Get to Know Erick Castellanos
Erick Castellanos is the IEEE Computer Society Guadalajara chapter chair. He received his Doctor of Sciences degree in electronic engineering with a specialization in computer sciences from Cinvestav Unidad Guadalajara, with research in the area of artificial life. He has also worked in the fields of natural language processing, multi-agent systems, cognitive architectures and machine learning. He is currently the Founder and CEO of Ideas XT.
We would like to share the interview with you below.
How did you first become interested in computer science/engineering?
Since I was a kid, I have been interested in technology in general. I enjoyed fixing (actually, breaking) my electronic toys. But my first encounter with computer science, as such, was with a computer that my father had access to, and I found out that there was also a programming (Basic) book in Spanish. I read the book from start to finish, and a few days later, I was doing my first “Hello world!”, then a questions game. I tried to develop a game and failed. But the seed to my technology career was planted.
A couple of years later, I had access to a modern computer (for the time being) with Windows in it, and it had installed programming software. This time, I made up my mind to create a different operating system because I didn’t like Windows. So I started developing my new OS, which I was going to be called Doors, but failed, again. In retrospect, it’s funny to think about that because it was never going to work anyway, since I was programming in Windows.
Later on, in high school, I was impressed by the technology I saw in the laboratories there: a robotic arm, Unix workstations, oscilloscopes, and diverse electronic projects made by university students that I was only able to see by the windows. By that time, it was clear to me that I was going to be an engineer.
When did you first take a computer science or computer engineering class?
I decided to study electronics, so my first computer science class was not until the start of my second year of university, but it was kind of boring because at that point I had already learned how to do serious programming (in C), and I was self-studying networking topics for improving my toy projects.
Anyway, a little bit later, I took a course on theoretical computer science (Turing machines, and such), I fell in love with the power of such a “simple” machine, and I became impressed by how people had been using that machine but in practical implementation.
Is the career you have today what you had envisioned you would be doing when you began studying computer science/engineering? Or did you initially think you would be doing something else with computing technology?
It’s kind of different from what I expected. I got my engineering degree in electronics, but my first jobs were about computer programming–I mean anything related to electronics. It was fine for me, because I enjoyed that kind of work too. After a few years, and having some professional computer science experience, I decided to get my master’s in computer science, and later on a doctoral degree. It was at that point that I discovered science as a profession. And I thought that it might be a good idea to be a computer scientist.
Nowadays, I’m struggling to achieve a balance between being a scientist and an entrepreneur. So, did I expect while studying to pursue this kind of balance? Absolutely not, but it’s fun, and I’ll keep on trying.
Why did you join IEEE Computer Society? When did you join?
Back in my time at the university, I heard about IEEE, and there was a campaign to become a student member and, possibly create a chapter of some society related with electronics, but I didn’t join at that moment because it was an expense that I could not afford. But after a few years working, and at the moment of starting my master’s, I decided it was a good time to join IEEE and the Computer Society. The decision was based on the cost-benefit analysis: I needed access to journals and state-of-the-art information for my research, I desired to update my knowledge and skills on some computer technologies, and it was a nice opportunity to do some local networking with other students and professionals, all of which my membership would provide.
You have a distinguished career as a volunteer leader: why do you serve and volunteer your time with the organization? Do you believe it is important for you and others to volunteer for such a society and give back to the industry?
At first, my volunteer work was just for fun: hanging out with like-minded people while doing a little bit of extra job. Later, my volunteer work was for inspiration: what if I could contribute to create a better community of scientists and professionals in order to improve our society? At this point, it’s about the realization that collaboration among students, professionals, academics, and non-technical volunteers, will help us grow as individuals but also to identify key aspects that, if worked on as a team, will have a greater impact on society, compared with personal efforts.
What are your goals for the Guadalajara Chapter, and in your opinion, what is the best way for the chapter achieve them?
I can summarize the goals for the chapter as follows:
- Improve the visibility of the chapter in Guadalajara’s professional community;
- Enable an itinerant place for people, members or not, to create relationships and to share news and ideas about computer science and technology;
- Serve as a platform to organize interested people to find computer-related solutions to problems, either in society or industry, that we find annoying, or that are interesting enough to solve.
How to achieve them? First of all, we need to find out what the topics of interest are for our community in order to attract them to our gatherings; second, communicate the benefits of staying connected as members of the chapter; and third, to invite them to participate and share their needs and expectations, but to also become volunteers as well.
Where do you see or what do you hope for computer science/engineering/STEM in the future whether it be 5, 10, 15 years from now?
It would be amazing if we could achieve the level of technology described in several sci-fi books, but as a scientist I know that progress is done step by step, and it’s not a quick process. So, in the following 15 years I believe that the topics we will keep hearing about are quantum computing, computer-assisted healthcare, economic impacts through the use of drones and/or blockchains, and possibly some space exploration projects.
However, all STEM areas will keep moving forward and I hope that the new generation of scientists and engineers will astonish all of us with new discoveries.