There have been many books written on coping with adversity, numerous quotes and we all have a story of our own that exemplifies an overcoming of adversity. This is mine.

Two weeks before my plane to Madrid, Spain was set to take off for a semester abroad I cancelled it. I had been debating the decision for weeks prior. 81% of students nationwide and myself have the craving to spend a semester in a foreign place to immerse themselves in the food, people, nightlife, education, and culture according to the American Council on Education. The reason I had made the decision to cancel the trip was to pursue a passion in computer science.

This wasn’t a new infatuation that led to an impulse to cancel months worth of planning. The origins of my computer science background were from an elementary school friend who had a background in web programming. Melissa showed me a few tricks of the trade to spark my initial interests. Over the next few years the bug had set in. I met another friend at Iowa State University that pushed my horizons and ambitions by introducing me to the computer science culture. During a trip to San Francisco Kelsey gave me a tour of the offices at Google where she worked as an intern and introduced me to brilliant students working at Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo, Salesforce, Apple, Twitter, Instagram, Visa, LinkedIn, Palantir, Buzz Feed, Goldman Sachs, and more. The remainder of my summer was spent programming and debating algorithms with a roommate in Iowa City. To this day that roommate was my greatest teacher. Buddy, a Michigan electrical engineer and computer science student was able to explain the most complex problems, algorithms, and solutions in a way that could be understood and built upon. He pushed me to see that I could do both computer science and electrical engineering. After receiving numerous phone calls and emails about computer science related hackathons, research positions, startups, and projects I made the leap to cancel my trip and stay stateside.

The decision felt as if I had crushed all my previous work to gamble on a passion. After enrolling late and finding housing (side note: Thanks to Tarin, Levi, Simon, Charley for letting me build a room in their basement so I could live on campus) I was on track for a semester. I picked up a computer science minor to stay on track to graduate in four years with my degree in electrical engineering. The coming weeks I spend glued to the books, attending lectures, applying for over fifty internships, performing research on insider threat anomaly detection, and pushing through projects and startups. Loving (almost) every moment of it. The last leap of faith was a trip to the University of California Los Angeles with my roommate Charley. Charley would always dream up creative ideas that sometimes were a little crazy. He recommended we take the trip to UCLA and go to their career fair on a whim in hopes we find internships. I was all for the trip knowing UCLA drew prestigious and reputable computer science companies from across the US. One small hiccup in our plan was UCLA’s career fair was only for students enrolled at their school. We were already on the flight to California when we received this news. A few distracted check-in desks and door guards later we were able to find a way in. During the trip we received a tour of SpaceX from a former coworker of mine. Scott gave us a place to crash as well after our days of sneaking around the campus. Each interview at the fair we would explain how we traveled over 1500 miles to get a minute of face time because we wanted a shot at the position. They loved it.

The result of weeks of applications, technical phone interviews, on-site visits: I received an internship from SpaceX in Cape Canaveral, FL for the Spring ’16 semester and another internship for Palantir Technologies in New York City for the Summer ’16. I will also continue research in data streams identifying malicious behavior in enterprise systems throughout the following year. I am beyond happy to pursue challenging problems within innovative industries.

To this day I still wish I would have been able to study abroad for a semester or summer. I know I will make plans to travel abroad in the coming years, but until then I will envy the college nomads. I believe the experience and knowledge you gain from a study abroad experience would be one you can’t replace with anything else. If you have the chance do it! I made the decision to cancel mine because I believed I needed to in order to develop myself in the area my passions lied.

What I learned:

  • Burn the bridge you need to succeed
  • Set goals
  • Take leaps of faith

Written by Brendon Geils

Hi. My name is Brendon Geils. I'm from the Chicago Suburbs and go to Iowa State University. I enjoy studying my butt off as an Electrical Engineer and doing triathlons. Start-ups and Entrepreneurship are two things I enjoy participating in. I write, read, and program when I can. Send me...
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