Ziad EldebriGraduate student Ziad Eldebri was the winner of the Lattice Hackathon Contest hosted by Lattice Semiconductor. He was awarded the grand prize of $5,000 and a trip to the Consumer Electronics Show 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Eldebri competed against other students across the country to create an original idea on how to improve a battery powered device using Lattice FPGA. Eldebri’s winning idea was to develop a LIPO battery charger that could be used in any product that uses Lattice FPGAs.

“It was awesome, because I got to attend the Consumer Electronics Show and see state of the art electronics that ranged from 3D printed cars to drones that will talk to you,” Eldebri said. “I also got to learn more about Lattice Products and FPGAs.”

The goal of the competition was to create new ideas on how we can use FPGAs to improve our lives and the electronic devices that we use every day.

Story by Taylor Mrzena

Rey Pocius
Rey Pocius had a great experience as an intern at Metal Toad as a freshman.

Guest Post by Rey Pocius

As a freshman it’s pretty difficult to land an internship because most companies are looking for people with more experience or students who will be graduating soon. But it is possible! This summer I had the opportunity to work for Metal Toad, a software consulting company in Portland, Oregon that offers technical consulting, product development, application support, and managed cloud services to a broad set of clients such as major TV networks, non-profits, health institutions, cultural institutions (such as The Emmys and Golden Globes), and corporations in the technology sector.

I took the initiative to email the marketing manager which eventually led to a phone conversation. I found that professionals in the Portland software community are surprisingly very willing to spend time talking with you. We talked about what the company did and the culture of the company. After some time I was able to speak to the director of human resources and we talked about the internship program, the logistics, and how I could fit into the company as an intern. This led to a phone interview and then a second interview at the company site.

The interview was different from what I had expected — it was less technical, and more centered on cultural fit. I then followed up with email thanking them all for their time and saying that I was looking forward to hearing back to them about the position. About a week later they replied to me asking me if I was still available to take the position.

It was a learning experience for all of us. The company is relatively small and their internship program is still growing and changing, so I was their first intern “guinea pig.” I was new to the formal workplace and was doing something completely new to me — DevOps.

My First Day

I took the internship without having seen the office where I’d be working. It was not what I expected. There were no cubicles, but rather it had an open floor plan. Software developers and other professionals sat next to each other. I was to contribute my expertise to the cloud services (or DevOps) team. Our job was to configure custom cloud services to help align with what the software developers are doing and what the clients want.

I immediately asked for things to do and I was given task after task by my mentor, who was the senior engineer on the team. It seemed like there was an endless amount of things for me to do if I was willing to learn, so I took on whatever I could, even if I had no knowledge about it.

Our team used the Kanban methodology, which produces tickets or tasks from a list of things to do. The Kanban methodology is similar to having a wall covered in sticky “to-do” notes. Members of teams then finished tasks on a first come first serve basis. This methodology worked very well for the small and experienced DevOps team. Everyone on the team was capable of taking on anything coming their way.

Lessons Learned

I took advantage of the resources that I had to learn as much as I could over the 12-week internship. I contributed to several internal DevOps along with working on some client side projects. One experience that students don’t always have access to during undergraduate course work is seeing how a consulting firm, such as Metal Toad, interacts with the clients continuously to create and maintain great products. Being at a small software company allowed me to see all sides of the operations, which was invaluable. Not only was I able to learn and get advice from my mentors, but I was able to learn about the business end of things along with how our work affects our clients and software developers.

Extra-Curricular Fun

Being in the city exposed me to other software companies in the area. Our company was part of the Portland Tech Intern Experience which is a collaborative effort to give a voice to Portland’s growing and diverse tech industry. I would highly recommend this organization to gain greater access to players in the Portland tech industry. The program offered several different networking events and lunch learning sessions that helped unite and nurture the Portland tech scene. During these network events, I met and learned from former interns, and was exposed to future technologies areas of computer science such as deep learning. I also met CEOs, angel investors, and recruiters.

The networking experience that I gained from this internship is invaluable to me. It really opened my eyes to the special software company culture that Portland has. The CEO of Metal Toad encouraged the interns to message people on LinkedIn who they want to learn more about, and ask them for 30 minutes of their time for coffee, or for anything. Driven interns, even “guinea pigs” who can convince companies they’re able to learn and tackle just about any new task, will find that people are more than willing to help you.


Author biography:

Rey Pocius grew up in Elmhurst, IL, where he attended York Community High School. He moved to Oregon in pursuit of the growing tech scene in Portland and the thriving programs at Oregon State. He is also the President of the Oregon State University Association for Computing Machinery student chapter (OSU ACM).

He is very passionate about informing others about the ever growing tech field and helping people find the help they need to launch their careers. He is also particularly interested in deep learning and robotics. He hopes to focus his research and efforts into those two areas.

Outside of academia he enjoys playing tennis and spending a lot of time hiking around the Corvallis area. So don’t be surprised if you find him on some of the local trails. He also enjoys painting and working on software side projects.

Winning iDash team
The winning iDASH team for the “Secure Outsourcing” challenge. Peter Rindal is second to the left.

Graduate student Peter Rindal was on the winning team at an international computer security competition hosted by iDASH, a National Center for Biomedical Computing. The team members were interns and postdocs at Microsoft Research competing against seven other groups from around the world to win the “Secure Outsourcing” challenge.

“The competition pushed us to develop promising new research and brought us together with people in healthcare who want to see this technology in the real world,” Rindal said.

The goal of the competition was to advance the state-of-the-art for research on information privacy for genetic data. An application of their project could be secure cloud storage for medical data so patients and doctors could query data without revealing sensitive information to the cloud (e.g., predisposition to Alzheimer’s disease).

Specifically, the group calculated the probability of genetic diseases through matching a set of biomarkers to encrypted genomes stored in a commercial cloud service. The matching was carried out using a process called homomorphic encryption, which leaves no trace of the computation, so that only the patient and doctors can learn the answer to the question.

Margaret Burnet
Margaret Burnett gives a keynote address at FSE 2016.

Oregon State University faculty and students were well represented at the premiere software engineering conference, ACM SIGSOFT International Symposium on the Foundations of Software Engineering (FSE 2016) in Seattle November 13-18, 2016.

Distinguished Professor Margaret Burnett gave a keynote address titled Womenomics and Gender-Inclusive Software: What Software Engineers Need to Know, and five of the 74 papers presented there were from Oregon State which is an honor in itself. However, two of those papers were selected to receive Distinguished Paper Awards. Both papers aim to improve the efficiency of software development:

API Code Recommendation Using Statistical Learning from Fine-grained Changes

by Anh Nguyen, Michael Hilton, Mihai Codoban, Hoan Nguyen, Lily Mast, Eli Rademacher, Tien Nguyen and Danny Dig

Distinguished Paper Award
Distinguished Paper Award, FSE 2016. Pictured (left to right): Mihai Codoban (OSU alumus, now at Microsoft), Danny Dig (OSU), Michael Hilton (OSU) , Tien Nguyen (UT Dallas.) and three conference organizers.

Abstract: Learning and remembering how to use APIs is difficult. While code- completion tools can recommend API methods, browsing a long list of API method names and their documentation is tedious. Moreover, users can easily be overwhelmed with too much information. We present a novel API recommendation approach that taps into the predictive power of repetitive code changes to provide relevant API recommendations for developers. Our approach and tool, APIREC, is based on statistical learning from fine-grained code changes and from the context in which those changes were made. Our empirical evaluation shows that APIREC correctly recommends an API call in the first position 59% of the time, and it recommends the correct API call in the top 5 positions 77% of the time. This is a significant improvement over the state-of-the-art approaches by 30-160% for top-1 accuracy, and 10-30% for top-5 accuracy, respectively. Our result shows that APIREC performs well even with a one-time, minimal training dataset of 50 publicly available projects.

Foraging and Navigations, Fundamentally: Developers’ Predictions of Value and Cost

by David Piorkowski, Austin Henley, Tahmid Nabi, Scott Fleming, Christopher Scaffidi and Margaret Burnett

Distinguished Paper Award, FSE 2016.
Distinguished Paper Award, FSE 2016. Pictured (left to right) Margaret Burnett (OSU), Scott Fleming (Univ. Memphis, former OSU postdoc), David Piorkowski (OSU alum, now at IBM Research), Austin Henley (Univ. Memphis), and three conference organizers.

Abstract: Empirical studies have revealed that software developers spend 35%–50% of their time navigating through source code during development activities, yet fundamental questions remain: Are these percentages too high, or simply inherent in the nature of software development? Are there factors that somehow determine a lower bound on how effectively developers can navigate a given information space? Answering questions like these requires a theory that captures the core of developers’ navigation decisions. Therefore, we use the central proposition of Information Foraging Theory to investigate developers’ ability to predict the value and cost of their navigation decisions. Our results showed that over 50% of developers’ navigation choices produced less value than they had predicted and nearly 40% cost more than they had predicted. We used those results to guide a literature analysis, to investigate the extent to which these challenges are met by current research efforts, revealing a new area of inquiry with a rich and crosscutting set of research challenges and open problems.

Chris ScaffidiGuest post by:
Prof. Chris Scaffidi, computer science, Oregon State University

Many people ask me whether they should pursue graduate school in computer science. Answering this question requires explaining what graduate school is good for.

For the Ph.D., the answer is relatively simple. A Ph.D. primarily focuses on training students to do research. It also provides other skills, but that is the main focus. As such, it is appropriate and necessary training for anyone who wants to become a tenured professor.

For the master’s degree, the answer deserves more discussion. It is also an important discussion because almost 85% of all graduate degrees granted in computer science were master’s degrees (according to the 2015 Taulbee Survey). To avoid relying on just my own opinions, I asked six students who have graduated from the master’s program at Oregon State University about what their training had accomplished, what aspects of the program were most valuable, and whether the value justified the cost overall.

Improved capabilities

My former students explained that earning a master’s degree in computer science expanded four areas of capabilities.

  1. Graduate school developed these former students’ ability to master material efficiently. One student explained that his employer valued his “ability to quickly grasp existing knowledge on some relatively advanced topics.” Others also commented on their enhanced ability to learn new frameworks, languages, concepts, and tools.
  2. They also commented on how the program increased their problem-solving skills. This manifested differently for each person. One noted that he had “a more rounded way of approaching problems,” while another commented that supervisors “appreciate my critical thinking ability, [and] a systematic approach to problem solving.”
  3. Several former students commented on how the program had strengthened communication skills. One indicated, “In my experience, my employer values my presentation and writing skills just as much as my technical knowledge.”
  4. Finally, they commented on the value of specific technical knowledge obtained from graduate school. This included AI, machine learning, Big Data, Java, JavaScript, and other specific technologies that my former students now use in their work.

Valuable aspects of graduate school

Three aspects of graduate school came up as being of most value.

  1. All but one former student commented on how their project experiences contributed to knowledge. All of these developed computer software during their studies, as part of their research projects. Actually doing advanced software development with a mentor, rather than just learning about it, provided a context for skill development. For example, one wrote, “Graduate school was a lot different [from undergraduate studies] because I had to go further out of my comfort zone to succeed, learning new languages and systems as needed” while another summarized “It’s all about the people and the projects.”
  2. Several noted the importance of finding faculty willing to connect their expertise to students’ needs. This is a team effort — the advisor (me) has a only a certain range of expertise, which meant that students also valued getting help from other helpful faculty who taught courses outside my own range. For instance, one former student wrote, “All faculty members and existing grad students are doing interesting work, and everyone is approachable.”
  3. Finally, all noted the importance of industry-relevant experiences, in addition to research. These included doing internships, using technologies relevant to industry needs, and interacting with people from industry. In fact, several pointed out the need to strengthen these aspects of our program at Oregon State University. (All six of these former students were doing research, as they started the program prior to our new master’s track tailored to the needs of students who want to pursue a career in industry, rather than in research.) For example, one commented on the importance of “classes that are geared towards master’s students who want to go on and become software developers and want to gain knowledge about practical applications of theoretical concepts.”

Does the value exceed the cost?

The five students reported to me that they incurred between $0 and $20,000 in total out-of-pocket costs, due to the fact that they received assistantships for some or all of their terms at Oregon State University.

So, in the end, was obtaining a master’s degree worth it? All confirmed that the value exceeded the cost. One pointed out that people with master’s degrees often have higher salaries than those with bachelor’s. The difference appears to be approximately $7,000 per year right now, varying somewhat based on job title and location (according to payscale.com data for bachelor’s and master’s degrees). The payoff might not be immediate, however. For example, one student noted that he had to switch jobs at least once after graduating in order to obtain a position that made use of his increased skills and paid a higher salary.

Bottom line: What is a master’s degree in computer science good for?

My former students identified four areas of enhanced capability that included soft and technical skills. They obtained these largely through industry-relevant experiences, projects, and mentorship from committed faculty. They believed their employers noticed and valued their improved capabilities, which translated into a higher-paying career.

I hope that this information will be useful to you or to colleagues that might be considering whether to get a graduate degree. We will use this and other feedback to continue enhancing our own program in order to better meet the needs of our students. If you would like to contact me and ask questions, please feel free to send me a LinkedIn invitation.

HWeekend F16

Students spent 30 consecutive hours of engineering design, teamwork, and development at HWeekend on October 8-9, sponsored by the College of Engineering. The theme was “Show’em What You Got!”, and participants did just that, creating some of the most complete projects of any HWeekend. The purpose of the theme was to encourage projects that could be submitted to national competitions.

HWeekend Teensy Soldering
Audrina Hahn solders components to a Teensy board.

It was the sixth iteration of the highly successful event that gives engineering and business students an entire weekend to develop an idea and prototype it. Forty-two students participated with majors in electrical and computer engineering, computer science, mechanical engineering, nuclear engineering, and finance.

After some breakout brainstorming sessions and presentations of their ideas, participants split into 10 teams to work on their projects. The diverse ideas included a modified game of laser tag, a guitar that could tune itself, and a smart shin guard paired with a virtual reality environment.

One of the groups returned from the previous HWeekend held during Spring term. That group continued with their effort to build a ferrofluid display using individually wound electromagnets. The other groups were much newer to their projects, such as the mobile coffee heater group, which worked on finding components they could use to heat liquids in a drinking cup.

“The beautiful thing about this is that it’s fast paced and you really see results, even if they’re not exactly the results you hope for,” says Audrina Hahn, a mechanical engineering student, who worked on the Open Laser Tag project.

This event made use of the all-new Buxton Hall Makerspace, the Mastery Challenge lounge, and the Virtual Makerspace, which gave students access to 3D printing, soldering irons, a drill press, and laser cutting.

“It’s really amazing all the resources that we have available to us that are really simple to use and are things that are up-and-coming that we will probably continue to use into our careers,” Hahn says.

Intel mentor helps a group with their project idea
A mentor from Intel assists the VR shin guard group.

Mentors for this HWeekend included eight industry representatives. Martin Held from Microsemi returned to guide teams and answer hardware questions. Multiple mentors arrived from Intel in Hillsboro, including several recent graduates of Oregon State. These mentors split up to help on projects where their experience helped groups work with unfamiliar technologies. One group that benefitted was the motion tracking robot team, which received help with OpenCV from a mentor who revealed a personal interest in assembly programming.

Ben Buford was one of the recent graduates who came back from Intel to provide mentorship. He spent most of his time contributing to the ferrofluid display.

“I love seeing people come up with quick solutions that let them accomplish something and overcome obstacles that they didn’t know existed three hours prior,” Buford says.

Beyond the satisfaction of completing prototypes of their ideas, students at HWeekend compete for two group awards. The Executors award goes to the team that produces the best execution of their original idea to create the most polished final product and the Helping Hand is for the team that contributes the most to other teams. At this HWeekend, the Arbitrarily Tuned Stringed Instrument team was selected for both awards. The team included members Keaton Scheible, Youthamin “Bear” Philavastvanid, Elliot Highfill, and Savannah Loberger.

Story by Kyler Stole

View the Flickr album.

 

Photo at the 30th Annual Small Satellite Conference in Utah.
Helena Bales poses with her lab group at in front of the NASA booth at the 30th Annual Small Satellite Conference. From left to right, Hollis Neel, Graham Grable, Megan Le Corre, Roger Hunter, David Cotten, Khoa Ngo, Paige Copenhaver, Nirav Ilango, Helena Bales, Caleb Adams. Paige and Caleb hold an engineering model of a cubesat launched by NASA.

Guest post by Helena Bales

I had an amazing experience this summer at the University of Georgia working in the Small Satellite Research Lab. The lab was founded by undergraduate students, myself included, partnering with professors, NASA, and the U.S. Air Force. Space seems impossibly far away and hard to get to, but with the increased popularity and strength of the small satellite community, it is now easier than ever to reach, even for self-funded, undergraduate engineering students.

We started as a small group of students and created a crowdfunding campaign with the goal of launching a small satellite into orbit. Most of the students on the project were at the University of Georgia (UGA). We had reached out to faculty members in the UGA geography department to see if they wanted a science payload to fly on our CubeSat. CubeSats are small satellites of a specific size. For example, a “1U” CubeSat is 10 cm wide, 10 cm deep, and 11 cm tall. The standard size has aided the commercialization of space.

SPOC mission patch
The mission patch for the Small Satellite that will perform multi-spectral analyses of the Georgia coast.

Currently, we have two CubeSat projects and about 20 members. The CubeSats launch off the International Space Station. One will look at Earth in order to track sediment plumes, algal blooms, and chemical runoff around Georgia. The other will create 3D maps of large geographic features such as mountains. We couldn’t have dreamed that this project would end up where it is now — a lab run by undergraduate students with two fully funded satellite projects.

My role in the lab is to develop the algorithms that we need to accomplish our mission objectives. That mostly involves adapting existing algorithms for use on orbit. Running software on orbit has different limitations than on the ground, so the software needs to be adjusted accordingly. For example, when dealing with space, engineers must take account of power shortages, overheating, and time limitations that might compromise transmission of data. Fortunately, we know these constraints ahead of time. With careful planning and testing, we can insure that our code will run on orbit.

The process of developing cube satellites posed both unique opportunities and struggles. As undergrads, trying to figure out how to build two satellites, we are all learning together. And the experience of working at the Small Satellite Research Lab is incomparable to most undergraduate experiences, because of the nature of the project and the close relationships developed through solving problems in space. Balancing the demands of the project takes a close-knit group of scientists and engineers and communication between group members. Through the experience we have built a productive lab and became close friends.

MOCI patch
The mission patch for the Small Satellite that will create 3D point clouds of large geographic features.

Eight of our members (myself included) received scholarships to attend the Small Satellite Conference in Logan, Utah. At that conference we had the opportunity to attend six days of talks about every aspect of small satellite missions. We all learned more than we could have imagined. We were also able to network with industry professionals from organizations like NASA and SpaceX. That week opened our eyes to issues that we hadn’t thought about yet, and introduced us to new satellite hardware vendors. When we returned from the conference, we were equipped to onboard new lab members, finalize our payloads, design our ground station, and plan outreach events.

Despite ongoing encouragement and success, we continue to struggle with getting the funding that we need to make a lab that can support multiple space missions. For example, using space-grade hardware requires a cleanroom in order to assemble our satellite to meet the standards set by NASA and the U.S. Air Force, who have each funded our missions. The funding we’ve received for the projects assumes that there is already a lab that is outfitted with all the supplies necessary to build and test a CubeSat, so we face the additional hurdle of establishing our lab.

I’m proud to be part of a group that welcomes challenges instead taking the easy route — an important characteristic for the next generation of scientists and engineers solving problem in the limitless reaches of space. With creativity and persistence, the University of Georgia Small Satellite Research Lab is pushing itself and reaching new heights.

—————

Author biography:

Helena Bales grew up in Portland and is a senior in computer science. In addition to her ongoing work at the UGA Small Satellite Research Lab, she works on campus as a software developer at the Valley Library. She spent last summer at NASA’s Johnson Space Center developing applications for the daily operation of the International Space Station. Her internships have fueled her interest in space and she plans to pursue a career in the aerospace industry after graduation.

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.

——————–

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.

Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos
Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos, advisors for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science pose with Benny the Beaver.

In their role as advisors, Lizbeth Marquez and Nick Malos help hundreds of students in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science navigate their way through college. Their goal is to help students succeed and ultimately earn their Oregon State degrees. According to a recent report from the Commission on the Future of Undergraduate Education, only 60 percent of college freshmen get a bachelor’s degree within six years. While there are many reasons students don’t complete their degrees, Lizbeth and Nick have some advice to offer to help you succeed.

Lizbeth’s Advice

  1. Get Organized
    College can be different from high school in that high school teachers tend to lead you through all the homework and due dates. In college, the professors post the assignments — often for the entire semester — and expect you to be prepared. Get a planner, use a smart phone app, or get a wall calendar — whatever it takes for you to know when assignments are due.
  2. Find the right place to study
    It may be your dorm room or a cozy corner of the library, but find a place that works best for you to get your work done — while avoiding as many distractions as possible. There are many places to go such as the MU, the Valley Library, your residence hall, or most buildings on campus!
  3. Seek a balance
    College life can be chaotic with various academic and social events. Make sure you stay balanced and don’t overload yourself. One way you can do this is by visiting OSU’s Mind Spa.
  4. Get involved
    You may feel overwhelmed with being homesick or feeling like you don’t belong. We encourage you to consider joining a student group (and be careful not to go overboard), whether it’s academic, religious, athletic, cultural, or social. You’ll make new friends, learn new skills, and feel more connected to OSU.
  5. Take advantage of the academic resources
    Most schools and colleges offer study tables or have tutors available. If you’re having difficulty, these resources are another tool available to you. Another idea: Talk to your classmates about getting a group together to study.

 

Nick’s Advice

  1. Explore your major and career options
    It is important to remember there is no one “right” or “best” major. You should select a major that aligns with your skills, interests, and goals. Talking with a career counselor in the Career Development Center can help you explore the options. Don’t be afraid to change your major. It is estimated that about 80% of undergraduate students across the United States change their major at least once (National Center for Education Statistics, n.d.).
  2. Get to know your fellow students
    It can feel intimidating at first, but it is important to get to know your fellow students because they can be a great resource. What better way to find others who share your same interests?
  3. Get to know your professors
    Talk to your professors and attend their office hours. I promise they are not as scary as you might think. Professors are here to help you learn the material, challenge you to think outside the box, and further your understanding of the subject. They are also a great resource when you need letters of recommendation for scholarships, internships, or graduate school. Just remember, the better they know you, the easier it is for them to write a quality letter.
  4. Put in the time & effort
    Some of the easiest ways to succeed include:

  5. Meet with your advisor
    It is important to speak with your advisor early and often. They are the ones who will provide you with your registration pin number. But more than that, they can assist with course selection and planning; registration; understanding major and degree requirements; and navigating the processes to find extracurricular opportunities, internships, jobs, and more.
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