CSpotlight: Comedy + Computing

What made you choose to pursue computer science at the University of Minnesota?

I grew up in Minnesota, so the University of Minnesota was a natural choice. The main motivation for computer science was because I took a gap year after high school. In high school I did about two years of computer science. I wasn’t super into it at the time, but after the gap year, I was around a lot of engineers and computer scientists. Hearing about their projects, jobs, and even entrepreneurial endeavors inspired me to pursue computer science at a higher level. That’s when I decided computer science was something that I wanted to pursue as a career.

Can you tell me a little bit more about your gap year?

My dad is Turkish, but he never fully taught me how to speak the language. After high school, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at the time, but I knew I wanted to be fluent in Turkish. So, I went to spend some time with family members in Turkey. I was also going to a language school while I was there. Now, I am fluent in Turkish.

What are your specific interests within computer science?

I really like machine learning and data science. I think that’s kind of hot right now. Everybody says that but I think it’s really cool. After my freshman year, I reached out to some professors in Turkey, because I wanted to go back. One had a grad student who was working on a project that was machine learning related and told me I could come on and help with automating the data collection. They were also able to teach me about deep learning which sparked my interest in that. My current job at Inspire Medical Systems involves writing scripts to analyze waveforms for automated testing.

Tell us more about your internship experience at Inspire Medical Systems.

The internship at Inspire Medical Systems has been incredible. I was tasked with creating tools to be used during automated testing. I was able to be a part of interesting (and long) meetings that taught me a lot about the process of FDA approval and creating safe devices. I also was a part of an awesome team that gave me a lot of helpful advice on the industry and entering the professional world. 

You previously served as a teaching assistant. What do you think you took out of those teaching experiences?

I did well in CSCI 2011. But I realized that doing well and really understanding the material are different things. In both cases, I was constantly having to check myself, look things up, and ask myself, “Do I really know what’s going on here?” It took me a while. But the biggest thing I took from that was how do you check if you truly understand a concept and how to get to that level where you can explain it to other people. It’s no joke when people say, the best way to learn is to teach. You really must understand a topic well to teach it.

Congratulations on earning the James Parker Memorial scholarship! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?

First, I would like to say I am so grateful and honored to be awarded this scholarship. The passing of James Parker was very sad so I really hope to honor Professor Parker and his family this year through hard work. The scholarship has given me a boost of motivation for studying. It has reduced many financial concerns which allows me to be more present and focused on my studies. It has also given me the opportunity to pursue unpaid projects related to my field of study that I might not otherwise have pursued. I still have a part-time job, but the scholarship has given me a little more freedom to pursue other projects. 

Additionally, I earned the Taco Bell Live Mas scholarship. That scholarship is all about your passion. I submitted a three-minute video about comedy before college and got that scholarship. Then I switched my major to computer science and I pivoted to combining comedy with computer science. I tried to use machine learning to generate some stand-up comedy routines and added that to the video.

Can you tell me about combining comedy and machine learning?

It started as something that I worked on at the boot camp I worked for, the Berkley Coding Academy Boot Camp. The last project we had the students do was natural language processing. They were creating deep learning models to generate text, and I used stand-up comedy as the input for the data. It was something that I worked on by myself. Then in the CSCI 4511 class, we got to do our own project. The outputs of that were not great. The comedy did not go over super well. But it showed the cool ways you could combine passions that didn’t necessarily seem computer science related.

What inspired you to get involved in the comedy club. Can you talk about what inspired you to get involved? And what do you hope to contribute to the University at large?

I joined the club my freshman year. I had some friends that were in the club and encouraged me to join. It’s for stand-up comedy to help people improve their punch lines. It was a place where people could relax, anyone could come, anyone could join. Some of the other groups I am involved in need you to audition. I really liked having a place where anyone can join and you won’t be restricted. 

What advice would you have for incoming students?

My main advice would be to try and not get so overwhelmed with everything you have to do. I think it can be difficult to know exactly what you should be doing in terms of internships, activities, and personal projects. My advice would be to focus on what you can accomplish right now and recognize that you are creating building blocks that will support you the rest of your college career.