My first co-op experience in the US

by Krishna Tippur Gururaj, Computer Science MS student 

I had taken a break from my professional life to move to the US for grad school back in 2016. Back then, it had been a big change for me to get back to books, assignments, tests, and grades. Well, the summer of 2018 was quite a momentous one for me because I was given a chance to go back to working, albeit temporarily. As an international student, I had known that getting work experience in the US would be an invaluable step in my career.

HomeAway at The Domain, Austin, TX

So I was thrilled when I got a chance this year to go on a summer co-op at HomeAway, a vacation rental marketplace company based out of Austin, TX. My focus area during my Computer Science grad program has been Distributed Systems and I could not believe my luck when I got an opportunity to intern as part of HomeAway’s cloud engineering team. I was super excited to be moving to a new city, and equally nervous to be going back to working in a professional environment.

Just another cool spot in the office

After the initial excitement of getting the offer sunk in, I started to look at housing options. I knew I had to work with certain restrictions, i.e. easy commute, short-term lease. HomeAway’s recruitment team helped me get in touch with other incoming interns which was really helpful and made my housing search simple.

After a fast-paced yet informative two-week training program in which I was given overviews of the company vision, the various technologies that were used, and some hands-on on the same, I joined the Digital Infrastructure team in the Cloud Engineering department. The team was friendly and I found my colleagues to be approachable and helpful. I learned a lot and got to experience first-hand how stuff that I have studied about in grad school actually gets implemented in real-world scenarios.

Midway through the summer, HomeAway had organized a hackathon called InternHackATX, through which they intended to get interns from all over (internal and external to HomeAway) to come together for a weekend of bouncing ideas off of each other to solve a problem related to group travel. Three fellow interns and I ended up finishing 2nd overall for proposing a solution to intelligently bring structure to a group conversation between friends planning a vacation. It was an amazing experience and something that I had never done before!

First runners-up at InternHackATX 2018 (after about 3 hours’ sleep in 48 hours)

Before I knew it, it was time to wrap up my intern project, present it to a company-wide audience, and head back to Rochester. It was a bittersweet moment when I was leaving since I really liked living in Austin and partly because I had to get back to books. Anyway, it was a wonderful experience and I am glad I had the chance to learn and become more responsible.

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!