By Kiran Kumar
UC San Diego math-computer science student Faris Ashai was recently featured in 2022’s Major League Hacking (MLH) Top 50, a list recognizing the top new computer scientists and hackers. MLH compiles this list each year, highlighting the hackathon community’s most inspiring members and recognizing their contributions to the tech ecosystem and STEM education. Hackathons are software, small hardware or app development sprints for computer programmers, often happening over the span of a weekend; not the hacking into sensitive cyber domains that may come to mind.
Ashai was recognized for creating new opportunities to help make the hackathon community more inclusive and accessible. As an organizer and director of TritonHacks, a 30-hour hackathon for high school students hosted annually at UC San Diego, Ashai provided industry mentors for each participant, regardless of skill level, and equipped beginner participants with highly effective starter kits.
“It is a high honor to be chosen as an MLH Top 50 recipient as each is selected from a pool of more than 150,000 active community members, comprising one in three new programmers in the United States (and even more abroad),” said Nick Quinlan, MLH chief operating officer. ”To be selected is to have your achievements recognized as the top percent of the top percent of new technologists today.”
In this Q&A, learn more about Ashai’s decision to study math-computer science at UC San Diego, his involvement on campus and how skills learned through the hacking community will help him in future roles.
Q. Why did you decide to major in math-computer science?
A. I decided to pursue a major in mathematics-computer science because it looked like an interesting balance of two of my interests. I’ve always been curious about math and when I took my first coding class sophomore year of high school, I quickly realized that was what I wanted to pursue for my career. Seeing the option as a major at UC San Diego was really interesting because it allowed me to dive deeper into upper division courses in both subjects without committing to the course load of a full double major. After finishing the core classes, I’ve been able to pick and choose the electives that interest me and I’ve found a decent overlap where the interdisciplinary knowledge has helped me succeed better than either major individually could have.
Q. How did you decide on UC San Diego?
|High school students at the Triton Hacks opening ceremony. Photo courtesy of Triton Hacks.|
A. I’m from Los Angeles so I knew I wanted to stay on the West Coast—somewhere by the beach with nice weather—and UC San Diego was perfect for me because of all of the great engineering programs available and the beautiful city!
Q. What activities have you been involved in on campus? And how has UC San Diego helped develop your hacking skills?
A. I found out about a student organization called ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) during my freshman year at UC San Diego—just a few months after it was created—during an event called Engineers on the Green. After joining, I found an incredible community of students passionate about computing topics and engineering and saw countless opportunities to step out of my comfort zone to develop new technical skills, leadership experiences and communication skills. Through friends in this organization, I got more involved with the hackathon community and a different team under the group CS foreach, which organized a high school hackathon that I later served as director of this past year. Through my countless hackathons as a participant, I was constantly motivated by the friends I found at UC San Diego to compete with me and pushed myself to improve.
Q. How might the skills you learned through the hacking community help you down the road? In your career of interest?
A. I would not be anywhere close to where I am today without my involvement in the hackathon community. My first experience with React, a popular front-end web development framework, was through a project called ResReview that I built during my second ever hackathon. I continued to use this framework for a couple of hackathons and saw enormous improvement as I got more comfortable with the skills I was learning to rapidly build products in a team environment. I think this was one of the biggest reasons I got my first internship in web development. I use these same skills every day in my current internship and will likely use them for the next few years.
Q. What would you like to do after graduating?
A. Currently, I feel like I’m on track to go into software engineering after graduating and am excited to dive deeper into this. However, I think it would also be interesting to move toward a more Product Management role eventually to get more broad influence over the products I work with, so we’ll see where I end up!