Daniel and the Sea of Sound is a new Google documentary that explores Daniel DeLeon’s journey as a Latino engineer using TensorFlow technology to track endangered whales in the Monterey Bay. Daniel’s story is rich with a blend of music, culture, family, scientific innovation, new technology, and mentorship.
Born and raised in Santa Cruz, California, Daniel started his education at Cabrillo College in Aptos, conducted research at Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, and is now a student at California Polytechnic State University. It was at 2017 SACNAS — The National Diversity in STEM Conference where he met Von Diaz, a writer and producer with Google.
Von attended the SACNAS conference in order to get to know scientists from diverse backgrounds for “Search On,” a documentary film series that highlights amazing everyday people are doing with technology.
Von and Daniel met when she heard his poster presentation called “Passive Acoustic Monitoring of Blue & Fin Whale Species through Machine Learning.” Initially, she approached Daniel because he was using TensorFlow (Google’s open-source machine learning software) in an interesting and unexpected way. “But,” she recalls, “as soon as I started talking with him, I became fascinated by his back story and journey to being a scientist. His dedication to following his curiosity around the way sound works really resonated with me, and once I got to know him a little I knew his story would speak to a lot of young people from immigrant backgrounds trying to make their way in the world.”
Daniel says that the experience of making the film with Google was incredible. “Google really took care of me and made sure I was comfortable throughout the whole process. It was mind blowing to think that all of these talented and successful people came from all over the country (and Mexico and Brazil) to Santa Cruz to make a film about me. I just felt really grateful to be in their presence.”
As for Von, she was amazed by the SACNAS conference. “It was the first time I’d ever seen such a diverse group of scientists across fields. As a storyteller, it’s an incredibly rich environment to learn about the very unique experiences of people of color working in tech.”
Daniel first connected with SACNAS in 2014 when he attended the SACNAS regional meeting at San Jose City College where he got to meet astronaut Jose Hernandez who became a role model for him. He recalls, “Meeting Jose Hernandez was huge for me. His stories as a kid being with his family reminded me of when I was a kid and being with my family and friends. It made me think that I could do great things too and make a difference.”
Daniel continues, “I am proud to be a Latino/Chicano student and am grateful to be able to go to school. There are a lot of people who don’t have that privilege (including a lot of the Latino community) and I’ve always wanted to be a part of changing that, at least in my local community.”
Released less than a week ago, the video has already been viewed nearly 33,000 times. One viewer commented, “I’m going to community college and going to study computer science. This is the way I want to live my dreams. I’m very excited for the future.”