photo of Vedanth Narayanan
Vedanth Narayanan, a graduate student in computer science, did a summer internship with Tripwire.

Guest post by Vedanth Narayanan

This summer I had a great experience as in intern at Tripwire, a software company based in Portland that develops security solutions. What impressed me the most about Tripwire was how everyone there made me feel comfortable and part of the company. I remember getting coffee in the break room the first week, and multiple people stopped by to introduce themselves and ask about me. I got the sense of belonging fairly quickly. It empowered me. Although we only made small talk, I knew I could ask them for help without hesitation.

The fact that people are social at Tripwire really goes hand-in-hand with the work environment. There are multiple teams that develop and test the products. Cross-team collaboration at Tripwire is highly valued, because it’s crucial that different pieces of the puzzle are properly linked. For that reason, having the right social dynamics is really helpful.

My team gave me a small list of potential projects that I could choose to work on. I got a week to look over the projects I was interested in and choose something I found to be valuable. I really appreciated this because it didn’t box me in.

The first month was the hardest because I was trying to understand the work, the company and the culture. My team gave me the freedom to spend time on intricate problems, and when I ran into anything unusual they were always there to help me through it. They would also point me to who would be able to help me from another team.

One other thing I noticed about Tripwire (that I had not come across working at other companies) was how flat the organizational structure was. Not only was I in touch with my manager on a daily basis, but also my product owner, and even other engineering managers. I was absolutely delighted and surprised to see our CEO socializing and having a beer at a company event.

Portland’s tech culture is said to be unique, and I got a firsthand experience in it. Like you’d expect, going out to lunch was always a thrill. There were many food carts nearby, and the choices seemed unlimited. There was also a nearby Farmer’s market that set up shop every Thursday. These turned out to be a good place to socialize and it gave me a chance to meet people from other tech companies.

I loved my experience at Tripwire. Like I’d expect from any internship, not only did I learn about the company, but I also learned about myself. I was naïve when I thought the most important thing when accepting a job was the work and the people. I’ve come to learn that the work environment is just as important. I want find a job where the environment is conducive to learning, and positively supports new ideas. I am grateful to have had the chance to work there and get to know the people at Tripwire. When it’s time for me to find a job, I can confidently say Tripwire is on my list.

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Author bio: Vedanth Narayanan (who goes by Vee) graduated from Oregon State in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He is currently working to get his master’s in computer science with an option in security. He previously worked for McAfee (now Intel Security), Intel, and OSU’s Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS). He is very intrigued by the security landscape and software engineering. While he loves being in front of his computer, he is also grateful for the time away from it. During these times you will find him running, hiking, playing ultimate Frisbee or volleyball, at the Oregon coast, or cooking dinner with jazz playing in the background. An avid photographer, his camera is almost always less than ten feet from him. Although his comfort lies in landscape photography, he has recently taken an interest in portraits and lifestyle.

Photo of Bret Lorimore, Chris Vlessis and George Harder.
Bret Lorimore, Chris Vlessis and George Harder won the Best Use of Outside Data at DataFest, a nationwide event.

Computer science students Bret Lorimore, Chris Vlessis and George Harder took a big plunge into big data when they participated in DataFest, a nationwide hackathon-style event, in April.

The group won the Best Use of Outside Data award in the American Statistical Association competition hosted at over 20 universities, including Oregon State University. DataFest is a competition that challenges students to analyze a complex data set over a single weekend.

“We had nine teams with a total of 38 students from Oregon State, University of Oregon and Reed College, representing statistics, computer science, neuroscience, biophysics and biochemistry, business, math, and economics,” said Charlotte Wickham, an assistant professor of statistics at Oregon State and organizer of the event.

Competitors didn’t have any access to the data ahead of time, nor did they know where the data would come from. This year, Ticketmaster provided data that included information about the company’s Google analytics, ad words, website user “click” data and ticket sales.

Though participants were given millions of data points, the tasks they were given to accomplish were not highly defined. Students needed to decide for themselves what research question they wanted to answer and then worked to extract valuable information out of the data.

“They wanted people to come up with information that Ticketmaster could use as an actionable item to improve their business,” said team member, Lorimore.

Ultimately, the team chose to tackle the effectiveness of Ticketmaster’s advertisements.

“We found Ticketmaster was wasting a lot of money on Google keywords,” Vlessis said.

The trio discovered that people were clicking on the ads but not following through to purchase tickets and as a result, the company lost more than $1.4 million over the course of a year on ineffective advertising.

Vlessis’s startup company, SteadyBudget, happens to solve the same types of problems presented at this year’s DataFest, so the team had access to additional data from advertising analysts.

They looked at general trends of how SteadyBudget analysts interact with their advertisements and the decisions they make about placing or pulling ads. The group then used that information to help make advertising decisions for Ticketmaster.

“It was a way to automate the task of identifying poor-performing keywords and good-performing keywords and make the decision to stop paying for the ones that aren’t working and continue paying for the ones that are,” Harder said. “So we would save them money and automate the process at the same time.”

Although DataFest was about solving a data problem, it was not all about the numbers. “We spent a lot more time brainstorming and talking about what we wanted to do than sitting down and writing code,” Harder said.

“When you get that much data, it’s hard to make any sense of it,” Lorimore said. “Identifying the questions to ask is a challenge in and of itself.”

The group also gained an appreciation for the different ways people approached the data. “Seeing some of the techniques others used, and the way they went about approaching the problems and finding solutions, was stuff I never would have thought of,” Vlessis said.

Story by Gale Sumida

Carl Beery photo
Carl Beery shows the project that earned him four achievements in the Mastery Challenge.

Carl Beery, a junior in electrical and computer engineering, took first place and a cash prize of $150 in the Mastery Challenge for winter term.

The Mastery Challenge is a new extracurricular program hosted by the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Oregon State University to provide more hands-on learning opportunities for all students, regardless of major. The program is based on a concept called gamification which uses elements of game playing, such as leader boards and badges, to motivate participants to gain new abilities such as 3D modeling and Python programming.

Beery had already been working on projects on his own, but he realized the Mastery Challenge would give him a better framework for learning new abilities and more motivation for completing tasks.

“The Mastery Challenge is a good starting point to learn about topics you wouldn’t have thought about trying on your own,” Beery says. “Without it, I wouldn’t have learned how to laser cut, and laser cutting is pretty cool.”

To participate, students login to the Mastery Challenge website with their university account to see the list of challenges for which they can earn achievements. In winter term two cash prizes were awarded — one for the highest number of achievements, and a second was awarded randomly to anyone earning at least one achievement.

Beery had completed eight achievements and was tied for first place when he realized a project he had been working on for class — an audio amplifier — would qualify him for four more achievements. He simply videotaped his class presentation and uploaded it to the Mastery Challenge website as proof of completion.

“The experience Carl had was what I was hoping for — a fun way to gain new skills that will benefit him in the future as he enters the job market,” says Don Heer, creator of the Mastery Challenge program and instructor of electrical and computer engineering in the College of Engineering.

Photo of Brett Case, Logan Phipps, Taegan Warren.
Computer science freshmen, Brett Case, Logan Phipps, and Taegan Warren (left to right), won honorable mention at QuackHack.

Computer science freshmen, Brett Case, Logan Phipps and Taegan Warren had completed just one computer science class at Oregon State University, but their lack of expertise didn’t stop them from participating in QuackHack. The 40-hour gaming hackathon, held at the University of Oregon, challenged students to take an idea for a game and create a working prototype in a single weekend.

The trio entered the event for the learning experience and to see if they could create something with the basic programming skills they acquired in their introductory computer science class.

To their surprise, the virtual card game they created — in which players build hamburgers and feed them to the opponent — won an honorable mention for Best Scope, awarded to a team that had a reasonable goal and excellent execution of that goal.

“The judges were impressed not only by their execution, but how well the students knew their own skill in going after a project that was equal parts ambitious and reasonable,” said Jeff Bayes, QuackHack organizer.

More than 100 college students from 6 states, 14 universities and 16 different majors participated in the hackathon.

“We didn’t really expect to compete against more experienced people, but we decided we might as well go for it for our own benefit,” Phipps said.

“We just wanted to go and have fun and try to make something,” Case agreed.

To create their game within the short time frame, the team divvied up the programming components of the project. In the end, their separate functions had to come together to make the game work.

coding“It really makes you appreciate thorough design and pseudocode and flowcharts,” said Phipps. Jennifer [Parham-Mocello], our CS 160 professor, always talks about design, design, design. You
really need to have a large-scale design in advance; otherwise you can end up way over your head or you end up spending the entire time trying to debug.”

The teamwork is also crucial. “We helped each other with our weaknesses and built upon our strengths,” Warren said.

Parham-Mocello, who teaches the introductory computer science class, was thrilled with the students’ success. “This drives home what we teach: design, how to think and how to work in teams. They’re utilizing the principles that industry wants to see,” she said. “It’s not just about banging out code. We’re teaching students the proper way to do things from the very beginning.”

Story and photos by Gale Sumida

team photo
dEATS team: Vahid Ghadakchi (computer science), Elijah Mcgowen (finance), Josh Cosio (marketing), and Dylan Gould (entrepreneurship).

Computer science graduate student, Vahid Ghadakchi, decided to step out of his normal life one weekend this fall and try something new. So, he put aside his Ph.D. thesis work and attended the Willamette Startup Weekend at Oregon State University — a 50 hour event to inspire entrepreneurship.

Not only did his team win the second place prize for their app, but they are continuing to develop it into a business.

At the event, Vahid was quickly snapped up by business students Dylan Gould (entrepreneurship), Josh Cosio (marketing) and Elijah Mcgowen (finance) for their team. The three came to the event together with an idea for an app that restaurants could use to help bring in business during slow times. Vahid filled the team’s need for a computer scientist to implement their idea.

Initially the team just wanted to have some fun and learn some skills, but once they started market testing the app with businesses and potential users they realized their product could go farther than a weekend contest. Nearly all of the businesses they talked to said they would use the app, and one expressed interest being a beta tester.  Customer responses were very positive as well.

Restaurants could use the app, called dEATS, to post discount deals that would last for a limited amount of time, such as 30 minutes. The app would have a count-down timer so customers would know how long the deal would be active. The product would help businesses drive customers to their restaurants during slow times, and customers could get ideas for where to go by checking the app for deals.

The team is planning to apply to the OSU’s Advantage Accelerator to help develop their idea into a business, and is looking for more engineers to join the team to make the business a reality.

Vahid said that the experience was a great break from working on his thesis and he also learned some valuable skills that go beyond what can be learned in the classroom.

“I realized how important it is for a computer science student to learn to communicate with people in business and other areas, because they have a different perspective that can help you develop a better product,” Vahid said.

Story by Rachel Robertson

Phylicia Cicilio

Phylicia Cicilio’s project to help a rural Alaskan community improve the reliability and cost of their electric power microgrid will be funded by the Evans Family Graduate Fellowship in Humanitarian Engineering at Oregon State University. The fellowship will pay for her travel next summer to Alaska to meet with the community and work out the details of the project.

“I’m really excited to travel there and work with the people. I’m from rural Vermont, so I love rural communities,” said Cicilio, a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering, advised by Professor Eduardo Cotilla-Sanchez.

Cicilio’s move to Oregon State this fall marked a switch in her career. Her undergraduate degree is in chemical engineering, but after a year of working in the field she realized that electrical engineering would allow her to better pursue her broad interests in renewable energy.

The project in Alaska will allow her to integrate her focus on renewables with her other interests in energy storage and microgrids, and her desire to help rural communities. Although she has not yet settled on which community she will be helping, there are several options where she can make an impact.

“People in rural Alaska pay 15 times more than everyone else in the U.S., so one goal could be to see how inexpensively we can produce electricity,” she said. “They also live a subsistence lifestyle and don’t deal with money, so paying for utilities can be a problem. Having a system that can be run by the people would be a huge benefit.”

Matthew Johnson photoAlthough Matthew Johnson knew he wanted to be an engineer eventually, he felt compelled to accomplish another goal first — become a Marine.

“I was 12 when 9/11 happened and that had a big impact on me. I felt like I wanted to serve and make a difference,” said Johnson, a computer science student at Oregon State University. He chose the infantry in U.S. Marine Corps because he felt they were the best of the best.

Johnson served as a Marine for four years, including a deployment to Afghanistan, and then started on his goal of becoming an industrial engineer. But after one term at Oregon State, a job opening for a police officer in Sweet Home caught his attention. “I felt like I wasn’t done serving yet,” he said.

It turned out to be a job he really enjoyed because he could see the positive impact the police force had on the community, such as reducing the methamphetamine problem in the area. He considered making the police force a career, but after his son was born he decided a high-stress job was not the right fit for his role as a new father. So Johnson returned to Oregon State to complete his degree in industrial engineering but as he progressed through the program, he realized his favorite classes were the ones related to computer science.

“I had no computer science experience before my industrial engineering coursework, so that was my introduction to it. And my favorite part was the algorithms — being able to think through a logical set of steps to solve a problem,” he said.

Johnson switched his major to computer science, and after just two terms, he took a job with the Open Source Lab (OSL) as a software engineer. The OSL is part of the Center for Applied Systems and Software (CASS) and provides industry, government, and university clients with software development, testing and hosting solutions.

A key benefit for working at the OSL was having the opportunity to work on industry projects to experience the workflow. He also honed his software development skills and was exposed to many computer languages. In addition, working at the OSL has given Johnson a chance to connect with other computer science majors which is sometimes difficult for a non-traditional student who goes home to family (he now has two children) after a full day of school and work.

This year Johnson was awarded a scholarship from CBT Nuggets, which has allowed him to buy things needed for school like a new laptop. “Making that transition from a full-time job was really hard especially with a family. So, having that extra income every term makes a humongous difference,” he said.

Johnson is so convinced that switching to computer science was a good decision that he is encouraging his younger brother to come to Oregon State and major in computer science once he is out of the Marines. It would continue the Beaver tradition in his family — both his parents graduated from Oregon State, his mother in marketing and his father in industrial engineering.

Although there were a few twist and turns on his way to computer science, Johnson is looking forward to the possibilities the career holds for him.

“I definitely want to develop software in the future — whether it be a place like Intel, or a software specific place like Puppet Labs or CoreOS, I’m not sure yet. And someday, after I get a lot of experience, I’d like to start my own company,” he said.

Pranjal Mittal
Pranjal Mittal, computer science graduate student at Oregon State.

Pranjal Mittal was initially thwarted from studying computer science in college, but never lost his excitement for it. Now a master’s student in computer science at Oregon State University, he was honored this year with an Intel fellowship.

Mittal wanted to pursue computer science as early as high school, but the determining factor for his major was an entrance examination for the Indian Institute of Technology. After studying for two years for the exam that one million people take, he was selected to be an electronics engineering major instead of his first choice.

But he did not give up his passion for computer science. He was able to take courses in computer science while in college and sought out other opportunities to learn on his own. He started by building websites for college events and then moved on to writing more complex web applications.

It was what he did next that changed the course of his career.

During his junior year, he was confident enough in his programming skills to apply for the Google Summer of Code, a global program that offers stipends to students to work remotely on open source projects with a mentoring organization. The project he applied for was with Oregon State’s Open Source Lab (OSL) to work on tool for the Ganeti Web Manager. He enjoyed it so much that he returned to the OSL through Google Summer of Code the following year. The experience of working with the people at OSL encouraged him to apply to graduate school at Oregon State.

“The Open Source Lab is very famous in the open source community and I thought if an Oregon State lab and its members were so amazing then the university should be amazing too,” Mittal said.

At the time of his decision to move to the U.S. for graduate school, Mittal had other opportunities. He already had a job with Citrix in India, and he and three other teammates were finalists in the Google Cloud Developer Challenge, which led to an opportunity to develop the application into a commercial product.

He decided to pursue a master’s because it was an opportunity to advance his knowledge in computer science and it also offered him a chance to be a teaching assistant. It was his first teaching experience and he has really enjoyed helping new students learn about web and cloud computing.

As part of his fellowship with Intel, Mittal will mentor three senior capstone project teams (nine students) who are working on a cloud computing project; an extension of the work he did as an Intel intern. “It feels great to be a link between Oregon State and Intel for further industrial collaboration on research and development,” he said.

Mittal is also conducting research work in cloud computing related to container-based clouds and plans to write his master’s thesis in this area.

“Most of the technology you see today is somehow connected to the cloud, it is the backbone of so many fields, making it an area in which even small research advances can have a huge impact,” he said.

Story by Rachel Robertson

Kyler Stole
Kyler Stole, intern at the Global Sports Innovation Center in Madrid, poses in front of the Formula One car display.

Guest post by Kyler Stole

This summer I had the awesome opportunity to intern in Spain. Working with IE3 Global (OSU’s partner organization for international internships) and another organization in Spain, I was accepted to an internship at the brand new Global Sports Innovation Center (GSIC) in Madrid! The GSIC is a new Microsoft Innovation Center that aims to bring more technology into the sports industry. It operates as a business accelerator and as it continues to grow, it has been constantly adding new startups, associates and strategic partners.

When I arrived in the middle of June, the center had only been open for a month, and it still seemed rather unsure of what it might turn into. I showed up at the center the Monday after finals week ready to get to work but without any clear idea of what the GSIC did. Admittedly, showing up at an unfamiliar company in an unfamiliar country is a bit uncomfortable, but it’s also thrilling. I’ve studied Spanish for many years and I was excited to apply it to my new position.

Being such a new project, the center only has a few employees. It’s situated in the same block as the Palacio de Deportes (Barclaycard Center) and it consists of three floors, with a technology showcase at street level and business operations on the floors above. The showroom presents technology from Microsoft and other partners, which includes several Xbox Ones, multiple Windows Phones and Surface Pro tablets, and large flat screen TVs displaying promotional videos. However, the biggest crowd draw is without question the massive Formula One car located in the front window. I spent most of my time on the upper floors, where white architecture with modern design make them appealing spaces for the center’s partners to hold meetings and large events.

As a GSIC intern, I was allowed to join meetings in which new startups became partners, communicate with current partners to organize events, and I even sat alongside members of the media when Microsoft held their press conference to present Windows 10. While any new job comes with some grunt work, and I had my fill of translating documents to English and data entry assignments, I eventually got the opportunity to work on web tasks for the center. I started a new website to promote communication between the center’s many partners and I also met with the company that developed the center’s website so that I could contribute several necessary improvements.

Living and working in a foreign country is an incredible experience and I recommend that anyone who has such a privilege should take full advantage of the opportunity. I was able to expand my understanding of the work culture, not only in Spain, but in other parts of the world as well. With the vast number of international partners that came through the GSIC, I learned how global businesses can collaborate to realize mutual benefits and got to see technology prototypes before release. I improved my language abilities, explored the country in my free time, and met people that will remain friends and business contacts for the rest of my life.

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Kyler Stole grew up in Beaverton, OR, where he attended the International School of Beaverton and graduated with an IB Diploma. As the son of a mechanical and a chemical engineer, Kyler is proud to be part of EECS at Oregon State. He is also a member of the International Degree (ID) program and the University Honors College. He is now in his junior year at OSU and preparing to embark on his first MECOP internship while also working on his undergraduate thesis.

He has worked with both software and web development and helps to maintain the EECS portion of the OSU website in his role as an EECS Peer Mentor. He especially enjoys projects where he can mix programming logic with graphic design, and hopes to become a full-time iOS application developer.

Outside of academia, he’s very passionate about soccer and spends a lot of his time playing pick-up games on the intramural fields. He also enjoys other sports and outdoor activities including basketball, hiking, running, and riding his bike. To fulfill ID requirements and improve his Spanish, he has lived in Costa Rica and Spain during the past summers, and hopes to continue travelling after he graduates.

2015 Oregon State AIAA team
The 2015 Oregon State AIAA team at the Intercollegiate Rocketry Engineering Competition held in Green River, Utah.

For the second year in a row, the Oregon State University’s branch of AIAA (American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics) took first place in the payload competition at the Intercollegiate Rocketry Engineering Competition held in Green River, Utah. The team also placed third in the overall competition in the advanced category that targets an altitude of 25,000 feet — their launch reached 17,611 feet and a maximum speed of Mach 1.4.

The competition, hosted by the Experimental Sounding Rocketry Association (ESRA), had 41 rockets launched this year by 36 different colleges representing seven countries (Australia, Brazil, Canada, Egypt, India, Turkey and the U.S.).

Oregon State’s team stood out in the competition for building nearly all of the components themselves. In fact, computer science student, Soo-Hyun Yoo said he had a hard time getting the judges to notice the extra work the team put in.

“All of the other teams at the competition had an aerospace program and bought off-the-shelf components. There were a very limited number of teams who built their own software and electronics and so very few people were asking about those things. I had to try really hard to make sure they realized the significance of having our own system that we can build on and modify to fit various needs,” he said.

Yoo said that a few of the payload judges were very excited about their original components and it was what likely earned them the payload award again this year. The award is prestigious because it includes all the teams in the competition from both the basic and advanced categories, and comes with a $700 prize. Since the award has been offered just two times, Oregon State is the only team to win it.

Oregon State AIAA Club rocket.
Going, going, gone. Oregon State took first place in the payload competition and placed third in the overall competition for the advanced category at the Intercollegiate Rocketry Engineering Competition.

The payload is the main purpose of sounding rockets, which are designed to conduct scientific experiments. The Oregon State team built a deployable payload in the nose cone of the rocket that deploys at the highest altitude and uses propellers to accelerate downward to counteract aerodynamic drag force and achieve microgravity in order to conduct experiments in a zero gravity environment.

Oregon State team arms the rocket.
The OSU team toggles the external power buttons to physically arm the electronics in the rocket. The ‘live’ circuits are connected to black powder ignition charges, hence the protective face masks.
OSU ground station engineers.
The ground station engineers attempt to make a radio connection with the transmitters in the rocket from 750 feet away. The receivers needed to be elevated in order to make the connection.

This year’s team built significantly on the success of last year’s rocket which won the basic category (targeting 10,000 feet) in 2014 at their first competition. Four sub-teams contributed to this year’s rocket: a payload team, a structures team, a propulsion team, and an aerodynamics and recovery team. At Oregon State’s 2015 Engineering Expo the payload team won the industry award for electrical and computer engineering and earned honorable mention recognition for the Boeing Engineering Excellence Award.

Elliott Fudim, an electrical and computer engineering student who joined the club as a senior, hopes that other students will discover the club sooner than he did and have more years to advance the rocket.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever been a part of. And it’s important to keep on setting the bar higher,” Fudim said.

Yoo agreed, “I don’t think many students at OSU can say they made something that broke the speed of sound. It’s pretty cool stuff.”

Both Fudim and Yoo said that aside from the cool factor of being able to build a rocket, the experience of working on a cross-disciplinary team was more realistic to what they will experience working in industry. Additionally, working on a rocket that deals with extreme conditions such as speed and temperature offered interesting challenges.

“The limited test cycle in which we only get a few chances to launch and the cost of failure is high, was a learning experience. Getting it right the first time was stressful but also exhilarating,” Yoo said.

The team performed on-ground tests of the various systems and also practiced their launch setup to make sure everything went smoothly on competition day (view photos). Their only full-flight test was performed in Brothers, Oregon near Bend where they could secure a waiver from the FAA for air space.

For future competitions, the club has begun developing an experimental hybrid rocket motor. The current rocket is a solid propellant rocket with a simple ignition – “you light it and it just goes,” explained Yoo. The hybrid rocket will have a throttle to adjust the thrust depending on need.

This year’s team was able to compete with the support of their sponsors: Advanced Circuits, CadSoft EAGLE, and the College of Engineering at Oregon State. “We couldn’t have done this without them,” Fudim said.

-Story by Rachel Robertson

View more photos at the AIAA Flickr album