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Gates Fund Paves Way for Tech Student

Jose Barraza Jr. sits in his family’s San Ysidro trailer home and considers the introductory line to Bill Gates’ 1999 book, “Business at the Speed of Thought.”

“Business,” wrote the Microsoft founder, “is going to change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 50.”

With the help of several people , including Gates , Barraza hopes to have a front row seat for those changes.

The 2000 salutatorian from Hilltop High School is among 4,000 students nationwide who make up Gates Millennium Scholars. A bequest from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is supplementing his other financial aid to provide a full, four-year scholarship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Work at MIT is “pretty tough,” Barraza says in his tiny living room, though not as tough as he had imagined. He is home on Christmas break with his two sisters and his mother, Martha, enjoying familiar cooking and a break from the snow.

Ahead is a new semester of calculus, computer science, physics and economics.

Still in his freshman year, Barraza has settled in with the Kappa Sigma fraternity, which he describes as a motivated group that has already helped him put together his resume. Once a week he meets with a disabled partner in Boston as part of the Best Buddies program.

A single year at MIT runs about $36,000, according to the university financial aid office. Barraza is getting a lot of help from several companies and groups.

They include San Diego-based HNC Software Inc., which provided him with a computer and a scholarship that Barraza called a “stepping stone” toward others.

He received regional and national Hispanic Heritage Youth Foundation scholarships, recognizing his aptitude for science and technology.

Barraza has also received scholarships from the San Diego Ford Dealers, the Phil and Alice Creaser Education Foundation and the statewide Masonic Lodge.

The Gates awards , intended for high achievers from low-income, minority backgrounds , pay whatever college bills remain after other scholarships and financial aid has been exhausted.

Barraza says he is grateful for it all.

The 19-year-old plans to major in computer science and electrical engineering, as well as business management.

Armed with a degree from one of the best schools in computer programming, he says he hopes to enter the fast-morphing world of technology, and the accelerating world of business that Gates envisions.

Eventually he might start his own business.

But in the short term, he may end up on Gates’ payroll.

Already Barraza has rubbed elbows with Microsoft’s local reps and Orlando Ayala, vice president for the company’s sales, marketing and services group. Barraza has toured Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash., headquarters. And, he said, he came away very impressed.

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