"What Impact Can I Make?" Engineering Alumnus Seun Odun-Ayo '20 Works toward Inclusion at Microsoft

Author: Grace McDermott

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Six years ago, Seun Odun-Ayo '20 was a high school student in Missouri debating whether he would even go to college. Today, after a match through the QuestBridge national scholarship program and four years filled with challenging classes, memorable dining hall meals, South Bend snowfalls, and library study sessions with lifelong friends, Odun-Ayo is a software engineer at Xbox. He is using his Notre Dame computer science degree to make a real impact in the world.

Odun-Ayo's path to Notre Dame was a unique one, he says. “I had heard about Notre Dame on television, and I was able to match through QuestBridge, but I wasn’t one of the students who have had generations of family go there or who had always wanted to go there. I thought it was a college that aligned with my values.”

After entering as a pre-med student, Odun-Ayo switched his major to computer science in the winter of his first year and began to pour all his energy into excelling at this new path. He had mentors in high school who had shown him the basics of software engineering, and Odun-Ayo was convinced that he could fulfill his goal of serving others through this new major. He joined the Notre Dame chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (ND-NSBE), where he found a community full of support and resources. 

Rather than declaring a second major or minor, Odun-Ayo decided to explore courses in as many departments outside of computer science as was possible while at Notre Dame. He registered for classes in gender studies, Africana studies, anthropology, sociology, philosophy, and more. 

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“These classes are a look into the way life works,” says Odun-Ayo. “What has really propelled me in terms of my career is not just the technical work, but the human empathy, and understanding how all these things are connected. It’s so critical in the way business is done and in the way life is done.” 

Odun-Ayo settled into the computer science major and spent the winter break of first year preparing for technical interviews.

He then took advantage of the opportunity to travel to NSBE’s national conference through a sponsorship from the Notre Dame chapter, of which he later became president.

While at the conference, he interviewed with a number of tech companies and was offered his first internship at Microsoft for the coming summer.

“I was really blessed because not only did I get to intern at Microsoft during that summer, but I got a chance to work on cutting-edge, impactful work from the very first day,” says Odun-Ayo.

As an intern on the HoloLens team, his work focused on improving people’s quality of life through virtual reality. This mixed reality platform, accessed via holographic headset, has applications across many fields, healthcare and wellness included.  

“It was humbling that they give you the chance to try to solve this big problem,” says Odun-Ayo.

Odun-Ayo returned to Microsoft the next summer to work in data science and transferred to the Xbox Safety team the following year, which led to his current full-time job. The video games he played growing up were part of what cultivated his interest in engineering.

Now, his team’s primary focus is creating a more inclusive environment on the console. As a member of the safety team, he works on creating tools that combat racism, homophobia, and other forms of discriminatory or bigoted language on Xbox’s platforms in communications between players. It's work that reflects his personal values.

“My focus has been, ‘I like to do this and I can do it well, but what impact can I make?’” says Odun-Ayo. “If you don’t feel safe or comfortable, you’re not going to use the platform. To be able to say I contributed to making a difference in that really drew me there.”

Odun-Ayo says Notre Dame changed his life by supporting him. The people he met believed in his potential to do great work and encouraged him to see what he could do in the world. The University offered him opportunities he couldn’t even have imagined coming out of high school. Being able to be on campus and learn from his professors and fellow students was both humbling and exciting, he says, and he found a network of incredible teachers and great friends during his four years here. 

His advice for incoming first-years? “I would tell students to push themselves to challenge their own notions of what they knew coming to Notre Dame,” says Odun-Ayo. “Focus on your academics, but work on being a well-rounded person and using the privilege of having a Notre Dame diploma to help people. It’s important the day you leave campus, but it’s critical to use that in how you interact with other students every day on campus as well.”


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