A University of Washington graduate who landed a tech job at Starbucks shares his journey fighting for a computer science degree while battling cancer

Trey Tamaki, University of Washington graduate

Summary List Placement

Three weeks into his freshman year at the University of Washington, Trey Tamaki received news that would change his life.

Doctors diagnosed Tamaki with stage 2 testicular cancer, kicking off a treatment program that sent him through a hellish bout of chemotherapy and surgeries during college, forcing him to take periodic leaves of absence from school to recover. 

Meanwhile, while Tamaki was able to attend classes, he quickly fell in love with computer science and hoped to declare it as his major in his junior year. On during his junior year, an advisor dealt him an intellectual blow, telling him to choose another field, because his grades likely wouldn’t be good enough. 

“Everyone told me it was going to be a nightmare,” Tamaki told Business Insider. “I heard from a lot of people, ‘It’s so competitive to get into CS. It would be really hard to get in.'” 

But instead of giving up, Tamaki decided to double-down. Remembering what made him fall in love with computer science to begin with — “the idea of creating something new” — bolstered him to find another advisor and persevere through the program. This year, he graduated from the University of Washington with a computer science degree and is now proudly working as an associate technical product manager for the API and commerce platform team at Starbucks. 

Here’s the story of how his tenacity and grit helped him achieve his dreams:

Tamaki had to balance coursework and treatment during his time at the University of Washington

When Tamaki first came to the University of Washington, he had no idea what he wanted to do once he graduated. He also had no programming experience to speak of. Before he had time to start sorting through those questions, he received his diagnosis. 

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Tamaki had three chemotherapy treatments during his freshman year that consisted of one week in the hospital and two weeks out of the hospital — he had to drop out during his first quarter because he was missing too much school.  Those were “three pretty bad months,” he said. 

By the end of the quarter, he started limping because of the chemotherapy’s side effects.

When he returned to school in the second quarter, he took his first computer science course and it was a revelation: He knew that he wanted to pursue a career in CS. 

Still, the stress wasn’t over. Tamaki had to get both of his hips replaced during his sophomore year, so he had to drop out for two quarters to get those surgeries done. 

Throughout this time, Tamaki often carried reduced course loads or took time off for health reasons, which also gave him fewer opportunities to join extracurricular activities or study groups. He experienced “chemo brain,” where he felt “very foggy” and struggled with everyday tasks. Through it all, he continued to take computer science courses, but by his junior, he was still behind on some courses, like math.

It was at that point that his advisor told him that he couldn’t declare the major because his GPA wasn’t high …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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