The essays that got me into MIT

2022-01-03

I got into MIT c/o ’26, and I thought I’d share some of the essays I wrote.

Share your story (250)

Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

West of the Wasatch mountain range lies Utah Valley, my birthplace and home away from home. Although I call Utah my home, of the six thousand sunrises I’ve witnessed, only a few hundred of them have happened over North America.

No matter where I’ve lived abroad—Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Madrid, Jakarta, or Rome—family and community are the constants that define my life. I come from a big family: being the oldest, I have four younger siblings. Although friends come and go, I know I’ll always have my family to confide in. Beyond my family, as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I know I’ll always have a community supportive of my personal growth.

My family has instilled a deep love of learning within me. I’ve always pushed myself academically; I love to explore the edges of the field of computer science in my free time. I value challenge and failure over passive success—the constant physical challenge of playing varsity sports throughout high school has taught me perseverance in the face of trial.

Living around the world, I have been pleasantly surprised to find that there are more similarities than differences among the people, communities, and cultures I’ve come to know. Nevertheless, familiar connection isn’t always guaranteed. Cultural and geographical distance shouldn’t sever human connection as it so often does now. Because of the world I grew up in, I aspire to develop resources that bring people a little closer together, making the world that much smaller.

Field of Study (100)

Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you.

Field of Study: Computation and Cognition / Mathematics and Computer Science

I have always been interested in ideas that lie at the intersection of language, brain, and machine. Program synthesis, language design, and ML are all near and dear to my heart.

I’ve been closely following the work of MIT’s Brain and Cognitive Sciences lab on Wake-Sleep program synthesis, which uses both symbolic and statistical approaches to give computers the capacity to understand code as humans do. I would love to use my skills as a programming language designer and the resources of MIT to contribute to the creation of these novel systems.

What you do for fun (250)

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do for the pleasure of it.

On a crisp fall day in fourth grade, I met Raúl, Luis, and Alex for the first time. As a small group of friends-turned-budding-hackers, we started programming together, making art, games, and websites to share with our friends.

Three years later I moved countries, but continued learning on my own. Pouring through books, blog posts, and documentation, I absorbed everything I could find on software development. I gradually became aware of the hacker community, which encouraged me to contribute to Open Source software. Digging in the guts of open-source compilers, I was amazed to discover how programming languages were encoded in terms of themselves—I had to learn more.

About two years ago, I started building a programming language of my own. I had come full circle, blocking out a small corner of the computational universe. My old friend Raúl stumbled across my work, and we got in touch. Over time, a community sprung up around my work—not only interested in the language I was creating but also interested in working alongside me.

The experience of hacking—willing something into existence from pure component parts—is an excitement that cannot be matched. The rush of individual discovery is only one side of the proverbial coin, though: I started programming with friends, and I program with friends today. Working as a community to construct something larger than any one individual is the true ethos of the hacker spirit. What I value more than the code I’ve written are the people I’ve met along the way.

Making the world a better place (250)

At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc.

Twenty nervous kids chattered in Indonesian as they looked at the shiny aluminum laptops placed in front of them. For many of them, this was the first time they’d seen, let alone used, a laptop, and an energy of excitement filled the air.

Standing at the head of the classroom, my friend Sangwook and I got the kids’ attention. “Selamat siang,” we started, “We’re the leaders of the Plugged-In Club. Today is our first class—I’m so happy you all could make it!”

Over the next hour and a half, we taught them how to type, login, search for answers to questions, and explore their local neighborhoods using Google Maps. I loved watching Fatima’s face as she virtually flew through her kampung until she chanced upon her home, smiling wide with excitement as she showed all her friends. Over the coming months, the kids went from stumbling around with the keyboard and trackpad to confidently jumping between windows faster than I could follow.

Through Plugged-In, I befriended kids I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to know. What seemed like a simple act of community service gave these children a leg up in the future. As the world becomes increasingly connected, soft technical skills will become as important as reading and writing—I hope they use the skills they’ve learned to build a better future for their communities.

Challenges and opportunities (250)

Tell us about a significant challenge you’ve faced or something that didn’t go according to plan that you feel comfortable sharing. How did you manage the situation?

As COVID-19 tore across the globe during the spring of 2020, my family was forced to prematurely return to the US from our diplomatic assignment in Jakarta. Overnight, the sleepy town of Midway, Utah became my new home. As spring melted into summer, I decided to make the best of my situation and get a job.

I worked as an apprentice cheesemaker at the dairy farm five minutes down the road. The work was grueling at first, impossible even. Although I played rugby, nothing could’ve prepared my body for the backbreaking work of loading wheel after wheel.

As my hands grew more sure of themselves, the initial insurmountability melted away to reveal a comfortable rhythm. As my body worked, my mind began to wander. The combined challenge of physical work and a pandemic created an opportunity: I could work on projects in my mind while I tackled tasks in reality.

That summer, I created a new programming language. Haulin’ curd, hands busy, I thought about compilers. Tough bugs and impassable design barriers simmered in my mind as I worked, each insight building on the last. At the end of each day, I raced home to implement the web of solutions I held in my mind.

This past summer, in no small part due to the popularity of the programming language I had written, I got a job as a full-time software engineering intern. Cheesemaking taught me that challenge is opportunity in disguise: I’m taking every challenge I can get.