Brockport Alum Lands Job of His Dreams at Microsoft
Since immigrating from Honduras to the United States, Nicson Martinez '15 has pursued a passion for the arts and an unexpected profession — software engineering at one of the largest tech companies in the world.
Growing up in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, Nicson Martinez '15 was immersed in a life of music and dance. His native country is where he developed a talent for playing the drum and dancing to punta, a popular music genre in his culture.
Sports were a different story — but not because he wasn't interested in them.
"When I was in third grade, I wasn’t allowed to play my favorite sport, because I looked different," said Martinez. "One day in recess, when I asked a kid if I could play, he proceeded to blow his nose into his hands and spread it on my face. I ran away crying and decided to never play the game again. A lot of people don’t know that racism is a problem in Latin American countries, but it is."
Martinez, bottom left, pictured with his family in Honduras
Martinez is of the Garifuna population. According to Minority Rights Group International, the Garifuna are Afro-indigenous descendants of the survivors of human cargo shipwrecks off the Caribbean island of St. Vincent around 1675. Exiled to the Honduran coast during the eighteenth century, they found refuge with the indigenous Kalinago (Carib) people. While most Garifuna families later migrated to neighboring Nicaragua, Guatemala, and mainly Belize, some remained in Honduras.
"Garifuna is a culture that is full of joy, pride, and art. Since I was a kid, my family would encourage me to dance, draw, and gave me the freedom to be creative, and I feel that is what makes me who I am," he said.
Martinez and his family eventually immigrated to the United States, where he embraced his artistic hobbies by immersing himself in extracurricular activities. While he continued to experience racism and feel a lack of belonging, he said he "tried to remain positive at all times."
He carried that positivity — and love for the arts — with him to SUNY Brockport, where the 2015 graduate majored in computer information systems and double-minored in business administration and dance. As the founder of The Hip Hop Dance Club, the creator of the competitive dance team Dose Of Dopeness (which won three trophies in competitions with other colleges during his tenure), and a member of Brockport Student Government as an off-campus representative, he calls his college experience "an adventurous four years" in which he learned to thrive as a teammate.
Another piece of that adventure was setting the academic foundation for something he never thought possible.
Studying computer information systems influenced his interest in coding and eventually led to an apprenticeship at Microsoft.
"When I applied for the Microsoft Leap apprenticeship, there were people that thought I was overambitious to try, because they didn’t think I would make it. I didn’t listen," said Martinez.
His journey with Microsoft ended much differently than his journey with his favorite
sport on that Honduran playground. It evolved into a full-time gig as a software engineer, which
he started in June.
Martinez works in the Intelligent Conversations and Communications sector (under the Microsoft 365 Core umbrella) as part of an 11-engineer team that processes and maintains a few internal services handling data that power video calling, audio quality, meetings, and chat services in Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams.
"[Working at Microsoft] makes me feel accepted, appreciated, and very proud. It took
a lot of hard work, dedication, and consistency to get where I am today," said Martinez.
"Coming from a lower-class family and what some people may describe as a third-world
country, I did not expect for any of this to happen. I have come a long way and am
learning to recognize and appreciate my worth."
While he currently works remotely, he looks foward to the post-pandemic day that he'll step into the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, WA, for the first time.
Martinez has plans for a long career at the company and maybe, one day, his own business. No matter what positions he pursues, he wants to continue inspiring others to believe in themselves the way his family members, Brockport mentors, and friends have inspired him to believe in himself.
"No matter where you're from, what your background is, your race, national origin, age, disability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and so on, if you put your mind into your interest, you absolutely can achieve it," said Martinez. "Don't let where you come from define what you can achieve. Want to reach your dreams? Go for it."