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From Aviation to Programming, a Rising Senior’s UCLA Journey Helps Him Discover His Passion

Jake Sager
Courtesy of Jake Sager

Aug 14, 2023

UCLA Samueli Newsroom

Jake Sager loves to fly.

He was a precocious pilot. At 10 years old, he was soaring across the world, calling air traffic control on his radio as the landscape rolled by below, impossibly fast. But through all this, Sager hadn’t left his living room. He had taken flight courtesy of a desktop simulator his parents had purchased for his home computer.

Sager, who is now on the cusp of his senior year in computer science at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, has spent his time on campus treading a path between his love of aviation and his fascination with science and math.

Growing up, Sager had always liked to tinker with computers. Toying with a website-building software in elementary school, he found himself wanting to know what made the tool work, a question that led him into the world of computer science.

“It seemed like a chicken-egg type of problem,” Sager said. “So, I did a bit of digging online … and learned that most websites aren’t developed using online tools, but rather are programmed.”

Inspired by this discovery, Sager taught himself to code in HTML, JavaScript and CSS — the programming languages that make up the backbone of the internet. As he grew, he continued to build on this knowledge, learning how to build iPhone applications and websites with animations by the time he entered high school.

It was the virtual world that brought Sager his love of aviation, too. Around the same time he was learning to build websites, he was also flying via his computer. His parents decided to enroll him in an aviation summer camp near their Encinitas, California home.

Sager would continue his training, flying solo for the first time at the age of 16, just as he was preparing to apply to college. He knew he wanted to pursue a field that blended his love of science and technology with his passion for aviation.

UCLA struck him as stunningly beautiful, verdant and serene despite its proximity to the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. This, coupled with UCLA Samueli’s reputation for academic rigor, cemented his decision to come to UCLA.

“It always fills me with joy to see people’s faces light up when I explain things in a way that helped them make sense of what is going on,” Jake Sager said of his experience mentoring students at UCLA.

Sager started his freshman year majoring in aerospace engineering. He was immediately drawn to student clubs Rocket Project and Design Build Fly. But this was fall of 2020, when COVID-19 rampaged across the globe and shut down in-person instruction.

It was then that the tides started to turn for Sager. He still loved aviation, but not so much the engineering part of making a plane. He decided to enroll in Computer Science 31 — a course covering the foundational concepts, principles and methodologies of computer science.

“I immediately fell in love with computer science,” Sager said. “Programming felt right at home.”

Learning in a virtual environment, Sager found an innovative way to forge connections with other students on campus: class GroupMe chats. In the absence of in-person interaction, Sager found himself a virtual community, answering fellow students’ online class questions — even the ones to which he didn’t immediately know the answers and had to spend time researching.

When UCLA returned to in-person instruction in fall 2021, Sager received an invitation to the university’s chapter of Tau Beta Pi, a national honor society of engineers. As a member of the organization, Sager was required to tutor at least once a week during its drop-in hours in Boelter Hall.

Even though he had gained some experience in online tutoring through GroupMe, Sager was initially unsure about tutoring in person. But he overcame his fear and took to the work quickly, so much so that he was soon elected as the group’s tutoring chair.

“It always fills me with joy to see people’s faces light up when I explain things in a way that helped them make sense of what is going on,” said Sager, who is one of Tau Beta Pi’s incoming vice presidents. “I also think it’s really rewarding in that I have an opportunity to stay fresh on the content in lower division classes that I wouldn’t revisit regularly otherwise.”

Juggling his studies and his responsibilities at Tau Beta Pi, Sager also became a member of the UCLA chapter of Upsilon Pi Epsilon, a computer science honor society. Later that summer, as he prepared for his junior year, he secured a software engineering internship with Viasat, a communications company specializing in satellite internet.

But it was an internship this summer with Boeing’s commercial airplanes department that would give Sager the chance to combine his passion for computer science with his long-held love of aviation.

“Although I wasn’t enjoying aerospace engineering itself, I have the feeling I will enjoy doing computer science work while being in an immersive aviation environment,” Sager said. “I had always hoped to experiment with combining my academic interests with my hobbies, and this seems like the perfect opportunity.”

On path to graduate from UCLA next June, Sager says he hopes to work as a software engineer but he is also contemplating about pursuing a master’s degree. No matter what he decides to do next, Sager is sure to continue soaring — both in the sky and in his career.


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