Computer science students from Stuyvesant listened to and connected with notable alumni in the field on Wednesday, February 6, at an event dubbed “CStuy.” Organized by Computer Science (CS) Coordinator and alumnus Michael Zamansky (’84), the event offered students a window into the world of CS through a series of speeches. CStuy is the first in a series of events this year designed to introduce students to CS opportunities.
It took place at 6:30 p.m. at the Tech Stars Office on 36 Cooper Square. Zamansky took the stage first, introducing himself, welcoming students, and going over the program. The lineup of speakers included alumni John Lee (‘03), Moisey Uretsky (‘00), Spike Gronim (’02), and Gerry Seidman (’77), as well as Tim Novikoff, who is not an alumnus.
Lee’s presentation was titled “Big Data is Awesome.” After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked at Google for four years, focusing on Google Search and Android development. However, his passion lies in artificial intelligence (AI), the study of the potential intelligence of robots and machines. “We’re thinking less and less about how to build bigger and faster computers—we have those already—and we’re starting to look at processing using those giant computers,” said Lee. At Google, Lee spent a lot of time developing search algorithms that would provide direct answers to search queries. He “sidestepped all these problems that researchers have been spending twenty years to figure out, and we just threw tons of data at it. We used a really simple algorithm that doesn’t even require the computer to know English,” Lee said.
Up next was Uretsky, who explained his journey from graduating high school to starting a company. “Like most things in life, it just starts with a couple of steps that seem very innocent, that make no sense, and then ten years later, here you are,” Uretsky said. After dropping out of college, he and his brother decided to start their own hosting company, which grew from stolen back alley servers and a shoebox full of cash to a successful tech company. Later, after a disastrous security breach, Urestky and his brother began a second company, Digital Ocean, which now hosts the Stuyvesant CS website (stuycs.org). In conclusion, Uretsky said, “It was just random chance that I wanted to go to work with my brother, random chance that I decided to get a car, […] so you never know how life turns out.”
Following Uretsky, Gronim presented a slideshow, titled “Three Reasons to be Excited about Computer Science.” The first reason he gave was cloud computing. Gronim first worked at Amazon, which provides a cloud service, Amazon S3. “It launched in the beginning of 2006, and at the end of 2006 there were just under three billion files in the system. And seven years later, there are over a trillion,” Gronim said. His next point focused on data science, emphasizing that data representation was important and that it could help people understand data better. Lastly, Gronim spoke about how to get a fulfilling job. He advised students to learn about a subject that “fires you up,” to build interesting projects, and to network with companies in their fields.
Without slides to display, Novikoff jumped straight into his speech. He was originally an actor, majoring in theater at NYU. He later taught at Stuyvesant and eventually created his own business. “Technology and a startup can inspire research,” Novikoff said. “Everybody thinks about how there are people who fund their research and academia, and it comes out of Stanford or Harvard, and then people will apply it.” He argued that real life problems can sometimes lead to theoretical research. Novikoff wanted to write a flashcards app that would help students memorize SAT words. He applied the “timesteps spacing effect,” which predicted the ideal order of cards that would allow users to learn words quickly, based on the words they missed. He would later write his dissertation on the effect. His presentation ended with a quote from Walt Disney: “Great things happen when you stop talking and start doing.”
The last speaker, Seidman, opened his talk by saying that he didn’t “have time to talk about anything, so I decided to talk about everything.” In college, Seidman changed his major six times, and said that it was “the best thing I could have done.” He studied acting, math, chemistry, physics, and German literature, and finally graduated with a degree in chemical physics. “Different disciplines think different ways,” he said. His fast-paced lecture quickly outlined his life, his four companies, his failures, and his company today. Seidman has toured the world lecturing about Java, started an animation company, and built robots. Today, he is the CEO of Tactonic Technologies, which developed the Tactonic sensor, a touch technology that focuses on pressure-sensitive imaging.
After Seidman ended his lecture, Zamansky returned to the podium to conclude the event with an informal question and answer session between the students and the guest speakers.
“We’re trying to bring different opportunities to [the students]. And then I could get the feedback from this,” Zamansky said. “This is hopefully going to kick off more lectures, more talks, and more mini classes.” Zamansky has developed an internship program that offers even more opportunities to Stuyvesant students. He plans on expanding this program so that it includes students from schools in the city other than Stuyvesant.
The speakers also had a positive impression of the event. “It’s amazing that we could have a hundred kids show up to hear lectures about computer science,” Gromin said. “That kind of interest level is amazing.”