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CSpotlight: Merging Computer Science and Finance

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in computer science specifically at the University of Minnesota?

When I first came to the University I was planning on majoring in accounting at the Carlson School of Management (although that eventually changed to finance). With the way the world is turning, I knew it would be beneficial to take some classes in computer science as well. Technology is integrated into every industry so I planned to do a computer science minor. I had never written a line of code before I got to college. 

I took the 1133 introductory course and I realized that I enjoyed that type of problem solving. That class really inspired me to take another look at my schedule and see if there was a way to integrate more computer science courses. My finance degree would have only taken two and a half years to complete, so I decided to double major in computer science. The community in the Department of Computer Science & Engineering was really encouraging and supportive. They worked with me to figure out how to make this double degree feasible. That is a big reason why I wanted to pursue this path.   

How did you become interested in computer science? What are your specific interests within the field?

I have been exposed to many different areas of computer science in my classes. I have taken courses in artificial intelligence, machine learning and robotics. In each of those, I have learned something interesting that has helped me better understand the applications and the use for computer science in the real world. Just having that exposure is the most important thing to me. Maybe later on I will decide I want to dive deeper into a specific area, but at this point, I’m focused on discovering what’s out there.
That is one thing I appreciate about this major - you have the ability to learn about a wide range of subjects. I think that really helps develop the critical thinking and analytical skills that will help you in whichever field you choose after graduation. It also gives me confidence that I will be able to take on different challenges and learn as I go. 

What inspired you to pursue a double major in finance? How do these two interests overlap for you?

Majoring in business was always the original plan. As I continue to take courses in both subjects, I am realizing more and more that there is some overlap between them. They both require very specialized pieces of information. Finance is about looking at regulatory frameworks, the economic landscape, and organizing that information to evaluate a company’s financial business strategy. While computer science is focused on applying math to solve computationally complex problems and then, create interfaces that communicate and illustrate that information and data. When you are dealing with large quantities of data from the financial markets, computer science really helps you synthesize that data into business insights. Regardless of which side of the spectrum I decide to pursue for the long term, I will have an understanding of how the other side operates and hopefully, that will allow me to be a better team member and make better decisions.

Congratulations on earning the Maximillian Lando scholarship ! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?

Since I am enrolled in the College of Science and Engineering and Carlson, there are two sets of fees. From an academic standpoint, there is not a lot of overlap between degree programs, so I have to take more credits than most students and with that comes an added cost - both financially and mentally. This scholarship gives me the flexibility to spend my time studying to really understand concepts. It allows me to focus on developing the skills that will serve me later in my life and career, rather than financing my education. 

Tell us more about your internship experiences. What was it like working for a student start up vs. big companies like Amazon? Have you been able to incorporate both finance and computer science into your work?

I worked with Atticus Capital, which at that point, was a student-led start up. It really gave me the opportunity to try everything and work in a number of different areas. Everything was done from scratch. There was a lot of flexibility, which can be fun, but there is also a lot of ambiguity. You have to keep pushing through that ambiguity to figure out how to get a task done without resources to guide you. I think that experience helped develop my skills in a unique way that can’t be replicated by interning at a big company like Amazon or U.S. Bank. 

In bigger companies, there is a set process and program. You have to learn how to function within those systems and how to ask the right questions that will get you up to speed. Those companies also have all the resources you could ever need- if you have a good idea and can make a good business case for it, there is an opportunity to explore that. I also focused my time on learning from other people and hearing about their career journeys. It is a great environment for networking and mapping out my own career. 

I also interned with the Carlson Funds Enterprise within the Carlson School of Management as an equity research intern. After that position, I felt I had a good idea of what a career in finance might have looked like, and I wanted to explore the computer science side of the professional world. That’s when I made the pivot to more computer science related positions.

Since then, all of my positions have been based in software engineering. My work at the start-up was rooted in software development. My time at U.S. Bank had more IT management and data security aspects and at Amazon, it was a software development engineering program. 

Have you been involved with any research on campus?

Right now I am working on my honors thesis as part of the Honors Program. That work started this semester and will continue through the rest of my time in school. I am still exploring topics and hope to integrate machine learning with finance so that I can incorporate both majors into my work. 

For one semester I did research with Professor Van Wyk. We were working on attribute grammar debugging, and it helped me better understand how computer systems and data structures come together to model things in real life. We were trying to create a debugger for a language that helps develop other program languages. So there was a lot of theoretical work involved. That experience gave me some exposure to the research resources at the University and got me excited about doing my own research for my honors thesis.

Are you involved in any student groups? What inspired you to get involved? What did you learn from those experiences?

I was involved in the Scholars of Finance Club during COVID and I became their vice president of finance during my sophomore year. I organized a virtual symposium for about 100 students in the Twin Cities area that brought together finance professionals from Minnesota to discuss principled leadership at their respective companies and the finance industry in general. The main goal of the group is to develop future financial leaders that operate with integrity. Because of my course load this year, I decided to step down and give other students an opportunity to develop their skills the same way I did, but I am still an active member and regularly advise the current executive board on how to best move the club forward. Being involved in student groups is a good way to build teamwork experience outside of the classroom and learn how to be a better team leader and problem solver. 

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

You should be open to new experiences. I came into college thinking I would be an accounting manager and if I had gone that route, I would have never touched other areas outside of business. Having an open mind allowed me to get involved with different student groups and research. Most importantly it helps you build life skills that you wouldn’t necessarily find in the classroom. The biggest goal in undergrad is not the piece of paper confirming you have a degree in a certain subject; it is about utilizing the wide variety of opportunities available to you that help build skills crucial to success in any field you choose. 

Most people don’t end up working in the field that they majored in. The degree is valuable because of the people you meet, the things you work on in and out of the classroom, and the perspective you gain from having those experiences. So be open to new experiences and don’t be afraid to invest as much as you can into them. Don’t get hung up on whether the outcome is exactly as you envisioned it, because (spoiler) most of the time it won’t. But the more you invest into your classes, your interests, and your health, the more confident you will be going forward, even if it isn’t obvious at that point in time. These four years give you the platform you need to be able to do whatever you want to after graduation- take advantage of it.

What are your plans after graduation?

I have accepted a return offer from Amazon and will be relocating to Seattle or New York. I’m not sure exactly where I will be placed yet. After I get a couple years of experience, I hope to get a graduate degree. I’m not sure if that will be an MBA or an M.S. in Computer Science, but I hope to continue my education at some point. 

Regardless of what I ultimately decide, I hope that I can give back to the community throughout my career. I wouldn’t have completed a double major if I didn’t have the support from both the College of Science of Engineering and the Carlson School of Management communities. These four years have made me realize the importance of community and what it means to be part of something bigger than yourself. If I can do the same thing for someone else, even at a small scale, that would mean the world to me, and maybe, it will inspire others too.