MS Computer Science: Bridge courses

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student 

Every year, one of the most common topics that is on an incoming MS-CS student’s mind at RIT is bridge courses. These are a set of three graduate level courses that the CS department requires every student to be well-versed with before proceeding with other graduate courses. They “bridge” the gap in knowledge.

These courses are in place because the department probably saw that a number of CS graduate students were not up to the mark when it came to fundamental programming skills. Nowadays, almost every admitted MS-CS student who has not obtained an undergraduate CS degree from a US university is required to complete these bridge courses.

The three courses are “Advanced Object Oriented Programming (using Java)”, “Computational Problem Solving (using Python)”, and “Foundations of Computer Science Theory”. If a student is assigned to any or all of these courses, the only way to let the department know that they already possess the technical skills offered in the course(s) is by taking up and passing the corresponding bridge waiver exams successfully. So if a student feels that they were assigned a particular course by mistake, they must take and pass the waiver exam(s).

These waiver exams are held on the day of the department orientation, are of 1 hour each in duration, and cover all the topics that would be taught in the course itself. The syllabus and timing of each exam can be found at https://cs.rit.edu/orientation/bridgeexams. The exams would be a combination of multiple-choice, short answer, medium answer, and long answer questions. They would test a student’s knowledge on the subject thoroughly.

I had a non-CS background coming in to the CS grad program here so I needed the bridge courses. In my experience, most students who took up the bridge courses felt like they benefited from the practice they got by solving the weekly assignments and studying for the midterms. The coursework of these courses definitely helped in my interview process.

Many incoming students would hear that these bridge courses are extremely difficult to clear. Although I did not take up the option of sitting for the waiver exams, I believe that one of the major reasons why a small number of students clear the waiver exams is because of the clear gap in knowledge and maybe the fact that most students end up either taking the waiver exams lightly or do not even turn up for them.

Every incoming student would love to clear one or more waivers since that would mean saving on the cost of those courses. However, I feel that by trying to clear all three in one go, students end up not doing well enough in any. Unless a student is extremely confident in their abilities and knowledge of a particular bridge course, I would honestly recommend students to pick and choose their strongest course and put all their efforts into clearing that.

What is a Co-op?

Picture from my Co-op during Summer 2016

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

“What is a Co-op?” is probably one of the most frequent questions I get from prospective students so I thought I should be writing a short article explaining what exactly is this word Co-op that RIT staff and students use a lot. Co-operative Education or as we love to call it, Co-op, is similar to an internship that can be done during the academic semesters (Fall or Spring) and is a practical experience that add values to your degree and can be done anywhere in the world. It is the best way to get your foot in the door of your favorite company and also gives you a great experience.

For an opportunity to be considered as co-op it should be full time (35 hours or more per week), paid, and relevant to your field of study. Employers love the co-op program at RIT because it gives them a chance to assess a student’s skill set before they offer them a full-time position at the company. Students love the co-op program because they get to do the same work as a full-time employee and sometimes even pitch new product ideas, which adds great value to the company. One of the perks of being an RIT student is that unlike many schools that require their students to pay for certain credit hours to be registered for a co-op, RIT doesn’t ask its students to pay anything. RIT recognizes that this co-op brings a lot of value to the student and also helps them financially so they encourage their students to complete a co-op before graduating.

The Office of Career Services and Cooperative Education has absolutely the nicest people who are always there for students to help them prepare for their interviews, try to bring a lot of companies to the career fair for students to meet employers, review resumes and tons of other services. I personally have done one co-op and it was the best experience ever and was lucky enough to get a full time offer too. So to conclude this short article, a co-op in simple language is just an internship done during academic semesters.

More information can be found on RIT’s Career Services website. 

My first Toastmasters Club session

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student 

I had heard about Toastmasters a couple of years ago from a friend who was looking for a way to overcome a crippling fear of public speaking. I mirrored similar feelings but due to some circumstances, I could not find out more and join. Last semester I came across an e-mail from the RIT chapter of Toastmasters. I was keen on attending a meeting but unfortunately, the timings of their weekly sessions coincided with classes so I was not able to take part.

This semester I happen to be free during their meetings so finally in the 5th week, I got myself to go for a session of Tiger Tales Toastmaster Club. I walked in apprehensively, got greeted at the door by a smiling greeter (I found out later that one member is assigned to be a “greeter” each session) who realized almost immediately that I was a newcomer and patiently walked me through the sign-in process, handed me a copy of the day’s agenda, and found me a spot.

It was 6:28 PM and the session was scheduled to start at 6:30 PM. I saw people walking around chatting with others so I expected a delay in proceedings. I could not have been more wrong. At exactly 6:30 PM, the “opener” walked up to the front of the room, banged the gavel, and started speaking. And just like that, everything was engrossed in what was being said. I found out that there was a pre-decided theme of the day, which on that day was “realization”. The “opener” spoke for a couple of minutes about it, giving the audience his view on what realization meant to him. It was short, yet informative. At 6:33 PM, he introduced the “toastmaster” for the evening, whose primary task from then onwards was conducting the meeting. The toastmaster then welcomed all members and paid special attention to the guests for the evening. The guests, or newcomers as I would call us, were given a quick overview of how Toastmasters works, how their goal is to promote public speaking and to help anyone hone their speaking skills. He introduced several key positions for the evening, a person oversaw time-keeping, another one kept track of the grammar being used, while another person counted the number of times a speaker used filler words (“ah”, “umm”, “like”).

And then the session got underway properly. There was a range of speakers for the day; one was doing his first Toastmasters’ speech, while another one was practicing to participate in an international Toastmasters competition. There was also a section where open questions were asked and anyone in attendance could go up and answer. This addressed the impromptu part of public speaking and served as a perfect complement to the previous section where speakers gave prepared speeches.

In the end, the meeting was concluded by reviews given by the “timer”, the “ah-counter”, the “grammarian”, and the general evaluator. Each person’s comments were well-appreciated and applauded. There was even a small prize given to the person who gave the best answer for the open question section.

The last thing that the president of the club did before adjourning the session was to speak to the guests of the evening and made us give our two cents about the experience. I absolutely loved the whole thing and made sure that everyone knew how much I enjoyed.

I would love to join the club and learn the art of public speaking from others and was thoroughly impressed by the ease with which each speaker spoke and the way all constructive criticism was given and taken. I cannot wait to go back next week and I hope that this will be an enriching experience for me going forward.

Winter is Here

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

I look out of the window in the morning and my car is covered with snow. I am very annoyed and curse Rochester weather for making my life difficult. My mind quickly starts thinking about writing how to survive in this weather and well long story short I started writing this piece. I wanted to title it “Winter is Coming” but then realized it made no sense because winter has been around for a couple of months already. Now let me think about some ways to survive the Rochester Snow:

1) Snow Boots and Jacket: It gets very slippery when the snow melts and turns to ice so make sure you have a good pair of snow boots. Also, get a jacket that has fur lining on the hoodie because it keeps the snow falling all over your face.

2) Exercise: The cold weather is going to make you lazy and sleepy all the time so make sure you exercise in the winter to avoid those extra pounds and be more energetic.

3) Dry Skin: Your skin and eyes will be extra dry during the snow season. First and foremost cover yourself, get a good moisturizer and a humidifier for the home.

4) Emergency Kit: Snowstorms are not very common but I would still ask people to keep an emergency kit which has things like a battery pack, flashlight, snacks, etc.

5) Stay Healthy: Falling sick is a common thing in the snow season so always make sure you have a hand sanitizer with you, get good amount of sleep and exercise.

These are some of the main things that you need to look out for but there are many other like being careful while you drive in the snow. As I wrap up the article later in the day and looking for a conclusion by wandering outside the library, I see the sunset and a little snowfall which made me realize that I have a love-hate relationship with the snow season at RIT. There are days when I am looking forward to getting out of Rochester and another day when I realize how much I love the snow. Oh before I forget, the man in the picture is President Destler who retired in 2017 and was the 9th president of RIT.

Winter is Coming, to Rochester

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student

I am from India, a land where a tropical climate is the norm for most parts of the country. I am from the southern part of India, where temperatures range between 60 degrees and 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I had never seen temperatures below 32degrees, let alone see snow!

When I received my admit from RIT, I was thrilled to be starting grad school. Family members and friends who were aware of the weather in the Northeastern US used to tell me about the inclement weather that awaited me here but I figured, if it is an inhabited place, it cannot be that bad. I mean, why would humans choose to live in such a climate if it was so difficult to live in.

I first arrived in Rochester in the month of July, a time and weather that I learned later were like rays of sunshine on a cold, dreary winter day! As the fall season started, temperatures gradually dropped from the 70s to the 50s, I soon realized what I was in for in a few months. When the first snow fell during Thanksgiving week, it was such a beautiful sight. That snowfall was unexpected so even though it was not a lot, RIT had given us a snow day and classes were cancelled. I thought that maybe this (about 6-10 inches) was a lot of snow and was the limit, which explained the snow day. I was so wrong! The next few months I saw snow on the ground which didn’t melt for weeks, a snowstorm which halted all movement for 72 hours due to nearly 4 feet of snow everywhere, and a freak windstorm (winds reached ~80 mph) which knocked out power for large areas in Rochester for nearly 96 hours.

The winter months in Rochester can get quite gloomy and take some getting used to. Once the daylight savings were disabled in November, the sun set by 4:30 PM which disoriented me to no end the first few days. The days can get bright enough at times to fool first-timers like me to think that the sun’s warmth could be felt.

I was excited by all the snow the first few weeks, and I was impressed by how smooth life went on despite the climate. Roads and walkways were cleared well enough for commuting to be possible. Eventually, I got used to the snow-covered landscape everywhere I went, and though the cold did not go away till May, I kind of missed it when the summer came around. I guess I cannot wait for the next round of biting cold, snow, thick jackets, gloomy skies, and foggy breaths.

A sneak peak into my life…

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

The clock is ticking and the blog post is due in a few hours and I am running across campus to get to the library and finish my work. As I dash through the cold air to start working on the post, I bump into friends who wave and smile. In my head as I try to find a space in the library, I scold myself for procrastinating yet again and continue to open my laptop whilst thinking about my topic for this week.

After several debates with the little angel and devil on either side of my shoulder, I make up my mind to write about an average week in my life. Well the first thing I can think about is my classes and considering the fact that my major is Computer Science I have to really speak about the copious amount of homework that we are given every week. Out of the three courses that I am taking this semester, one of them is research intensive course and other two are high level graduate courses that require me to spend a lot time apart from the class and homework time. My days are filled with me reading research papers in the domain that I am working on and also working on an open problem which would help me validate my learning. If I am not in my classes or reading research papers as I walk across the campus, you will find me working on campus at either the Library or the Graduate Enrollment offices. The best part about working at these places is that you get to work with amazing people who are less colleagues and more friends. If I am working at the library, I get to work with a team that takes cares of the daily functioning of the library and if I am at the Graduate Enrollment office, I work with a team that is trying to help prospective students in understanding if RIT is the right fit for them. The thing that stands out to me at either of these places are my bosses who treat me as an equal and a friend. There are days when I just drop by their office and chat about life and they are always there to help me or just listen to me babble about my life.

Finally, as an elected representative, Graduate Senator, I work with the Student Government to represent the entire graduate community at RIT. In this role, I work with various offices/committees at RIT like the Office of Graduate Education, Co-op Services, Graduate Council, University Council, etc. It gives me a chance to be a voice for the graduate students at RIT and present the issues at the council meetings or to the heads of the offices/departments. Although it has been a very short time since I started working in this role, what makes me truly passionate about my work is knowing that I help improve the experience of graduate students at RIT. Although it sounds like I have a lot on my plate, never did it stop me from going out with my buddies on a Friday night or watching the latest superhero film (I am a Marvel Fan, Shhh..!). In my 15 months of being at RIT, I transitioned from a graduate student who used to be overwhelmed with homework to a graduate senator who is overwhelmed with homework and a lot of other work. During this transition, I made several friends and learnt things that I could have never learnt in any other place. All I want to say is that, graduate school is tough but you can always enjoy as long as you plan your time well. Umm, I am pretty sure I am running late to my next class so I got to run (*so much for good time management*).

Ciao!

7 Things to do this Thanksgiving Break

by Ami Patel, Computer Science MS student

Staying in Rochester this Thanksgiving? Worry not, we got you covered. Here’s a list of things that you can do if you aren’t going home. If you make it to the entire list, or want to share your experience at one of the events, please share your story with us at gradstudent@rit.edu.

1. RIT’s Global Unification
Happening this Saturday, November 18 from 7 pm – 9 pm, Global Unification is the largest multicultural event here at RIT. Immerse yourself in the vivid performances from various cultural clubs and experience the spectacle that highlights the cultural and ethnic diversity at RIT. Check out the event details.

2. Concert: Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Staying in Rochester and not attending a concert? That’s un-Rochester-like. The American rock-band, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, is having a concert at the Blue Cross Arena on Wednesday, November 22. How often you get to hear them perform live the Wizards of Winter or Sarajevo/Christmas Eve? Event details here.

3. Thanksgiving Meal at The Commons
Don’t feel like going anywhere? Get to The Commons on Thursday, November 23rd with your friends and savor the traditional Thanksgiving Meal prepared with love and warmth by the wonderful chefs. Hours: 12 pm – 5 pm.

4. Enjoy some Southern food at Cracker Barrel
Cracker Barrel is an interesting place where you can enjoy classic homestyle Southern food along with shopping gifts for the Christmas. Their Country-store-like shop has all the fun merchandise that takes you down to the childhood memory lane. Make sure you go through their Music collection and don’t miss to check out those antiquities hanging around in the store and the restaurant. The hash brown casserole is a must try. Location: 2075 Hylan Dr., Rochester, NY 14623. Hours open: 7 am – 10 pm

5. Remember Rembrandt at Memorial Art Gallery
What about time-traveling 5000 years in art history? Memorial Art Gallery has a permanent collection of more than 12,000 objects ranging from medieval to contemporary times; including works by Rembrandt, Monet, Homer, Cézanne, Matisse, El Greco, Cassatt, William Congdon. MAG includes a large number of women artists from era’s when sexism made participation in arts educations an exception. George Eastman’s collection is a must-see along with their current exhibition of Wendell Castle Remastered. Did you know that student ID can get you admission tickets at a reduced rate? I know you are excited. Here’s the location: Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, 500 University Ave, Rochester, NY 14607

6. Black Friday Shopping!
How can shopping not be part of this list? Drive or take an Uber to Eastview Mall-30 minutes drive from RIT-located in Victor, NY, is a great place to shop all those fancy brands along with enjoying some food with your friends. Don’t forget to buy yourself those warm and cozy Christmas themed plush pajamas. Location: 7979 Pittsford Victor Rd, Victor, NY 1456

7. Marvel vs. DC?
Marvel or DC, Thanksgiving is the time to support both. Watch Thor: Ragnarok and Justice League and, get into a debate again. No matter what the debate is, I’ll still be a Marvel fan. 😛

Happy Thanksgiving!

Career Connections – Apple Visits RIT

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

The Golisano Atrium was filled with hundreds of students in anticipation to talk to one of the most admired companies in the world – Apple. Apple Inc. is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California that designs,  develops, and sells consumer electronics, computer software, and online services. Apple was at RIT to hire students from multiple disciplines into various teams like Siri, Maps, etc. I approached some of the recruiters to get their perspective on “Why Apple likes RIT?” and the answers or feedback that I got was nothing short of amazing. The recruiters say that one of the reasons that they come to RIT is the amazing co-op program and the great coursework. When Apple recruits students they want students to be around for 6 – 8 months so that they get to participate in a complete release cycle so that they can better assess the students and also the students get to know the team and see if they would like to come back to work full-time. The recruiters mentioned that RIT students are very knowledgeable and the coursework prepares them with necessary skills required for a professional setting. During the event students approached teams and discussed the open positions and some of them were called the immediate next day for interviews. I got around talking to some students who got to interview with the company the next day and they loved that the event was very organized. Also, a couple of students mentioned that the constructive feedback at the end of their interview was very helpful and this would actually help them improve their skills.

Getting Around Rochester – Renting a Car

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student

 In my experience, driving around in a car is usually the most convenient way of getting to places in the US. Whether it is for weekly grocery shopping or to head out of town for a weekend, a car is quick and gas is quite inexpensive.

As a graduate student living close to campus, I had not felt the need to get a car for myself immediately after coming to the US. After spending a year at RIT, I realized that there were many places around Rochester which were worth visiting; Niagara Falls, and the Finger Lakes region to mention a few. I did some research on car rentals and found them to be affordable. For example, a sedan for a day would cost somewhere around $40, which when split across 5 friends seemed like a good deal. Some of the popular car rental companies are Budget, Avis, Enterprise, Hertz, and Zipcar.

It turns out that most of the car rental companies either have a rule of only renting cars to drivers aged 25 or above, or require drivers below the age of 25 to pay a premium to be able to rent a car. Fortunately, I belong to the former category.

The only exception to this rule is Zipcar; they rent cars by the hour and the price includes gas so you don’t need to worry about how much you drive. They have cars available on our campus (right by Grace Watson Hall) so I find myself using this option when I want to quickly go pick up groceries or some such similar shopping. They require you to become a member; the process of getting the membership card (mandatory to have one before you can ride) may take about 2 weeks.

Companies like Budget, Avis, Enterprise, etc. rent by the day and usually have no limit on the distance driven. The pick-up locations for these are close to campus, either at Marketplace Mall or at the airport. The sign-up process for these is all online and usually can be done within a short period.

For ID purposes, if you have a state ID or a US state driver’s license, it is enough. If you have neither of these and are a foreigner, I would suggest you to carry your passport to be on the safer side.

Zipcar puts a user on a monthly insurance plan which is renewed automatically every month unless cancelled manually, whereas the other companies let you buy insurances with every ride you book.

The state of NY allows non-US driver’s license holders to drive a car using their foreign driver’s license if it is in English. I found this rule to be beneficial in my case as it allowed me to tune my driving skills in an automatic-geared car without much headache. Having said that, I urge everyone to educate themselves about road rules, and to drive safe! Safe travels!

Artificial Intelligence at RIT

by Sanjay Varma Rudraraju, Computer Science MS student

Artificial Intelligence today is what the dot-com boom was a few years ago. We hear the term everywhere and there has been an explosion of advancements in the field. Although people use the word loosely, Artificial Intelligence as we know it is comprised of various topics like machine learning, natural language processing, robotics and many others. These tend to fall under the broader term cognitive technologies. From driverless cars to Alpha Go, the world has seen advancements which have only been a part of science fiction movies. As a kid I loved science fiction, be it the Jetsons who lived in the future with holograms and advanced robots or Marty’s cool hover board from the Back to the Future. I always wanted to live in a future with such great advancements and today being part of an event at ROT discussing about the possibilities of such a future was very exciting.

Coming to the AI retreat that took place on February 17, 2017 at RIT was one of the most interesting days I had after coming to RIT, it was a daylong retreat which explored the advancements in artificial intelligence with a focus on RIT’s role. Speakers from various companies and institutions spoke about the work that is being done in the industry. One of the most captivating sessions, in which I was deeply immersed, was the topic “AI 2.0: brains for bots” by Mr. Max Versace, founder of the Boston University Neuromorphics Lab and the Co-Founder and CEO of Neurala Inc His company is a pioneer in deep learning neural network software that could be deployed on ordinary processors with low cost sensors. Apart from Mr. Versace I also had the pleasure of listening to Mr.Robert H. Bo Ewald, President of D-Wave International, who talked about quantum computing and the big names in industry that have been investing and relying on quantum computing. The presentation reviewed some of the thinking, fundamentals and activities behind quantum computing, starting with the ideas originally introduced by Richard Feynman in 1982. Later we had a presentation by Roman Yampolskiy who talked about the Future of AI and also discussed Artificial General Intelligence and its effects on humanity. It was a very thought-provoking presentation which was thoroughly enjoyed by both students and faculty.

Post lunch we had discussion groups with topics like “Impact of AI on Education, Ethics, and Law, Vision and Language and Cognitive Science and Bio-inspired Computing.” I personally had participated in the Vision and Language discussion group that discussed the ongoing work in the industry related to the topic and  brainstormed ways that RIT could start their own research in a related field, potentially making a real difference in the world. Because RIT is one of the largest technological colleges in the world for students who are deaf or hard of hearing inspired the group to discuss the potential that Vision and Language has to help them in many ways. There were discussions about Automatic Captioning, which would be of great benefit, and also other such great ideas which really made me feel proud that the Tigers at RIT, with the help of their faculty, are indeed trying to make a difference and work towards advancements in the field. The day ended with a note from Jeremy Haefner, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Rochester Institute of Technology, who promised that he would see to it RIT as an institution would support the research that the students and faculty will be working on from this day forward. It was a very special moment for me knowing how supportive the college is towards students and its faculty and then I realized I made the best decision by coming to RIT for my Masters.

Before I end this post I would like to repost some reflections that the Provost has communicated to the entire RIT community about this retreat –

The working title for this retreat is ‘Move 78’. This bears an explanation. Back in March of this year, there was a historic matchup between the Google computer system named ‘AlphaGo’ and Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players. (The game of Go is considered to be one of most cognitively challenging strategy games because of the vast number of possible moves; for example, there are 20 possible opening moves in a game of chess and 361 in a game of Go.) And in a 5 game series, AlphaGo defeated Sedol in 4 of them, thereby sending shockwaves through the Go and cognitive computing communities.

What is truly fascinating, however, are two ‘moves’ from the series. In Move 37 of Game Two, AlphaGo astounded Sedol with a play that experts never saw before let alone anticipated. Sedol took an unheard-of 20 minutes to respond. At that point, it looked grim for Team Human. But in Game Four, Sedol, wanting redemption, knew that he needed more than just the expertise he had developed in playing Go all his life and so dipped deeper into his creative well. His play, in Move 78, did just that. It astonished not only the Go world but AlphaGo itself. This move has become known as ‘God’s Touch’ and Sedol went on to win Game Four.

This story inspires me. As I think about the vast implications for the seemingly unlimited potential of cognitive computing, I could imagine a very bleak future. But I prefer not to. Rather I have tremendous faith in the creative and imaginative power of the human mind. To quote Wired Magazine,

“[Move 78] showed that although machines are now capable of moments of genius, humans have hardly lost the ability to generate their own transcendent moments. And it seems that in the years to come, as we humans work with these machines, our genius will only grow in tandem with our creations.”

The future isn’t scary; it’s exciting.