What did your parents say when you told them that your plans were for your future? Were they happy about your decision, or did you change your mind all on your own? One of the benefits of obtaining a degree in technology is that your skills and career path are destined for a long life. Your passions are what shape your future, and that rings true no matter the circumstances. That is the theme for our Faculty Spotlight this month as we sit down with Anthony Le, a senior Game Development and Software Development instructor for Coleman University, who started out with a very different career path in mind.
Enrolling as a medical student at UCSD, Le realized that he was not meant to enter the field of medicine. After a thrilling class in physics, Le found that he was more interested in the mechanical way that the world worked, rather than the biological. From there he began his career in technology through computer programming and artificial intelligence. We asked him about his life in technology and his passion for teaching at Coleman University.
1. What was it like moving to the US?
We moved out to the United States in the 1975 after the Vietnam War when I was nine years old. At the time my father worked for a shipping company in the US and the first place we were brought to was Camp Pendleton. So all of my family came to the US at the same time. We settled in Bayou la Batre, Alabama because that’s where my father’s shipping company was based. It was also the setting for the movie Forest Gump. At the time the southern states were very anti-communist, and my family was deeply Catholic, so they welcomed us with open arms and we had a better time adjusting. We went to Alabama, and I had the BEST time. All of these people, our neighbors, town folks, would come over every day and give us stuff and check in to see if we were okay, so my experience in Alabama was wonderful. However my Dad didn’t like it as much as I did, because he wanted to be back in California with the rest of his family, so he rented a big U-Haul and drove everybody back. That was 1976, and my family has lived here in San Diego ever since. I went to Serra High School in Tierrasanta and graduated at Mt. Carmel in Rancho Penasquitos. I was yearbook photographer there and won several drafting and photography awards from the Del Mar Fair.
2. So you stayed in California for college and went to UCSD. Is that were you became interested in technology?
I love UCSD. It is a great school and much bigger than it was when I was there. That feeling of being on a college campus, making friends in the dorms—it was like its own city. I changed my major several times while I was there. My family wanted me to be a doctor and get a good job, so I started out with bio-chemistry and I quickly discovered that I didn’t like it, but I loved my computer science classes. Turns out one of the faculty members at UCSD was a family friend and he was teaching physics, so he got me into that and I became a TA for his program and for the computer lab. Physics simulations were really my first computing job at UCSD. I fell in love with computer programming after that and changed my major to Cognitive Science, which was a nice mix of biology and the physiological makeup of the human body. I learned and dreamt about how those mental processes can one day be emulated with computing. So that was around the time when an Artificial Intelligence major was introduced at UCSD, and I jumped on that program and that was my final change of major. I also have minors in philosophy, psychology, and astronomy (because I love studying the planets).
3. What were you like as a student?
I was a very active student. Besides being a TA in the computer lab, I was a member of the Vietnamese Student Association, and I became president and tried to get our club more involved with other club events on campus. I organized an International Volleyball Player’s club and organized a Hands Across UCSD event for the campus, and it was really tough to get all of the logistics together, but it was a really fun to try to get everyone involved. By that time my sister and my cousin were attending UCSD, so it became a family affair. Overall, UCSD was an amazing experience, and that is where I cultivated my love of learning.
4. Once you graduated with your degree in A. I. where did you go? Did you create robots?
I wanted to work in computing, and my relative had a chain of computer stores, so I started working for them when I graduated from college. I was in charge of writing programs for diagnostic and performance testing and for keeping tabs on all of the inventory and OCR (optical character recognition) programs used to process all the orders. Unfortunately, this chain did not win out over its competition, so my relative moved into a different field—buying and selling prescription medications from Canada to patients in the US. So I wrote all the programs to scrape and accumulate all of the data on prescription medications (this was before Big Data was around) and price match for the lowest prices. Then the government changed the law and we could no longer sell lower-priced prescription medication from abroad. With my 20 plus years of programming experience, I ended up getting into teaching through my wife at the time, who knew the Vice President of Coleman University was looking for programmers who had real experience and wanted to teach. I came to Coleman when the Game Development department was still in the process of creation, so I was involved in writing the courses for Game Development. We had to write six classes and establish a certification program. I wrote Course 2 and Course 5, which were about Engine design and 3D rendering (for networked first-person shooter (FPS) and third-person shooter (TPS)). The algorithms for 3D rendering use the same technology and mathematical calculating processes as Artificial Intelligence and neural network programs. It’s the summation of a lot of values and the manipulation of numbers simultaneously. It is a lot of complex ideas, and that is the challenge of teaching: getting students to relate to the material and understand it, so they will be excited to learn.
5. Did you find that you had a passion for teaching after you began at Coleman?
Turns out, from all of my experience as an eldest sibling and as a TA in college, this is my calling. It fits me, because I can explore what I love to learn, and using what I know about AI and how the brain works thus far, to facilitate and transfer that knowledge to another person, using a many sensory modalities as possible. For me this was a fateful event, and I went with it. That was over 7 years ago. Now, I am focusing on helping our students learn physical computing, like how to program robots, sensors, GUIs, and different hardware devices to enhance their job placement. Our students are so excited to learn and Game Programming is very competitive, so I am working on introducing physical computing using Python and C into Game Development and Software Development. Even though I love games and created my first game using the VIC20 and Commodore 64, I am not a gamer per se, I am more into computing. I want to bring more programming into the Game Development program. When a student is hands on and sees his or her creation, and it’s something that’s tangible, that is the experience we want. Computing is a tool with a specific language and you need to understand the syntax to express how you want to control the technology.
6. What do you look for in a potential student at Coleman University? What advice do you have for a new Coleman student?
What I love ideally, is excitement. When students are excited, they are learning and progress goes up exponentially. My advice is perseverance. You cannot learn everything in one try. It is a process and especially with programming, you have to do it in many different ways and solve many different errors. In solving errors you learn something new. You can read about it and watch it, but until you do it and spend the time fixing it, you will not actually learn. The more you put yourself through this process the better prepared you will be, so use repetition and that will help you excel and gain experience. Education is an investment, so I would advise anyone who is learning a new skill to keep in mind that commitment to an investment. I will always give students a chance to solve things on their own, and then I step in to help by providing strategies and hints. I often discuss the various ways that people solve the same problem, and my motto is if you don’t agree, at least try it once, and if you realize you like it you can incorporate it into your own style. Be open minded.
We want to thank Mr. Le for taking the time to sit with us and discuss his passion for teaching and computer science. If you are interested in pursuing a technology-focused degree and learn from instructors such as Anthony Le, do not hesitate to call us. Classes start every ten weeks and financial aid is available for those who qualify. Call (858) 499-0202 today!