When Ava DeLaCruz opened an email from Amazon inviting her to interview, the first thought that came to mind was: “Is this a joke?” A computer science sophomore, DeLaCruz had applied for several internships as a freshman, but didn’t expect to hear back from a big player like Amazon so quickly.
But it wasn’t a joke. Earlier this year, DeLaCruz was one of about 100 students selected for the Amazon Future Engineers program. Before changing focus to high school students in 2019, the program aimed to recruit extraordinary college students like DeLaCruz.
As part of the program, she had the opportunity to spend last summer interning for the Amazon API team at the company’s headquarters in Seattle. An API, or application programming interface, is a set of routines, protocols and tools for building software applications.
“There was definitely a steep learning curve — I had to deal with not being able to get something to work, even after trying for a whole day,” said DeLaCruz.
But she kept trying. With determination and guidance from her mentor and her manager, DeLaCruz created a full-stack web application to streamline the meeting scheduling process for the Amazon API team. DeLaCruz’s application reduced time spent scheduling meetings by 80 percent, allowing the engineers and product managers to focus on other important tasks.
An Active Leader
Back at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, DeLaCruz is also a champion for the computer science student community. As director of service of USC Women in Computing (WIC), she teaches coding to local elementary school girls from underrepresented communities.
This fall, she contributed to the website and open-source portal development for HackSC 2020, one of the largest hackathons in Southern California.
“The focus is on having hackers build something that could make a difference in the world.” — Ava DeLaCruz.
“The theme for 2020 is social good,” said DeLaCruz.
“The focus is on having hackers build something that could make a difference in the world, and that someone could actually use to help better their lives.”
Growing up in West Hartford, Connecticut, DeLaCruz says she was lucky to have a strong role model early on in life — a female computer science teacher called Ms. Jackie Corricelli.
“She was really passionate about empowering women in STEM, and just to have her as a role model and a resource was really life-changing for me.”
“Mentorship is so important — try to find someone you see yourself in.” — Ava DeLaCruz
By the end of her junior year in high school, she had already completed every advanced computer science class her school offered. So, she decided to apply for college a year early and joined USC the following fall. This summer, she will be completing a software engineering internship at Facebook to further develop her skills.
While she wants to work as a software engineer after graduation, eventually she would like to give back by working as a public high school computer science teacher. It is her long-term dream to support more girls in STEM, just like the high school teacher who inspired her in the first place.
“It can be intimidating if you don’t see people who look like you in the media or in the classroom,” said DeLaCruz.
“That’s why mentorship is so important—try to find someone you see yourself in. And even if you can’t find them in your community, try to find them online. Also, even if you’re not sure if computer science is for you, just give it a shot. You might find out it’s something you love.”