My dreams unveiled: Robotics, FBI and NOAA Corps

NOAA Corps Emblem

NOAA Corps

Two things have always dictated my dreams and life goals: love (i.e., girls) and my curiosity for the unknown. The first stands to reason, as over 75% of my writing is dedicated to the subject of love, and I’ve had more crushes on girls than years of life, yet less girlfriends than I care to count (with one hand). I have fallen in love, and I have been loved back, but love has always managed to crush me like a bug and leave me with nothing but poems and a sadly romantic blog.  Yet, I always get up and throw myself at it again.  It is almost like I can never give up on love, but that would mean giving up on life.  But more on that later, because what I want to talk about today, is that second thing.

When I was little, I loved to take things apart to figure out how they worked — my toys, my sister’s toys, my brother’s computer, my sister’s camera, my friend’s bike, my mother’s TV… well, you get the picture. The taking-things-apart phase seemed to stop after the TV incident though… it’s weird. Machines and computers were not the end to my curiosity though — plants, people’s minds, literature, dinosaurs, the oceans, space, and everything in between. At one point, I even wanted to sail away into the Pacific Ocean, hoping to land in a yet undiscovered continent where I could find dinosaurs. I think I was seven at the time. I did not give up on idea because of lack of interest, but due to lack of resources. For one thing, I lived in Xela, a city up on the mountains, not by the ocean. For another, there was no easy way to find wood to build this boat of mine in the middle of the city. During middle school, I wanted to enter a military school for the heck of adventure, of going places, and of learning about ships and airplanes. I guess I also wanted to experience being a disciplined officer, in a uniform, making my family proud of me. Luckily, my family opened my eyes to the terrible things that the Guatemalan military was doing, so I did not join, although the idea of being a solider never left my mind.

I didn’t always stop following my curiosity though. I volunteered at the Guatemalan Red Cross for years so I could learn first aid, CPR and anatomy. Eventually, I was even sent to training to learn how to teach first aid! When I was fifteen, I made the difficult choice to move to another country, leaving my family behind, so I could have a much better education. While completing high school in the U.S., I learned of professions so amazing that I could not have known if I were still in Guatemala — computer engineering, programming, robotics, computer security, FBI special agents, NOAA Corps officers, NASA… There was only one problem: I was not even a permanent resident yet, so all these awesome jobs were nothing more than very, very distant dreams.  But I didn’t give up. I eventually got interested in computer security and ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in it. While doing that, I also took some computer engineering classes, and got started in programing. By the time I graduated, I was already a fairly good programmer with a decent job. But that wasn’t enough. Programming computers was one thing, but programming robots — that sounded intriguing! Programming things that moved? Much like I did in high school for Science Olympiad, FIRST Robotics and summer camp at Lake Superior State University, but for real robots!  I decided that it was time to go back to school.  For this, I needed to first get an engineering degree so I could enter a master’s in robotics. This meant going to school full time, in the middle of the day, in direct conflict with my job. But did that stop me? No! I left my job, and started school, still pursuing my dreams to conquer the unknown.

And that is precisely when I applied for citizenship. I was not expecting to get it until years later, since everything in immigration in this country seems to run slower than my nephew’s pet turtle. But by July, a miracle happened: I got it! I became a U.S. citizen!  And holy cow, this changed things! O boy, it sure did. Suddenly, my life was transformed. Whereas before my dream jobs were completely out of reach, now they were standing next to me, starring me in the yes, and breathing hard on me like a bull who’s about to run me over!  I mean, it was like my chains were broken, and I suddenly had the same freedoms that everyone in this country has. I finally had a chance to pursue whatever dreams I wanted, whatever goals I made for myself.  So, what was the first thing I did?  Well, I walked out of that ceremony with my naturalization certificate in hand, applied for a passport, and headed straight home to fill out the most important applications of my life: FBI and NOAA Corps.

I still continued with my plan to get into robotics, even with the financial crisis I was facing for leaving my job and living off of intermittent contract work. However, I had in the back of my head that my plans could turn around completely if any one of my applications started rolling. And then, the unspeakable happened: I was contacted by both FBI and NOAA Corps recruiters! Oh my goodness, I could not believe it! I was about to start walking the application process for both agencies. In the FBI route, I could become a Special Agent and really make a difference by catching criminals before they hurt anyone else, while also exploring computer forensics, exploiting computer security and unlocking the human mind like very few people can.  And guess what? I would get to do it while being… a uniformed officer!  Either suited up or with the big, flashy yellow FBI letters on my back, I would be part of a team of heroes!  In the NOAA Corps route, I could be helping save lives through weather data and ocean floor mapping, while exploring the vast unknown of the oceans aboard the high-tech Okeanos Explorer ship, or programming and operating submarine robots, or adventuring into the oceans to perform and support scientific research. O, but the very best part about NOAA Corps is… I could become a… wait for it… uniformed officer!!! That’s right! I would be a non-combatant officer, or a geek and a soldier at the same time, using science to improve the lives of people rather than kill people.  Both jobs could fulfill my childhood dreams and give purpose to my life.

I can’t say much about the FBI recruitment process (I’m not allowed), but suffice it to say, I am making good progress!  I am at the point where everything depends on me getting in shape to pass the physical tests, but I apparently have more qualifications than I give myself credit for, which can help me make it to the academy.  I want this job so bad that I am running at 6 in the morning, in Michigan’s winter, to get in shape for the tests and for the academy.

NOAA Corps has been a more difficult process. I didn’t start quite right because typical applicants have a science background and even boat-handling experience. I, being poor, have never owned a boat, and my only experience is driving my girlfriend’s parents’ boat for a couple of minutes in Lake Michigan and doing some sea kayaking. With my lack of access to scholarships and job prospects as a non-citizen (and even a non-resident for a long time), I had to focus on night classes, which meant doing computer security-focused coursework at Davenport University, and not much science coursework. Yet, combining my college coursework from all the universities I have attended, I managed to barely meet the minimum requirements for an application. I don’t know if it helped, but my references spoke very highly of me (thanks guys!!). Maybe that, more than anything, helped me get to last Monday, when I finally was offered a face-to-face interview. I was thrilled! Well, I still am. I am so very excited! Unfortunately, NOAA Corps does not have officers in Michigan, so I will have to travel to Maryland next week for this interview. With my financial situation, this trip is something that I can’t afford, but I just cannot let that stop me from following my dreams. Thankfully, my dad pitched in, so all I have to pay for is hotel and metro expenses. So next Monday, I’m flying to Maryland for my long-awaited 2-hour interview with a NOAA Corps officer. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I plan to do very, very well. I am reading all I can about NOAA and NOAA Corps. I have researched official sites, blogs, radio interviews, mission reports — everything! I want them to know that this, this is my dream job, and I am not going to let it slip away.

So that is where I am now: training and researching for both the FBI and NOAA Corps. I am working very hard, and I want to make sure I make a good impression when I interview at both places. I figured, if I dedicate my energy and focus my efforts on both of these jobs, I ought to ultimately get at least one. And if I make it to both places, which would be a true blessing, I would have the luxury of choosing. If that happened — which is unlikely — I am not sure which I would pick just yet. But it doesn’t matter, right now, my focus in trying to make it to both. My dreams, my plans, my goals, and my unearthly curiosity and need for learning new things are all converging into my not-so-distant future. It feels great. This, combined with my endless search for thing number one above (love), make me feel like I am finally free to pursue happiness.

About Gabriel Mongefranco

Gabriel Mongefranco is your software developer for all things data: extraction, integration, analytics and security. He is also a blogger, a poet, a proud father and a faithful Christian. He is always eager to contract with faith-based nonprofits! Learn more.