Incoming computer science faculty share secrets to success for students

There’s no secret algorithm that predicts success for computer science students, but there are calculated ways students can increase their odds of doing well.

Those include being open to new challenges, learning good communication skills, and preparing to become lifelong learners, say incoming faculty members for Mason’s Department of Computer Science (CS).

“We are excited to welcome 11 new faculty members this fall and two more in the fall of 2021,” says Huzefa Rangwala, acting chair of the department  “They have varied research interests touching all aspects of computing and are top-notch, award-winning scholars who are seeking to make an impact on society and the Mason community.”

“I am absolutely honored and thrilled to be taking the helm of the CS Department at such a critical juncture in its history,” says David Rosenblum, the new CS chair. “The department is a truly congenial community of people, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone on our shared ambitions for computing at Mason.”

Here are some faculty suggestions for CS students:

Assistant professor Xue Chen

Be open to new challenges. “Computer science is evolving every day,” says assistant professor Xue Chen. “We have seen many thrilling developments in the last five years including machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain and cryptography, big data and cloud computing, and quantum computing. Students in CS need to be aware of new technology, applications, and developments and be open to new challenges and opportunities.”

Prepare to adapt. Focus on concepts and algorithms rather than specific technologies, says professor Sanmay Das. “That way, you can easily adapt to a constantly changing landscape and pick up the tools you need to be successful. You also must know some languages and tools well."

Assistant professor Brittany Johnson

Don’t be intimidated. “Don't let the technical stuff scare you,” says assistant professor Brittany Johnson. “Computer science is so much more than writing code and memorizing algorithms."

Polish your communication skills. “While computer science is a technical discipline, it is also a discipline where effective communication skills are invaluable,” says assistant professor Kevin Moran. “If you pursue a degree in CS and plan to work as a software engineer, or in some other technical role, chances are you will be a part of a team of people working together towards a common goal.

“Being able to effectively collaborate and communicate with your team can set apart a good engineer from a great one. Work on your written and verbal communication skills either through coursework or during CS course projects.”

Plan on lifelong learning. Computer science is a discipline that tends to move quickly, Moran says. "While this can be exciting, it also requires some degree of lifelong learning. Focus on learning the fundamentals of programming and computer science that will transfer across different programming languages or technical roles. There will always be a new language or technology and setting yourself up to adapt with strong fundamentals is key.”

Assistant professor Antonios Anastasopoulos

Explore the topics.  “Dive deep into the theory behind the problems you will be trying to solve and avoid an approach of tech solutionism. Reach out to the eventual users and experts in other fields,” says assistant professor Antonios Anastasopoulos.  “Take ethics classes, and always keep in mind who might be affected by the tools/systems that you will be building.”

Find the areas you enjoy. “There will be topics that speak to your personal goals but finding those topics might take a bit of time and involve some false starts,” says assistant professor assistant Brian Hrolenok, BS Computer Science ‘07, MS Computer Science ‘09.

“If you feel like your background does not match what you think of as a typical CS student, don't be put off," he says. "Often the very best insights in any field come from those with the perspectives of unique backgrounds and experiences. While it may require a little more effort upfront the results are truly worth it­­—and valued in both job and grad school applications.”

Associate professor Bo Han

Practice programming. Take programming-intensive courses and get hands-on experience, says associate professor Bo Han. “Get summer internships to build your professional network and attend campus job fairs as early as possible;”

Explain your research clearly and succinctly.  “The way we communicate our research to others helps to foster collaboration and develop exciting new ideas,” says assistant professor Gregory Stein. “Moreover, interaction with members of other subfields and disciplines can help us jointly discover meaningful problems and innovative solutions.”

Get ready to create.  The advantage of computer science is you get to “solve real problems and build real systems,” says assistant professor Shuochao Yao.

Associate professor Shahnaz Kamberi

Trust your abilities. “A computer science degree is challenging and requires hours of studying and learning, however, if you have a passion for it and enjoy figuring out tough problems, then you should consider it,”  says instructional associate professor Shahnaz Kamberi. The beauty of computer science is that you can use it in so many different areas—music, business, healthcare science, math. It can be used to help society solve problems that can affect millions of lives.”

Pursue it. “Computer science is so much more than learning to program. It teaches one to think logically and develop creative solutions for complex problems,” says associate professor Erion Plaku. “As a computer scientist, you can have a broad impact on society by playing a role in developing the next generation of algorithms and devices.”

Grigory Yaroslavtsev will join the CS faculty in the fall of 2021.