CSpotlight: The recipe for future success

B.A. student Reese Kneeland has always had an appetite for technology. Since building his first computer at the age of 14, his passion for computing has only grown. In addition to being a full-time student in the computer science integrated program, he's expanding his skills by working in a research lab, holding a software engineering internship, and doing coding work on his own.

Why did you choose to study computer science at the University of Minnesota?

The University of Minnesota has a very competitive computer science program for the Midwest, and with it being reasonably affordable and only half an hour from my hometown, it was a natural choice to pursue my career goals and further my education.

What made you decide to pursue the integrated program?

After diving headfirst into my degree and finding my stride in the artificial intelligence coursework I was taking, I decided I wanted to pursue an M.S. in the subject, and the integrated program is a phenomenal way to begin that path while I'm still finishing up my Bachelor’s degree. I appreciate that the integrated program allows me to graduate sooner while still taking advantage of all the courses available to me.

How did you become interested in computer science?

I have been interested in computers and technology since a very young age, from begging my dad to let me install video games on his Mac Pro when I was 11, to building my own computer at 14, then taking my first computer science course at 15, and leaving high school a year early to begin pursuing my computer science degree at University of Minnesota through the PSEO program at 16.

Programming, in particular, has become a strong passion of mine, as I continue to expand my horizons, I never fail to find projects and ideas that get me excited to jump on the keyboard and write code for hours. Recently, I have been focusing specifically on the areas of artificial intelligence and machine learning, with my most notable project being a fully autonomous chess AI written in Python.

Tell us more about your software engineering internship with Trane Technologies.

I am currently working full-time on the embedded software development team at Trane Technologies, where I’m working on a number of C++ applications that will go into production on their line of HVAC system controllers in the coming months.

I think the most interesting part of the experience so far has been the professional software development workflows necessary for code to actually go into production on real products, which for something like the controllers Trane sells is incredibly important, considering that they are designed to function in a ceiling for decades with minimal maintenance. I am learning a tremendous amount inside this more rigorous development environment, and hope to take advantage of these skills I'm building for the rest of my career.

Tell us more about your research experience. How did you get promoted to a data manager?

I have been working in the UMN Computer Vision Lab under assistant professor Hyun Soo Park for about eight months now on projects related to building the connection between vision and action in social settings. I started out by simply annotating the incoming first-person video data we collected from participants to remove any identifying personal information so we could use it for research, but after excelling at that for a few months, I was promoted to oversee the undergraduate annotation team, the incoming data workflows, and the primary subject recruitment for the project. I’m currently working on the project part-time during the summer on top of my internship.

What made you decide to start the RKfilm project? Tell us more about your organization!

RKFilms was a freelance videography brand I started when I was 14 and first learning to pick up a camera. Throughout my time in high school and PSEO, I worked on a variety of projects from esports fragmovies to wedding videos and event coverage, operating as a one-man camera crew and expressing my artistic talents through the medium of film. Since starting college full-time, I haven’t had as much time to pursue this hobby, but I still find time to pick up a camera when the moment is right.

How did you become involved with the Boy Scouts? What was your favorite part about the journey to Eagle Scout?

I was in the Boy Scouts for nine years. I started in middle school and originally, it was an excuse to hang out with friends and enjoy the outdoors. However, it quickly blossomed into a major part of my life as I pursued the leadership and advancement opportunities it provided me.

I steadily rose through the ranks of my Troop and served as a two-term Senior Patrol Leader, guiding my fellow scouts through the mountains of Norway and raising thousands of dollars for projects in my community, including my Eagle Scout project of building and installing two custom chess tables in a local park. That journey helped shape me into the person I am today, and I’ll never forget the lessons I learned and the people who helped me get here.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Don’t neglect the importance of programming outside of class. The core computer science curriculum will teach you how to write code, but if the only projects you have to show the people deciding whether to hire you or work with you in the future are the same projects everyone else did in class, you will have a much harder time standing out. Put yourself out there and work on projects you are interested in with the intention of expanding your skills and your project portfolio.

What are your plans after graduation?

I recently fell in love with the city of Seattle after taking a solo vacation there, so after I finish up my master's degree I plan to move. Plus, I hope to pursue a career in artificial intelligence, and Seattle is one of the most vibrant and technologically advanced cities in the world. I’m also pretty excited to live near an actual farmer’s market, as those are pretty hard to come by here in Minneapolis and it will be absolutely a luxury for someone who loves to cook as much as me.