Student finds niche in STEM career path, hired by NASA before graduating
Margo Sikes received her first bachelor’s degree in interactive arts, but decided to change her career path and return to college. As she prepares to receive her Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from University of Houston-Clear Lake this May, she knows she made the right choice. She has a job already waiting for her as an inventory stowage officer with Leidos, a NASA contractor.
“At first, I worked in game development as a concept artist and an illustrator for a few years, and then I decided to go back to school,” Sikes said. “Being an artist wasn’t what I imagined it to be. It was hard to find work, and I didn’t make enough money. I never had the opportunity to be a programmer so I decided to go for it.”
She enrolled at UH-Clear Lake, saying it was significantly more cost-effective than her previous college. She believed that a second degree would lead her to better job opportunities with higher pay. “I started working with the College of Science and Engineering as a peer mentor, tutoring part-time,” she said. “I got my first internship after a year, working at GHG Corporation in web development. Then, after attending a UHCL job fair, I got hired at my current assignment through an internship program managed by San Jacinto College's Continuing Education department and LZ Technology.”
Her internship, she said, gave her experience in flight integration. “My biggest job was working on creating displays to be used in Mission Control for a NASA mission,” she said. “It was pretty awesome.”
She worked with Professor of Computer Science Kwok-Bun Yue in his research group on a blockchain solution for storing files. “My degree has a stronger engineering focus than most computer science degrees, which I like a lot,” she said. “Dr. Yue was my database professor and that’s something I learned that I really enjoy. It’s what attracted me to the NASA job.”
“Blockchain is a complex, leading-edge, and disruptive technology enabling the Internet of Value. Margo is an extraordinary undergraduate researcher in our blockchain research project funded by NASA, with Tietronix Software as our collaborator,” Yue said. “Her strong organization, responsiveness, competence and professionalism impacted the entire team. I am deeply impressed by her intellectual curiosity and fearlessness in learning.”
He added that Sikes served as a role model for others in every sense. “It is no wonder our department selected her as the outstanding undergraduate computer science student this year,” he said. “She will make a wonderful scientist at NASA.”
Sikes said she hadn’t liked her first job being an artist as much. “Maybe it’s because I’m more naturally inclined to do this,” Sikes said. “I want more girls to know how awesome computer science is, and I would tell any girl who is considering a STEM career path that it’s more achievable that you think. I didn’t think I could do this, but here I am.”
Learn more about UHCL’s Computing Science program online.