Last week I asked Dan Larremore to recommend a student to spotlight in the first student issue of The Neural Network. Dan recommended Amjad Alharbi, a senior in computer science. Amjad is also a research assistant in the information science department, conducting data analysis on how people use social media.
When Amjad was in middle school, she would never never guessed that she would end up studying computer science. Amjad grew up in Saudi Arabia, where her main interest was political science. She explained that at home if someone is socially active or a human rights activist, they put themselves and their family at risk of getting in trouble. This discouraged Amjad from pursuing political science. In spring 2011, however, she saw the power of social media in organizing protests within her community. This use of social media made Amjad recognize that even if she didn’t feel comfortable pursuing political science, she could still develop these passions and initiate social change through computer science. Amjad’s older brother was doing his PhD in computer science at Boulder and helped her grow what is now an unquenchable desire to learn more about computer, data, and information science.
Amjad truly does love what she does, and explained to me that oftentimes she spends her weekends learning new concepts and frameworks of data science. On top of her regular studies, Amjad is teaching herself how to speak and write Japanese!
What amazes Amjad about data science is the opportunity to work with interdisciplinary data sets. She loves being able to learn about other fields while doing data analysis. Amjad also likes that in data science you're not typically working with other people with CS backgrounds. Instead, your collaborators have tools and skills specific to their profession, but not those necessary to investigate the data. Amjad loves helping people discover these patterns that they wouldn’t be able to see otherwise.
Amjad’s brother has been a huge influence in both her personal and academic choices. When she first started considering a career in computer science she was uncertain. Her brother talked with her about it, helped her learn different programming languages, and pointed her to resources that would help inspire and support her. Whenever either of them learns about something interesting in CS, they send it to each other. When their family gets together, Amjad and her brother always get into discussions about CS, something that annoys the rest of the family but inspires Amjad. Amjad was grateful that her brother helped her discover her passion.
Amjad reflected upon the external pressures on students to learn skills to make themselves more competitive on the job market. She recalled the difficulty in devoting time and energy to learning with this motivation. She suggested that students find their passions first, and from there learn the necessary skills to develop and pursue their passions. If the reader will excuse my paraphrased generalization, Amjad’s wisdom applies to people in all stages of life. Pursue your passions, and don’t let the world tell you how to live.
Have any good CS podcast suggestions? Amjad listens to Super Data Science, Data Sidekick, and Talking Machines and is open to recommendations!