NEWBURGH – Jose Cuacuas likes problem solving. So, when he was presented with the problem of where to attend high school, he appreciated having a choice among several solutions—a focus on the humanities, liberal arts, or STEM. Ultimately, Jose chose STEM, applying for P-TECH on the very last day they accepted applications. Jose graduated from the P-TECH program at Newburgh Free Academy in 2018 with an associate degree in cybersecurity, satisfied that out of the many solutions he could have chosen, he made the right choice.
Jose was born and raised in Newburgh, NY. His parents emigrated from Mexico, and he has three older brothers and a nephew. He is the first in his family to go to college, a fact that makes his parents very proud. Jose’s parents were enthusiastic about him attending P-TECH not just because of the no-cost associate degree but also because of the support that P-TECH students uniquely receive: Jose had a community of supportive peers, teachers, and administrators, and P-TECH provided transportation to school, internet access, and school supplies. Not having to worry about all these typically costly things was a great relief to Jose and his family.
Jose’s first professional experience with IBM came during his internship at IBM Poughkeepsie in 2017. Jose learned how to write code in Python, a programming language, and worked on creating a script that would translate machine-readable code (like binary code) to human-readable code. This is how Jose came to discover his passion for problem solving: in programming, there’s never just one way to solve a problem. Plus, Jose wasn’t alone in working on such a complex project—Jose explains, “I was able to learn Python with the support of my coworkers and my mentor, Adam, who would meet virtually with me to work through any problems I was having.”
Jose was able to transfer his knowledge of Python seamlessly into his apprenticeship with IBM, which he just completed this fall. Jose worked as a firmware engineering apprentice, programming for IBM’s Z mainframes. While he improved his hard skills in software programming, he also improved his professional skills by practicing such things as scheduling meetings, making presentations, and working in a team. He realizes how P-TECH laid the groundwork for his internship and apprenticeship by teaching the foundational technical and professional skills he uses daily. But Jose says there was still a learning curve in his apprenticeship—“learning all the acronyms IBMers use was a challenge.”
Before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Jose had planned on pursuing his bachelor’s degree in software engineering after completing his internship. Now, he has decided to stay on with IBM to continue working with the firmware engineering team. He’s also eager to explore other areas of IBM where he could continue to learn, like web development. Jose understands that P-TECH and IBM gave him an opportunity to succeed in STEM, and believes that even if a student isn’t interested in STEM that they should pursue P-TECH. He explains, “the skills you learn in P-TECH are applicable to the wider professional world. If you can learn to work for IBM, you can learn to work anywhere.”