Former Nighthawk Transfers to UPenn for Master’s in Computer and Information Science

January 22, 2024

When Nicholas Heath started at NOVA in Fall 2022, he found something he wasn’t expecting: a home. With parents who worked as U.S. diplomats, Nicholas was used to packing up his life and moving to a different part of the world every three to four years.

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Nicolas has lived in Tanzania, China, Thailand and America. As he was growing up, Thailand was most like home to him since he spent seven years there: three years during his early childhood and four years in high school.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
I am a Thai American. During my high school years, when my parents were serving as diplomats in Thailand, I attended an international school with an American curriculum. After that, I received a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of California, Davis. However, I decided to switch careers and join the growing tech industry.

I decided to go to NOVA when my family returned to the Northern Virginia area. It was closer and cheaper than other options, and I knew at NOVA I could choose the courses I wanted and explore different career paths.

What brought you to NOVA?
I was thinking about getting into cybersecurity, and NOVA is known among all my friends for being a really good computer science and IT school. So I decided NOVA was the right place where I could explore my options.

Pursuing a career in the tech industry made sense to me since I was always around technology growing up. The more I learn about tech, the more fascinated I become with where it is going, especially in the field of cybersecurity. Although there is a lot of talk about AI, I feel there’s a real push for cybersecurity in many fields because of the increasing number of cyberattacks.

What did you study at NOVA?
Engineering. I knew when I transferred, I would focus on computer science with a specialization in cybersecurity.

Tell us about your experience at NOVA (i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met). 
When I was applying to NOVA, I learned about its Esports program, which has competitive games like Valorant and League of Legends. I decided to try out and made the Nighthawks Valorant varsity team. Because of the Esports club, I found a home here with lifelong friends!

I was impressed with NOVA’s Esports program and the coaches' connections in the industry. They knew where to go and what tournaments to sign us up for. That’s not easy. I know because I tried to start an Esports club at my high school and at my previous college.

At NOVA Esports, we joke about our competitiveness and egos. For example, If I’m higher on the game’s leaderboard, that must mean I am better than you! But the ultimate goal is winning the tournaments, so we have to throw our egos out the window for the team to do well. Through that experience we grew closer and became good friends.

With Esports being so new, there’s a bit of a negative stereotype surrounding it. But as gaming and Esports grow, many more jobs are being offered. If becoming a professional player isn’t realistic, you could become a game developer, an Esports commentator, or even an artist, all of which require knowledge of their game of choice.

While some parents prevent their kids from pursuing those types of jobs, I’m lucky to have parents that see my enthusiasm for this club. They see I enjoy it, and it phenomenally improves my mental health! They want me to be happy, so that’s all I can ask for.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
Explore your options because there are so many career paths. If you have a passion for something, explore it! Take classes and create a plan to achieve your goals. It is never too late to change your mind; look at me; I already received a degree and made a complete 180.

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
My last semester at NOVA was fall and I begin pursuing my master's in computer and information technology (MCIT) at the University of Pennsylvania this Spring semester, January 16th, 2024.

After Penn, my short-term goal is to get a job in the tech industry and learn as much as possible. I’m leaning toward cybersecurity, but I’m also interested in AI, Machine learning and Data Science. There are so many options to pick from.

After I receive my degree and gain some work experience, my ultimate long-term goal is to eventually return to Thailand and help boost their tech industry. While I don’t know exactly how I’ll contribute right now, I do know that I want to help somehow.

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