This is the 39th article in Bears Doing Big Things, a weekly column celebrating the stories of notable M-A alumni.
“About halfway through high school, I realized that I had a very deep passion for technology––specifically, developing software to solve problems that were emerging in our society,” said Blake Sanie ‘19. Sanie defines himself as a software engineer, photographer, writer, instructor, and lifelong student. He ties his success with the amazing teachers and environment found here at M-A.
Sanie has always loved technology and drew his early passion from living in the Bay. He said, “Growing up in the Bay Area definitely ties you to a very unique environment, in the sense that you are always surrounded by technology. This showed me how technology can be so transformative in shaping societies.”
When Sanie arrived at M-A, he was surprised by his teachers’ high expectations. He said, “I remember walking into my AS English class and being shocked by the amount of work and how challenging it was, but, instead of being scared, I took it as a growth opportunity. I realized this was a place where I could ask a million questions and get support from my incredible teachers and classmates as a resource to push my personal growth.”
Two teachers were particularly important to Sanie during his time at M-A. The first was Cynthia Donaldson, the current AP Computer Science A (Java) teacher. He said, “I took her Principles class my sophomore year, her Java class my junior year, and then did some teacher’s assistant work for her my senior year. She really did a great job of planting the seed and making me excited to learn. When I was just a sophomore, I became the first student in one of her classes to put an app on the App Store.”
With the help of Ms. Donaldson, Sanie was able to finish the computer science curriculum in a couple months, and then spend time creating his apps and helping other students. He created three apps during his time at M-A: an arcade game, an augmented-reality navigation app, and a news aggregator.
Kristen Bryan, who teaches AP Calculus AB, BC and Multivariable Calculus, also inspired Sanie. He said, “Bryan is a very challenging teacher but she’s the reason I fell in love with higher-level math. She really sparked a curiosity in me and taught me that math was not just a set of formulas that you can have on a cheat sheet and apply to an exam. It’s a process of how to apply curiosity and explore the world that we live in.”
With this combination of math and computer science skills, Sanie began to clearly see his career path. “I was always generally interested in technology,” he said. “A pivotal moment for me was the first week of my computer science class. There was an artistic unit on how to draw shapes using algorithms. That’s when I really started to understand the relationship between the instructions you provide to a computer and how you will read and interpret them to achieve your vision. That cycle really piqued my interest, and I knew I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t go deeper.”
Sanie also used his talent in computing to fuel his love for photography. He said, “With Donaldson’s help, I figured out that I wanted to present my photographs online. By creating a portfolio from scratch, I could really take ownership of this work. Once I was able to actually accomplish that and publish it to the web, I really started to see how the work that you do—the code that you write at your fingertips—can really lead somewhere.”
After M-A, Sanie completed his undergrad at Georgia Tech. He said, “It’s not meant to be a program you can cruise through just to say that you did it. It challenges you and shoots down your confidence, but it does so to make you learn and grow from the experience. My professor had high expectations and I learned that computer science was not easy, but I saw it turn into a very fulfilling process that made all the long nights very worth it. I loved it so much that I graduated in three and a half years.”
He could have stopped his studies there, but Sanie wanted to further his learning. After being accepted to the Master’s program at Georgia Tech, he is now a Master’s candidate in computer science focusing on machine learning.
Outside of school, he has placed a major focus on his career. He said, “I’ve taken up a few internships with companies over the summer. I worked at a hedge fund in New York where I contributed to trading platforms and at Capital One bank where I’ve worked in both the credit card and commercial bank divisions. Currently, I plan to graduate with my master’s degree and then go into the technology industry after that. I feel that all the steps I’ve encountered that have supported me through this point all stem from my high school, and that has positioned me for a very successful career.”
Sanie mainly focuses on resourcefulness. He said, “As I dive deeper into my career, I’m starting to learn that the most important skill is not just one particular skill. It’s the ability to be coachable, to be resourceful, and to put yourself in a situation where you might not necessarily know what the problem is or how to solve it. You have to develop resourcefulness so that, even if you might be skeptical of something at the beginning, you can trust yourself to figure it out, make all the right decisions, and know how to use the tools you have.”
This past May, Sanie wanted to bring back knowledge to the M-A community by giving a presentation to Donaldson’s computer science classes on some of his tips and tricks. He said, “I came back to give a talk to students whose shoes I was in a couple years ago. I wanted to help them figure out if they had an interest or passion that they wanted to follow up on and answer some of the questions I had when I was in high school.”
Sanie’s advice to current M-A students: “Don’t stop exploring. When you’re in high school, it’s very easy to fall into a simple routine. You go to class, see your friends, go home, do homework, and repeat. Instead, get engaged in the community, join a club, and become a leader. Focus on self-improvement and developing new skills to figure out how you can contribute most to society. You won’t just learn more, but you will also develop very valuable connections that may lead to paths that you don’t yet foresee. There’s no experience that can’t be taken constructively for growth.”
Sanie’s advice to future computing specialists: “Get close to your teachers. They have had numerous experiences that directly apply to the questions you have. Ask them why the material you’re learning in class matters and how it relates to what’s going on in the real world. You shouldn’t restrain yourself and your curiosity to just what’s being taught out of the textbook. There’s so much more to pursue.”