labs and presenting lectures, and has even helped to rewrite a 300-level course on microprocessors as well as create, from scratch, an entirely new 400-level course. Last semester, as part of a project with computer science researcher Kris Schindler that explored how robotics can improve the lives of ALS patients, Deleon proposed the idea for a robotic arm that could play tic-tac-toe. He and his research partners debuted the invention for local schoolchildren at CSE Kids’ Day in December.

How did you first become interested in computers?

A lot of it is from my dad. He works as a principal radio frequency engineer for [defense contractor] Harris Corporation. He’s always been really into computers, and I first learned by helping him with builds. When I was growing up, I would sit at our family computer and was amazed at what I could do on there. I started to wonder how and why these things work. Then in high school, I joined a program called FIRST Robotics, an organization that runs regional robotics competitions for students. I wanted to try and see how the hardware talks to the software, to understand how we command a machine to do things. That’s what really inspired me to explore robotics and coding.

Did you enter college knowing you wanted to major in computer science?

Not entirely. I liked computers in high school, but I also liked shop classes, like machining. After high school, I went to Monroe Community College, and I took electrical engineering classes, computer engineering classes and mechanical engineering classes. But I decided on computer engineering, because it’s like a bridge between the electronics side and the programming side of computing. That’s what I like about it. 

How did you end up at UB?

I graduated from MCC and then went to RIT for a semester. I transferred to UB because it’s really well-ranked for science and engineering, and is a lot less expensive. It wasn’t always easy transferring credits, and I ended up having to delay my graduation by a semester. At the time I thought I had wasted time trying to figure out my path, but I said to myself, everybody goes through life at different rates. You can’t worry about how long it takes to find your passion.

After you graduate, you’ll be going to work for Harris Corporation. What can you tell us about your job there?

Harris is a big Department of Defense company so I don’t know how much information I can give, but I think I can say I’ll be in developing. It’s pretty much a big playground. We’re given ideas, and we get to test them out to see if they’re possible. The military tends to be a couple years ahead in terms of technology, so I’m looking forward to working on the latest and greatest.

What about teaching? That was a big part of your college experience.

I want to continue to teach somehow, even if it’s just volunteering. I give a lot of credit to FIRST Robotics, so I want to pay that forward. Becoming a mentor for a high school team—I would enjoy that. I guess it’s the way I grew up. My mom is a super charitable person, and we do a lot of charity work in the Dominican Republic. I want to share my knowledge. I don’t want it to be like, only the smartest can understand computers. That’s why I enjoy teaching; 

I enjoy showing people, hey, you can do this. 

Story by Andrew Coddington

My first time teaching, I was nervous. Then I realized, they’re students, and I’m in their shoes. After that, teaching was like second nature to me."

-Arody Deleon