Alumni Spotlights

Alumni Spotlights: getting to know our CS graduates

There is no question that the Department of Computer Science is home to amazing faculty, staff, and students. I wanted to provide an opportunity for those inside and outside the department to learn about what our Alumni are doing past graduation. The Alumni Spotlight provides a platform for CS graduates to share unique backgrounds, experiences, and stories. After reading, I know that you will agree- our graduates are incredible. 

Thanks for reading! - Martin Marquez, Director of Academic and Support Services


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Heidi Lee

Heidi Lee

Heidi Lee obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science in Spring 2019.

1. Why did you decide to get a BS in CS?
Admittedly, computer science was not something I knew much about nor something I considered myself passionate about. Although I initially did not know what I wanted to study coming into my freshman year of college, I had slight exposure to the field and naturally had continued the path. Sooner or later, I found myself taking the next course in the curriculum and eventually, a diploma in hand.

2. Why did you come to UA CS?
I chose UA primarily for the Wildcat Excellence Award. With the scholarship and being able to live with my sister, how could I have passed on such an opportunity!

3. What are the three most memorable things in your time at UA CS?
The most memorable things during my time at UA CS would all mostly boil down to my time as a section leader. I enjoyed the people I would interact with- ranging from the faculty, other section leaders, and the students. It was a great experience being there for other students and lend a helping hand when needed. I miss that, and being able to hang out with my friends after classes. Another fond memory I have would be sitting in the ninth floor atrium and enjoying that beautiful view- Tucson mountains are something else!

4. What are you doing now?
I am a software developer at General Motors. I have been here for 3 years and have been on several different teams and working on a wide variety of projects. 

5. Tell us something interesting about yourself (unique skills, experiences; expertise - think of something that a viewer/reader would be surprised to know about you).
As someone who used to grind day and night for my assignments and exams in school, I have learned to take a step back. I value a good work life balance and a great company culture. As a result of this, in addition to the work I have at GM, I am an avid participant in our events and resource groups we have here. I assisted in hosting some of the events we would display at the office, and have been able to meet a lot of wonderful people outside of my team.

6. How do you feel about your experience at UACS and how it prepared you for your current job/career?
Overall, I had a great time at UA CS. Although some of the late nights were brutal, I enjoyed being able to study with friends. The courses have prepared me for the interview, especially with data structures and algorithms. Besides the interviews, the program helps with problem solving and structures one's way of thinking for this field. 

7. What advice would you give a student interested in CS?As much as you hear others preaching about starting projects early, it is a great habit to get into. Gain an understanding of the project specs early on, ask your TA/professor questions, and make friends with the people in your class- you'll be seeing a lot of the same faces throughout your time in college.


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Samantha Mathis

Samantha Mathis

Samantha obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science in Spring 2022.
 

1. Why did you decide to get a BS in CS?
I started off my college career as a chemistry major however after the first year I realized it wasn’t a fit for me. After meeting with my advisor they told me I would be able to use all the classes I had taken as a chemistry major and apply it to a BS in CS.

2. Why did you come to UA CS?
I always knew I wanted to go to the university of Arizona after growing up around the campus. It was just a matter of choosing the path. I decided to take the computer science 110 class during the summer in order to see how it went before declaring my new major. After that I knew there would be challenges along the way but there was so much help from peers and teachers I knew I could succeed. 

3. What are the three most memorable things in your time at UA CS?
One of my favorite parts of being part of the CS department was becoming a TA. It allowed me to help students the way my TA’s helped me. Another memorable moment was the grading parties that were held after a midterm or final. We would have food and go over the various answers that were created by the students. And finally the most memorable was meeting the other students during class and office hours, sharing the struggle from my first CS class to sitting at graduation with them.

4. What are you doing now?
I will be starting at Raytheon as a software developer. 

5. Tell us something interesting about yourself (unique skills, experiences; expertise - think of something that a viewer/reader would be surprised to know about you).
Something interested about me would be that along with Computer Science, I majored in French. Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad in France and live with a host family for 6 weeks. 

6. How do you feel about your experience at UACS and how it prepared you for your current job/career?
I feel like during my time at UACS it taught me a lot of different topics from operating systems to website/app design making me well prepared and ready for any project that I will be given. 

7. What advice would you give a student interested in CS?
The best advice would be to not give up. Take a break and come back with a fresh mind and always ask for help if you are stuck. Teachers are here to help guide you and help you learn.  


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Kaylee Price

Kaylee Price

Kylee Price obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science in Spring 2021.
 

1. Why did you decide to get a BS in CS and why did you come to UA CS?
I started at the U of A as an undecided major. My friend was taking an introductory CS class, CS 101, and I decided to join in since it was something I had never done before, and since it could help me in my search for a major. I absolutely loved it! After that semester, I decided to join UA CS on a path towards graduating with a BS in CS.

2. What are the three most memorable things in your time at UA CS?
My first CS class, CS 101, sparked my interest in CS. We learned beginner topics in software and even a little about a wide variety of CS topics like web development and computer hardware. This class was the first stepping stone in my career path, and perhaps one of the most memorable.

One of my most memorable courses was Databases. That class was so different from most of the other courses, and it was refreshing to learn something that connects so many different CS topics. Learning about the back-end was complimentary to the front-end you learn in Web Development and even complimentary to Software Development in many ways. I have ended up using what I learned in this course much more than I thought I would.

Aside from my most memorable CS course, the atrium in Gould-Simpson was one of the most memorable parts of my CS major. The atrium overlooks almost the entire campus, and is where you could always find someone working on a similar topic. We had many study sessions, late night homework sprints, and even free coffee in the atrium.

3. What are you doing now?
I currently work as a Full-Stack Software Engineer for a web accessibility company. Our mission is to eradicate barriers to digital access.

4. Tell us something interesting about yourself (unique skills, experiences; expertise - think of something that a viewer/reader would be surprised to know about you).
I have had a professional role in three extremely different areas: IT, embedded software engineering, and web/full-stack development.

5. How do you feel about your experience at UACS and how it prepared you for your current job/career?
UA CS set a solid foundation for my career in Software. It taught me how to most efficiently learn new CS topics (because there are a lot). I had to learn completely new concepts at my first job and in my current job, but the foundation laid by my CS degree from UA has allowed me to quickly immerse myself into whatever new challenge lays ahead.

6. What advice would you give a student interested in CS?Practice, practice, practice. Learning new topics and starting new projects will always be the best learning strategy, especially because you get to decide to practice the things you're most interested in. This can end up teaching you what topics you're most interested in and help you decide what you might want to do with your degree. 


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Daniel Ryngler

Daniel Ryngler

Daniel Ryngler obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science in Summer 2022.
 

1. Why did you decide to get a BS in CS?
I decided to get a BS in CS after taking AP CS my senior year in high school. I originally came to the UA as a business major but added CS as a second major as soon as I arrived. I fell in love with the idea of being able to build whatever I want, whenever I want.

2. Why did you come to UA CS?
I came to UA because my brother was here, and I had a bunch of friends from home joining me!

3. What are the three most memorable things in your time at UA CS?
(1) Writing my first C program with Vim
(2) Sitting in upper division classes and having the concepts I was exposed to pre-major beginning to truly “click”
(3) Participating in research with the CS vision lab

4. What are you doing now?
I interned at Tesla as a software engineer during my junior year spring and summer semesters (February 2021 – August 2021). While at Tesla, I worked on the Finance Automation team. I utilized my strong CS fundaments, learned throughout my time at UA, to automate the behind-the-scenes processes that happen when a customer buys a car in order to make it a quick and seamless process. My work involved knowledge of programming in Python and C#, databases, and working with remote servers (thanks for the practice lectura!).

5. Tell us something interesting about yourself (unique skills, experiences; expertise - think of something that a viewer/reader would be surprised to know about you).
During my senior year, I worked on a super interesting computer vision project with the CS vision lab. Using deep learning, we developed a plant disease segmentation model on drone imagery and ended up publishing a research paper on it!

6. How do you feel about your experience at UACS and how it prepared you for your current job/career?
Based on my career experience so far, my time at UACS has prepared me very well! I’ve learned all the fundamentals I need to be able to be a smart and efficient programmer as well as now have a strong foundation to build from and learn new technologies. CS 445 (Algorithms) helped tremendously with interviews.

7. What advice would you give a student interested in CS?
Take everything step by step and don’t be discouraged if some things seem super complicated (almost like it’s magic!). As you progress throughout your time in CS and are exposed to topics multiple times, all the confusion (and jargon) begins to make sense and you realize CS really isn’t that complicated! 


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Victor Gomez

Victor Gomes

Victor Gomes obtained a Bachelor's of Art in Computer Science in Fall 2019.
 

1. Why did you decide to get a BS in CS?
I grew up using computers, playing video games and my dad works as a software engineer. All of that inspired me to try computer science, once I started programming I actually enjoyed the creative problem solving aspect of it a lot. 

2. Why did you come to UA CS?
I knew I wanted to go to one of the schools in Arizona, University of Arizona seemed to have the best Computer Science program from my research.

3. What are the three most memorable things in your time at UA CS?
The most memorable was definitely being a teacher assistant (aka section leader) for 3 years and becoming a SL coordinator my last year. The amount of friends and things I learned during that program made it so much fun. Another was the process of working super hard on the projects and passing CSc 352: Systems Programming & Unix, was the hardest class I took. It felt amazing to pass it. Third was getting together with friends and classmates to attempt the HackArizona hackathon every year, spending all nighters coding to build something cool.

4. What are you doing now?
I am a Front-end Software Engineer at Blackrock. And build lots of web projects on the side.

5. Tell us something interesting about yourself (unique skills, experiences; expertise - think of something that a viewer/reader would be surprised to know about you).
I have created my own generative art NFT project called Lucid Paths with a few friends from U of A.

6. How do you feel about your experience at UACS and how it prepared you for your current job/career?
I loved my experience at UACS, working on most of the programming projects was very satisfying, and I am still proud of a lot of them. I especially liked the opportunity of being a TA, teaching and helping other students made me learn a lot. It also helped me build a lot of the soft skills necessary to do well in a tech career. I will say having to learn assembly language was tough!

7. What advice would you give a student interested in CS?
Try to keep a good GPA, but in my experience having the best GPA is not everything, be sure to participate in extracurricular opportunities, try to learn outside class and build your own personal projects that interest you, and learn tech interview skills.  


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Aaron Alexander

Aaron Alexander 

Aaron Alexander obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science in Spring 2020.
 

1. Why did you decide to get a BS in CS?
Growing up I was always the best in my family when it came to dealing with computers. I was fascinated with them as tools and wanted to learn more about how they work. Funny enough I had imagined "Computer Science" as more hardware-focused, but learned very quickly that it was mostly software-focused, but fell in love regardless.

2. Why did you come to UA CS?
The University of Arizona was in the perfect spot for me. I was born and raised in Phoenix and greatly wanted to leave the nest to pursue education, but I'm also a homebody and didn't want to be TOO far away. It also worked out that my sister was living in Tucson, so I still had family close by. The program and its wonderful staff were just stars that aligned perfectly in my favor.

3. What are the three most memorable things in your time at UA CS?
Being an Undergraduate TA: Having the opportunity to help guide and inspire students new to the program is an experience I'll never forget.
That first spark of "I understood that!": Everybody has this moment. You reach a point where you won't need to ask for assistance and when your code just works it's the most gratifying feeling in the world.
Long nights renting out a room in the library: Whether it's group study sessions, or working on homework by yourself, the solitude and beautiful views of the library were always a great source of comfort.

4. What are you doing now?
Right now I am a Software Engineer at American Express. I work in Machine Learning and Big Data platforms.

5. Tell us something interesting about yourself (unique skills, experiences; expertise - think of something that a viewer/reader would be surprised to know about you).
Before pursuing my CS degree, my closest ties to understanding advanced software was digital music production. I still enjoy making music in FL Studio to this day and you'd be surprised what you understand about your favorite bits of software after pursuing a CS degree.

6. How do you feel about your experience at UACS and how it prepared you for your current job/career?
I think that the best of any college program does it's best to give you a catch-all understanding of the broadest topics so that you will be prepared to handle anything specific you may be interested in. I think UACS did a great job of doing that for me. Just keep in mind that whenever you start your first day of actual work, there's a big chance that you will need to relearn some things. That's ok, you made it this far, you can do it again.

7. What advice would you give a student interested in CS?
Try not to get too caught up on the little things and continue to strive to do better the next time. It can seem very easy to feel like it's time to give up because you aren't good enough, I promise you that is never the case. Some of the best things in life require you to fight for it, and now is the perfect time to do so. You are here for yourself and you need to feel like you deserve this. A strong drive and a heavy commitment to improvement will carry the weight of any difficulty.


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Meredith Larabee

Meredith Larabee earned a Bachelors degree in Computer Science in Fall of 2019. She is originally from Tucson, AZ and moved to Tempe, AZ to work as a Software Development Engineer at GoDaddy. Prior to earning her degree in CS she obtained a bachelors degree in Chemistry and a master's degree in Educational Leadership and Policy from the University of Utah. During her time as a CS student, Meredith worked as a section leader for CSC 110 and a course coordinator for CSC 120. She also served as the Vice President of the Women in Information and Computer Science club (WICS). Outside of school she loves to cook, travel, watch tv, and listen to podcasts. 

1. What is your current occupation? How long have you been in that role?
I am currently a Software Development Engineer at GoDaddy. I have been in this role for 7 months.
 
2. How did the UA computer science program prepare you for a career in computer science? 
 I learned so many programming languages and concepts that laid the groundwork for this career, but the best thing I learned in my CS courses was how to learn computer science and how to approach programming. In my current role, I program in a language I never touched in school (C#). But because of the programming skills I learned in my courses, picking up a new language is the easy part. I spend a lot of time in my job thinking about the best way to design the code I'm writing so it will be easy to read, reusable, consistent with our code base, and (of course) perform accurately and quickly. These are concepts that were reinforced in every CS course I took at the U of A.
 
3. What advice would you give recent graduates looking to get into your field/area?
Pay attention to the skills you build doing group projects. If you're a software developer at a company of pretty much any size, you'll be working in teams to accomplish your goals. This means collaboration tools/techniques like Git and Agile as well as "soft skills" like communication and teamwork are key. Try to get some sort of work experience coding as soon as possible, whether it's an internship, a student position, or something else. Writing code when there is no assignment spec or answer key feels a bit different so it's good to get some varied experience with it!
 
4. What sub-field(s) in computer science excite you? 
The most exciting things to me about computer science are building something from scratch, and knowing how things work. These apply to a ton of sub-fields, so there isn't necessarily one thing that I'm passionate about. I love having variety in the programming I do and being able to see the finished product.
 
5. Are there any faculty that you would like to recognize as having an impact on you 
(personally, academically, etc.)? If so, how did they have an impact on you?

Every faculty member I took a course from and worked for in the CS department had a huge impact on me. I think I went to the office hours of every professor I had at least once, and they were all kind, knowledgeable, and very invested in my learning process and the subjects they teach.


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Benjamin Gaska

Benjamin Gaska obtained a Bachelor's of Science in Computer Science in Spring 2016 and his Masters in Spring 2017. Benjamin received an outstanding senior award in Spring 2016. 
 
1. What is your current occupation? How long have you been in that role?
I work on Google Drive Dataprotection Team (DDT) in Boulder, CO. I'm responsible for designing infrastructure for protecting user's data from access by Google. Practically, this has meant a lot of API development, as well as some Domain Specific Language development for other engineers in Drive.
I have worked here two years this month.
 
2. How did the UA computer science program prepare you for a career in computer science? 
I appreciate the strong emphasis on Theory that was given in the department. A lot of specifics, like knowing this language or that framework, is very task specific and something you tend to need to learn on the fly. Being able to think abstractly about problems, and how to connect them to other known problems, is the single most useful skill I think I have. I increasingly think that this sort of managing of complexity is the core distinguishing feature of CS as a field. The strong emphasis on Theory courses I received at UA has helped me immensely with reasoning over the often under-defined problems of engineering.
 
3. What advice would you give recent graduates looking to get into your field/area?
Find projects to do. If you're a recent graduate and you're looking for work, find time to develop your coding interests. There's lots of wonderful open-source work out there. Or even just finding white papers that interest you and implementing it. Not only will you develop your own skills, you'll have a useful item on your resume to show off your competence. You'll also develop interests and opinions in your field, and that also comes through in interviews. People appreciate that.
Also, understand recursion. It's so useful in interviews because it often leads to elegant solutions. It's so useful in design, because it allows you to efficiently reason over very abstract spaces. 
 
4. What sub-field(s) in computer science excite you?
I haven't changed that much, so I still love Programming Languages/Compilers and NLP. Most areas that allow for a beautiful melding of theory and practice. A recent topic I've been pushing for at my company is also Model Checking, a really interesting topic that I think will get more and more important in the field as it progresses.
 
5. Are there any faculty that you would like to recognize as having an impact on you (personally, academically, etc.)? If so, how did they have an impact on you?
I appreciated the huge swath of faculty I worked with, but I'll keep it brief. I 100% have to give huge thanks to my advisors, Dr. Strout and Dr. Surdeanu. They patiently guided me through all of my research both undergrad and during my Masters. They have known suffering because of that commitment.
 
I would also like to call out Dr. McCann for leading the Section Leader program which gave me many early opportunities and certainly led to my early internships. And gosh, he's just a nice guy.

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Tom Marthaler

Tom Marthaler graduated from the undergraduate program at the University of Arizona in May 1999 with a double major in Computer Science and Physics. Tom started his career in the defense industry doing ocean science research and working on satellite systems. He transitioned to doing web analytics and data mining for advertising startups which landed him at Amazon where he has worked on fulfillment system optimization and promotions validations.

1. What is your current occupation? How long have you been in that role?
Hi! My name is Tom Marthaler. I graduated from the undergraduate program at the University of Arizona in May 1999 with a double major in Computer Science and Physics. I started my career in the defense industry doing ocean science research and working on satellite systems. I transitioned to doing web analytics and data mining for advertising startups which landed me at Amazon where I’ve worked on fulfillment system optimization and promotions validations.

My current title at Amazon is Senior Software Engineer working out of the Amazon Tempe Software Center located in Downtown Tempe, AZ right on Tempe Town Lake. I’ve been at Amazon for 2.5 years, where I’ve been able to transition between leading a team as a Software Development Manager as well as focusing on individual software deliverables as a software engineer. 

2. How did the UA computer science program prepare you for a career in computer science? 
The main thing that the UA computer science program taught me was to force myself to understand complex computational problems. Before studying CS, I had focused on scientific computing and numerical methods. I had never really understood hardware issues or dove into language structure. I struggled through CS252 (a C is still a passing grade!) and learned how compilers and computation language design worked in CS453 (I still have fond memories of ‘lex’ and ‘yacc’).  My degree from the UofA CS curriculum created a foundation for me to understand any computational issue, from building AWS databases, algorithmically optimize supply chain systems and build machine learning models on huge datasets. 

3. What advice would you give recent graduates looking to get into your field/area?
Coursework does not always prepare you for the tech interview process and preparing for the tech interview does not always prepare you for being successful in tech. If you want to work at a large tech company, the long and short of it is that practicing “whiteboard” (and their on-line equivalent) interview questions is required. If you want to be successful as a software developer in tech though, you need practice building software systems. The skills that you learn building software systems and practicing leetcode questions are definitely not the same. My advice would be to study leetcoding questions enough to pass an interview, but focus on creating a real application. What you learn building, deploying and maintaining(!) a real application will help you out tremendously in the long term and you will learn skills that are not taught in any lecture. 

4. What sub-field(s) in computer science excite you?
The thing that excites me is not a Computer Science sub-field, but rather the application of current technology to non-technical domains. There is tremendous impact to be made without the need for cutting edge research, just applying computational automation to a series of everyday problems to make life better for everyone. The technology that already exists can be used in tremendously impactful ways across a gamut of social, civic, educational issues; someone that understands software computation and hardware creation just needs to get creative building solutions! As a CS student, there are a ton of ways to volunteer for this as well - participate in one of the hackathons around campus (HackAZ is every January!) or checkout social media for ways to help out.

5. Are there any faculty that you would like to recognize as having an impact on you (personally, academically, etc.)? If so, how did they have an impact on you?
The main faculty that had an impact on me was one not directly in the Computer Science department. I participated in a Federal Work Study program as an undergraduate for 2 years working in the College of Architecture. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. R. Brooks Jeffery, a professor of architecture, to bootstrap the image data in the Imagen database[it’s still operational at http://imagen.arizona.edu/. This required many hours in the College of Architecture archives performing manual data capture and data correction, but at the end of my work study program all of the Architecture archives were digitized and searchable. The data-focused skills and attention to detail learned on that job under Dr. Jeffery have lead to a successful career in data science and software.