A few recent graduates of our MCS and PhD programs share recollections of their time at Iowa, as well as what they are currently working on. More Senior alum as well as Bachelor's graduates may be featured. Here are some of their stories:

Yelena Mejova portrait

Yelena Mejova

Graduation Year: 2012
Major(s): PhD
Advisor: Padmini Srinivasan | Web Mining

She had received a BS in Computer Science from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2007. She recently co-edited "Twitter: A Digital Socioscope."

What are you doing now in a professional capacity?

I am a Scientist at the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI), living in Doha, Qatar. At QCRI I develop methods for linking the online social media world to the "real" world. We track dietary habits of social media users to estimate obesity and diabetes rates, and to discover the importance of social connections in health. We also attempt to expand the "filter bubble" of online users by personalizing recommendations of less-popular news items. As a researcher, I get to travel all over the world and meet amazing people -- I highly recommend it! Previously, I was a Postdoc at Yahoo! Labs in Barcelona.

Can you describe your dissertation research briefly and for a lay audience?

My PhD research was on opinion extraction and sentiment analysis of social media text.

Now: Senior Research Scientist, ISI Foundation, Turin, Italy

Frederick Galoso

Fredrick Galoso

Graduation Year: 2013
Major(s): B.A.

When did you graduate from Iowa and what degree(s) did you get?

I graduated Fall 2012, B.B.A., Management Information Systems and Summer 2013, B.A., Computer Science.

What has kept you busy since you graduated and what are you up to now?

Soon after graduating from Iowa, I started working as a software developer for Dwolla, a venture backed, financial technology company in Des Moines, IA. For three years I helped build some of the core fraud, accounting, and data systems that moved billions of dollars through the payments network. In 2016, I joined Trello, where I continue to work today as a senior software engineer. I've had an opportunity to work on a product that has millions of users around the world, developing features as varied as enabling large organizations to use and manage Trello, helping develop an experimentation platform, and creating user experiences that educate and empower users to get organized and collaborate together. In early 2017, I was part of the Trello team that was acquired by Atlassian for $425 million, a NASDAQ traded collaboration software company.

I recently finished a M.S. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology. From 2015 to 2017, I specialized in Interactive Intelligence, studying the intersection of human-computer interaction and artificial intelligence.

I've had an opportunity to work as an early employee at not just one, but multiple ambitious and industry changing companies. It has been an exhilarating ride and I've thoroughly enjoyed working to build products that have had a substantial impact in such a short amount of time.

What does Trello do?

Trello is the easy, free, flexible, and visual way to manage projects and organize anything, trusted by millions of people from all over the world. Whether it is an individual, team, or large organization like Pixar, Google, or UNICEF, we help people work more collaboratively and get more done.

How has working remotely factored into your time at Trello/Atlassian?

It has enabled me to continue to live in Iowa while working for a large multinational technology company. It's also let me experience what appears to be a way of working that will continue to become more prevalent into the future. Thanks to tools like Trello, chat, video conferencing, and other productivity applications more and more organizations are making distributed teamwork an effective and productive way of working that greatly expands the talent pool for companies.

Tell us about some of your favorite experiences as a student in the CS dept at Iowa?

I remember fondly many late nights working with my fellow classmates in MacLean Hall on assignments and projects. I enjoyed my CS classes, especially taking classes taught by Dr. Doug Jones, Dr. Aaron Stump, and Dr. Teodor Rus and being engaged in discussion about the applications of computing in greater society. Finally, I enjoyed attending and learning from interesting colloquium speakers.

What advice do you have for our students?

While in school, engage with your fellow students and instructors. Go to office hours, make connections, and be as active as you can be in your learning. As with many things, what you get out of something is proportional to what what you put into it. Many of the things I learned and remember the most came from interactions that were not directly in the classroom.

Another thing I would encourage students is to seek opportunities to apply what they are learning to interests or projects outside of class. This could be a job, a club, an organization, open source, research, or volunteering - computing is ubiquitous and there are many opportunities to reinforce and apply your learning. This will also give you a body of work that you can point to, something that will be invaluable when you're seeking your next opportunity, whether it's a job in industry or continued education.

Finally, take measured risks, be entrepreneurial, and be prepare yourself for opportunities. Risk taking enables you to go for challenges and take initiative on problems that you may not normally have worked on. Entrepreneurial thinking will enable you to find ways to solve problems creatively. You may not know what you will work on next, but if an opportunity presents itself, if you're prepared, you can actually seize it.

Geoff Fairchild portraits - Hiking (L) - On a parked motorcycle (R)

Geoffrey Fairchild

Graduation Year: 2014
Major(s): PhD 
Advisor: Alberto Segre | comp|epi

He had earned his MS in 2011, and a BS in Mathematics and Computer Science from The University of Texas at Austin in 2008. His advisor was Alberto Segre and he was a member of the comp|epi group.

Can you describe your dissertation research briefly and for a lay audience?

My dissertation research is focused on disease surveillance, a key aspect of public health and epidemiology. The core problem I address is this: data are gathered on people infected with certain diseases so that epidemiologists can understand disease dynamics and public health officials can make decisions such as what vaccines to produce, where to allocate vaccines, where to allocate funds, etc. Traditionally, most data are gathered from primary care facilities (e.g., doctors’ offices, hospitals) and laboratories. The first project in my dissertation focused on how to use computational techniques to improve on the location of primary care facilities from which public health data is gathered. Traditional disease surveillance networks have some problems, though; there’s often a lag of a few weeks before data are available to the public, and many regions of the world lack the infrastructure to maintain such networks. To address these concerns, there’s been a recent push to use publicly available internet data to aid in disease surveillance. The rest of my dissertation focused on using Wikipedia for this purpose.

What are you doing now in a professional capacity?

Upon finishing my PhD, I accepted an offer for a staff scientist position at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where I interned as a grad student for several years. I am continuing to work on disease surveillance and modeling problems. A lot of my research is still focused on using Wikipedia to enhance disease surveillance efforts. I’ve also spent significant time working with a large-scale agent-based simulation of human movement and disease spread to understand potential mitigations during an epidemic or pandemic (e.g., wearing face masks, closing schools). Unrelated to my disease surveillance and modeling research, I am also working on a large operations research project studying optimal design of water distribution networks.

A few months ago, one of your papers received a lot of press. Can you tell us about that and where we can read more about that research?

Our Wikipedia work has received quite a bit of press! Our initial paper, "Global Disease Monitoring and Forecasting with Wikipedia," was published in PLOS Computational Biology and is available at journals.plos.org/ploscompbiol/article?id=10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003892. In that paper, we showed that statistical models built using time series of publicly available Wikipedia article access logs can accurately nowcast and forecast disease incidence in many regions of the world. A follow-up paper to this study, "Eliciting Disease Data from Wikipedia Articles," uses natural language processing and machine learning techniques to pull disease data from the actual article content. This paper was accepted to be presented at the 2015 9th International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM) Wikipedia workshop. A pre-print is available on arXiv at arxiv.org/abs/1504.00657.

Andy Berns

Andy Berns

Graduation Year: 2012
Major(s): PhD
Advisors: Sukumar GhoshSriram Pemmaraju

Andy Berns is a 2012 PhD graduate. He is currently an Assistant Professor in Computer Science at University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa. He also manages the Department's Real-Time Embedded Systems Lab. As a PhD student, Berns was a UI Presidential Scholar.

Can you tell us what you've been up to since graduating with a PhD in 2012?

After spending the spring of 2013 teaching at the University of Iowa, I became an assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UWL) in the fall of 2013. At UWL, I had the chance to work with some great faculty members and students, I taught a variety of courses from introductory computer science to algorithms to software engineering, I supervised several Masters of Software Engineering projects, and I helped advise students groups like the cybersecurity club. In the fall of 2016 I moved to my undergraduate alma mater, University of Northern Iowa (UNI) and became an assistant professor there. Here also, I  have the pleasure of teaching a variety of courses, as well as managing the Real-Time Embedded Systems Laboratory. I really enjoy working at a regional comprehensive university where I have the opportunity to teach a variety of courses while still performing my own research with the assistance of our students.

Can you tell us a bit about your dissertation?

My dissertation (Self-Stabilizing Overlay Networks) looked at how we can build overlay networks (networks built using logical links) that are capable of eventually operating correctly no matter what transient fault occurs, or what arbitrary initial state the distributed system is in. Common examples of overlay networks include BitTorrent and other peer-to-peer file sharing programs. With the growth of the Internet, many overlay networks now consist of a large number of computers, and these computers are of course prone to failure and lack a central point of control. Self-stabilizing overlay networks aim to give systems such as these a way to quickly form a correct network to allow, for instance, efficient communication or resource discovery. My dissertation presented a generic framework for self-stabilizing overlay network creation, as well as a time- and space-efficient algorithm for creating a particular network.

What advice can you give current graduate students in the CS department?

My first piece of advice is to start thinking about your goals early on in your graduate school career and work at tailoring your experience towards these goals. For instance, many regional comprehensive universities would like to see evidence that you can be a good teacher and also evidence that you have a growing research agenda that can involve the students at their institution. Some other types of schools may look for more evidence of a strong research agenda, or may care more about evidence of good teaching. My advice is to think about what you want to do, and then talk with your advisors to help them guide you in reaching those goals!

My second piece of advice, though, would be to be open to other opportunities that you may not have thought about! While in graduate school you may find your goals change. While you are searching for jobs, you may find openings from a variety of institutions in a variety of places, and might even find industry jobs that sound more appealing to you than academic jobs. Don't hesitate to explore these opportunities, even if they aren't exactly what you were planning on earlier.

Tyler Jensen

Tyler Jensen

Graduation Year: 2011
Major(s): MCS

Tyler Jensen is a 2011 MCS graduate. He is the Co-Founder & CTO at SpareChange Inc.

When did you graduate from Iowa and what degree(s) did you get?

I graduated from the University of Iowa with a BS/MCS in Computer Science in the winter of 2011. I took advantage of the combined 5 year MCS program but ended up completing it in 4 ½ years.

What has kept you busy since you graduated and what are you up to now?

After graduating I spent an amazing 4 years at Microsoft in Seattle, Washington working on 1st party mobile apps for Windows Phone and then switching to hyper-scale cloud services across Xbox Live and finally Microsoft Azure. Eventually I decided I wanted to travel and focus my skills on making a more positive impact on the world. I jumped at the chance to start my own company, SpareChange, after hearing an idea from a former colleague while we were at a computing conference at Twitter. Rather spontaneously I quit my job and moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand which is a popular spot for “digital nomads” who run various sorts of businesses remotely while taking advantage of Thailand’s low cost of living and excellent internet infrastructure. This was my first time leaving North America and it was quite the experience! If you ever have the chance to immerse yourself in a different culture, absolutely seize it. After a half year of developing an initial version of my app and traveling around Southeast Asia, I moved back to Seattle to be closer to my business partner and find networking opportunities to promote our app and raise funding. In April of 2017 we launched publicly on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and will begin looking for investors shortly. It has been a wild ride, and I could not have done it without the opportunities the CS department afforded me.

What does SpareChange do?

SpareChange (gosparechange.com) [Note: acquired by Roundit Financial Technologies in 2017] lets you make tax-deductible donations to any of the 1.9+ million registered non-profits in the United States. Specifically, you can attach micro-donations to different types of transactions so you don’t even have to think about giving back to your community. For example, you can donate $1.00 every time you take an Uber, or $2.00 every time you buy gas. We noticed it’s difficult to navigate the world of non-profits. If you want to make a donation to someone, often times you have to sign up with them individually, enter in your payment info, etc. for every single one. Even worse, a majority of donations today are made by cash or check. With our platform, you can donate to any non-profit using modern payment solutions such as your credit card, bank account, and eventually Apple Pay, Google Wallet and Paypal. I like to describe it as the Venmo of non-profit donations.

Tell us about some of your favorite experiences as a student in the CS dept at Iowa?

Most of my favorite experiences as a CS student were in extra-curricular activities. I was Vice-President of the ACM for 2 years and had a blast meeting other students interested in computing, planning events and organizing the University of Iowa Computing Conference where I got to design and run the annual coding competition. When I was in grad school I absolutely loved being a teaching assistant and helping new students learn the basics of programming. Being a TA was probably one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I also had the pleasure of being a research assistant for Professor Stump and Tinelli where I got hands on experience designing and implementing the initial version of StarExec.

What advice do you have for our students?

Take risks. If you’re young and in technology, the world is your oyster. Do bold things while you don’t have a family to support or anyone who relies on you. If you fail who cares, there is a massive shortage of good tech workers out there and jobs really aren’t that difficult to come by. I think a lot of people just assume that you get a job, work until you’re 65, then retire and die. There’s way more to life than that, but it’s up to you to truly live it.

Now: Principal Software Architect - Microsoft

Xiaoli Yang and Shenzi Zhang

Xiaoli Yang and Shenzhi Zhang

Graduation Year: 1989
Major(s): MS

When did you graduate from CS at UI? With what degrees?

We both graduated in 1989 with MS in CS.

What have you been doing professionally since then?

Xiaoli had worked for Microsoft since graduation for over a decade, worked as a software developer on programming language tools such as compiler, debugger etc., also worked on photo editing products for many years.

Shenzhi had worked for Microsoft for 5 years and then left and started his own company working on music software and game engine development. Later he joined a Startup called Syntrillium working on audio editing and Adobe bought Syntrillium in 2003 and since then he has been working on audio editing, video editing and Virtual Reality.

What memories do you have of the courses you took or the professors you interacted with in CS at UI?

We had so many fond memories of the department. We are very grateful for the chance to do graduate study there. Professor Kearney was our academic adviser. He guided our research work on computer vision, reviewed our paper and sponsored us going to conference. He also helped us find our first job at Microsoft. We are forever very grateful to him for all his help.

We also became close friend with Professor Hantao Zhang who taught Shenzhi Graph Theory. Xiaoli also worked as TA for Professor Slonneger, who was a very kind and dedicated in teaching. Shenzhi had great time in Professor Bruell’s seminar, he was always very encouraging so Shenzhi didn't feel very nervous when doing presentation.

Can you describe some of the ways in which being a Computer Science professional has changed since you started your careers?

The software industry has certainly changed a lot over the years. For a software professional, there are two major changes. First is that you need have strong communication skills. In early days the projects were small in general, machine was slow and developer just need to dive into algorithm to make the code smaller or faster and sometimes both while tester just do black box testing.  We didn't even have "program manager" job title back then. Now the projects usually are huge. A lot of times you need to coordinate with people from different groups within your organization and work with people from other organizations.

Another change is the software development method change. We used to do a planning → design → implementation → testing → release cycle, we call it waterfall model. Nowadays an agile model or scrum model is widely adopted. These two changes are related. The agile development model satisfies the communication requirement needed for huge projects.

Kelsey Huebner

Kelsey Huebner posing next to Microsoft sign on company's campus

Graduation Year: 2012
Major(s): Informatics and Art BAs; Computer Science minor

While at Iowa, she took part in Prof. Juan Pablo Hourcade's HCI research; including work on his Open Autism Software project.

What was your favorite class in the computer science department?

HCI (Human-Computer Interaction). It was the first opportunity I had to come up with an application idea and work on it with a team. I learned how to prototype and think through usability from a designer and a developer approach. The class really prepared me for conceptualizing, designing and developing websites and eventually applications.

What did you get out of your research experiences?

I really began to understand empathy from the field work we did. My role was to work with children that the studies revolved around. I documented what they were doing and saying. It allowed me a glimpse into their lives and what their thought processes were. Then to prepare it all into a research paper I had to step back and understand how our applications could positively affect their lives. We also presented at CHI where I got to travel to Austin, TX and Paris! The critical thinking involved in the research paper and having to present and meet other professionals resonates even now with my current job.

What are you doing now in a professional capacity?

I moved to Seattle last summer and began working on the Xbox Developer Support Team at Microsoft. This past April I began a new position as a Technical Evangelist at Microsoft. I get to spread the word to developers about programming for Windows 10! Specifically I work with Microsoft's top developer partners to create the best Windows applications. It's really fun because I still program and work in application code but I also get to travel and host 'hack' events.

Can you tell us about an interesting project that you are currently working on?

Well, every month we host a Hack event or 'Hackfest'. I reach out to Microsoft specialists to present and work hands-on with our third party developers and publishers. For me it's really cool because I get to meet the Microsoft people creating the product and learn from them. We used to focus on Xbox but now it's all about Windows 10. Our goal is to have the top applications, like Hulu, released with all of the best features Windows 10 has to offer. I also get to travel for the events, we just returned from London two weeks ago and will be going to China soon!

Where do you hope to be in 10 years?

Microsoft CEO. Or at least a senior level program manager here. :) I really like the organization I am in because we are programmers but also get the opportunity to speak and present to other developers. If you watched the //build/ event, that was mostly people from my larger team presenting. I would really like to present at //build/ someday.

Now: Senior Technical Program Manager - Microsoft

Chris Hlady

Chris Hlady

Graduation Year: 2011
Major(s): PhD

He had earned his MS in 2009, also at the University of Iowa. In 2006 he had received a BS in Computer Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Chris is a native of Moline, IL.

Can you describe your dissertation research briefly and for a lay audience

My PhD research involved modeling healthcare workers, patients, and infectious diseases and building a realistic simulation of a hospital to answer questions about efficient use of resources and the spread of hospital-acquired infections.

What are you doing now in a professional capacity?

I work as a software development engineer at Amazon.com. My team designs, builds and maintains the AmazonLocal website, and the Scalable, redundant back-end service used by the website and out mobile applications.

Now: iOS Engineer at Apple