The Busy Life of a Computer Science Department

   
By Kory Riemensperger – Collaborative Technologies Associate

Nestled away on the second floor of Manchester Hall is a department that appears far more modest than it actually is.  At first glance, the Computer Science department at Wake Forest University looks like every other academic environment dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual knowledge – a multitude of faculty offices, classrooms with scribbled information on dirty whiteboards, perhaps a line of students waiting to begin the day.  However, when you begin to look beyond the physical space, it’s easy to see the incredible education and events that are taking place here.

Wake Forest computer science students compete to protect their own computers while hacking into their fellow students' during a hackathon in Manchester Hall on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. The students get points for both successful attacks and building strong defenses.

Wake Forest computer science students compete to protect their own computers while hacking into their fellow students’ during a hackathon in Manchester Hall on Tuesday, April 23, 2013. The students get points for both successful attacks and building strong defenses.

The Computer Science department at Wake Forest University offers a comprehensive variety of degrees – from a minor program all the way up to the graduate level Master of Science.  For undergraduates, it’s not unheard of to double major – the flexibility of the department’s offerings allows students to effectively combine their study time with other departments, resulting in a diverse academic background for every student.  Undergraduates who can’t decide whether to study theater and technology can find themselves pursuing both their passions.

Even with the strength and flexibility of this department, Computer Science faces a battle to compete with the many other academic pursuits on campus.  “I don’t think it’s a secret that undergraduates – current and prospective – don’t immediately associate Wake Forest and Computer Science,” says senior Kiersten Bowman (’14). “Once you declare that major, however, you begin to realize that this department has a lot to offer to the budding tech specialist.”

Previous student projects have tackled issues ranging from network and computer security to digital media; advanced imaging to computational biology.  Other student projects have gone beyond traditional roles for computer science technology.  These projects embrace modern trends and have resulted in developing and deploying mobile apps for a wide range of including assistive and rehabilitative therapy, and real-time vehicle tracking.

When students aren’t working on technology projects, they’re learning from others in the field about what’s coming next.  It almost goes without saying that the possibilities with a Computer Science degree are vast, and every piece of advice that can be gleaned from alumni is valuable.

Greg Galante (M.S. ’10) speaks with students via Google Hangouts

Greg Galante (M.S. ’10) speaks with students via Google Hangouts

In the fall of last year, alum Greg Galante (M.S. ’10) was invited to speak to students about post-graduate life with a degree in Computer Science.  Galante now works for Google as a Software Engineer.  His team spends most of their time advancing the capabilities of the well-known and well-used Google Drive service.  This file storage and collaborative tool provides free word processing and spreadsheet editing to all students, staff, and faculty on this campus.  He spent time with several Wake Forest Computer Science undergraduates via Google Hangouts, and took care to share two very important pieces of career advice with them.

Persistence

Galante says that persistence goes a long way in the world of technology.  He began applying to Google his first year of undergraduate study, and didn’t stop until he got the job. “I applied every six months for eight years,” says Galante.  “I knew it was the perfect fit from the beginning, and so I kept submitting an application until one came back with an offer.”  He says that the company’s culture has always seemed to reflect his own personality – so it seemed like a natural career fit.  He advises following up on applications when possible, but the easiest thing to do is continue to check openings regularly and apply often.

Project Management Skills

The second piece of advice that Galante has for Computer Science undergraduates on the career path is to focus on developing their project management skills.  Many students tend to carry the perception that their grade point average is the be-all and end-all of success in higher education, but Galante has other thoughts:

“There’s no doubt in my mind that a good GPA is important, but – and this is especially important in the technology industry – a demonstration of project management skills are just as vital.  I never cared much for research, so I chose a thesis where I wrote a scavenger hunt app and coded the entire back end.  Recruiters love students who dedicate themselves to real-world application of their academic background.”

Galante says that these projects not only show recruiters that you have the skill to see assignments through to completion, but each finished one allows the construction of a portfolio that speaks volumes more about you as a person when compared to the digits of a GPA.

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