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University of Washington computer science grads are headed to tech titans like Amazon, Apple and Google

It’s a good time to have a degree in computer science. And it’s not just because Amazon.com, Google and Microsoft are paying big bucks to hire the best-and-brightest software developers and engineers.

Computer science is transforming the world, radically changing industries as diverse as health, transportation, media and communications.

With that in mind (and with the University of Washington commencement set for this weekend), we decided to check in with the UW’s computer science and engineering class of 2012.

With the help of UW computer science professor Ed Lazowska, we asked 21 undergrads who are set to receive their degrees Saturday about where they’re headed (most are going to tech titans like Google and Amazon) and what excites them about technology (common responses included “big data” and “machine learning” though one ambitious student said he wanted to pioneer a colony on the moon).

Colonizing the moon might be about the only thing more lucrative than software development right now. After all, starting salaries for computer science grads in Seattle at major tech companies are in the range of $80,000 to $100,000, with signing bonuses up to $50,000 in cash and stock. In some instances, top-notch grads can pull down salaries as high as $120,000.

No wonder that Amazon.com, Facebook, Google and Microsoft hired more University of Washington computer science grads than any other major during 2011-2012. This may be an appropriate time to ask what we should be doing to create more computer scientists, but that’s a topic for another column.

So, without further ado, meet some of the class of 2012. We think you’ll be quite impressed.

Ashoat Tevosyan

Ashoat Tevosyan

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: I’m into systems and programming languages.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? I’m into things with completed architectures, so anything where there were crucial design decisions excite me. I love thinking about how things are structured and using my intuition while building things.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Facebook, Software Engineer, Seattle.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? I’m really into social stuff. It’s a big part of my personality, I guess. Back in the day I spent a lot of time on forums, and now I spend a lot of time on Facebook. Watching how technology has enabled people to build relationships is really exciting for me.

Hometown: Born in Moscow, and moved to Redmond at age 7.

Facebook page here.

Dustin Richmond

Dustin Richmond

Computer science area of greatest interest: Computer architecture and low-power computing.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? It still blows my mind that we can fabricate billions of transistors on a chip and create a working processor. What we do, and what we could do with these transistors is one of those things that gets me excited.

What will you be doing after you graduate? I will be attending graduate school at University of California, San Diego.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? I think the most exciting thing in computer science is the move to mobile and ubiquitous computing platforms, which has created an emphasis on low power design. It’s a real paradigm change from the the last thirty years when we focused on increasing the performance of a single thread of execution. With the low power devices that are available today, we don’t even need batteries in some platforms. I think devices like these are going to drive innovation and provide an explosion of data in the next few years.

Hometown: Eugene, Oregon.

Twitter handle@darichmond

Ryan Oman

Ryan Oman

Computer science area of greatest interest: Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence, Natural Language Processing.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? How much abstraction goes into making computers work the way that they do. The fact that I don’t have to know much about how transistors, processors, or compilers work to make a web application work still astounds me.

What will you be doing after you graduate?  I’ll be working at Google as a software engineer in Mountain View.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? Semantic search. I think natural language systems like the IBM Watson computer that competed on jeopardy can do a lot to improve the world that we live in.

Hometown: Muskego, Wisconsin.

Milda Zizyte

Milda Zizyte

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Embedded systems.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? Probably all of the real-world applications I saw outside of classes, like the projects being done in my lab or working at an internship. Something else was all the crazy low-level optimizations and ideas I saw during my advanced architecture course.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Doing my PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon under National Science Foundation funding.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? That small embedded chips are everywhere! Low-power applications mean that we can computerize everything really easily. We can sense pretty ridiculous amounts of information from very minimally augmenting existing systems.

Hometown: Seattle

Alison Wilbur

Alison Wilbur

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Human-Computer Interaction

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? This statement is short, but is a truth that has been a driving force in my life: I believe computers are things of beauty and magic. I’m about to graduate with a degree in computer engineering. I’ve taken a lot of classes about how computers work: foundations of computing, hardware/software interface, electrical engineering, and operating systems. I have a solid understanding of how computers work, from the transistors to the operating system. But there is still a part of me that thinks computers are boxes run by either magic smoke or tiny elves. Computers are complex systems, and studying them I realized that they truly evolved over the years to become what they are today. I almost think it’s easier to believe in magic smoke than to believe the real story: that over the last decades, millions of engineers have put in trillions of hours to create and improve upon the machine sitting on my lap. I am absolutely stunned by the dedication, inspiration, invention, and totally nerdiness (in the best possible sense of the word) that the human spirit has applied to make computers possible. It absolutely takes my breath away to think how amazing computers really are. And that’s just computers–the entire internet full of kitten pictures is a whole different kind of impressive.

What will you be doing after you graduate? I start as a software development engineer at Amazon in Seattle in September.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? I love that mobile devices are taking off. Computers give us the power to do such useful things, and the idea of everyone having one in their pocket is revolutionary. Plus, the mobile development system right now lends itself so well to anyone coming up with a great use of this technology to solve an interesting problem, that I think this area is really going places.

Hometown: Kent, Washington

Greg Brandt

Greg Brandt

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Distributed systems

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? The use of abstraction as a tool to manage complexity. It’s amazing how tractable some problems become once you view them at the right level of abstraction. That’s probably not as specific of a concept as the question would like, but in terms of fundamental ways of thinking, definitely a game changer.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Software Engineer, Data Infrastructure at LinkedIn, Mountain View, California.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? The availability of massive amounts of data and what we can learn from processing it. I am especially excited about open source initiatives like Hadoop that allow organizations other than Google and Amazon to take advantage of big data, too.

Hometown: Renton, Washington.

Follow on LinkedIn here.

Kellen Donohue

Kellen Donohue

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Programming Languages & Software Engineering

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? I learned some cool things about CS theory and the computation difficulty of problems. For example, all programming languages are equally powerful, it’s quite easy to find a shortest path, but not a longest, making simple changes to a sorting algorithm can make it efficient or very inefficient, and there are some things you can’t even write an algorithm for. Probably one of the most exciting things I learned was web programming. I really enjoyed seeing a website come together piece by piece.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Interning at Facebook this summer, University of Washington Computer Science/Engineering Masters in the fall.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? The emergence of cloud computing. This is exciting because startups and even larger companies can run websites without the capital costs of buying servers, and then can scale as fast as demand grows.

Hometown: Bothell, Washington.

Follow on Twitter: @melonhead901.

Ryan Carter

Ryan Carter

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Software Development

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? I think at the time, recursion was a pretty impressive concept when we learned about it in our intro classes. For a later learning, I think MapReduce is an incredible simple yet powerful idea which makes it quite interesting.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Software development engineer for Amazon in Seattle.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now?  I think multi-thread and multi-processor computing, including MapReduce-like ideas, are the most exciting things to me right now because they are so interesting while also having a lot of real life applications.

Hometown: Renton, Washington.

Follow on Twitter:  @The_Ryan_Carter

Josh Scotland

Josh Scotland is heading to a new job at Apple

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Accessibility — making software more usable for all kinds of people, especially those with disabilities like blindness.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? Fascinating Thought: Several technologies we use daily started off as technologies for those with disabilities. A classic example is the telephone, which was invented by A.G. Bell to help teach the deaf about sound vibrations.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Continuing accessibility research as a software engineer at Apple in California.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? Game Changer: Hands free technologies! I’m really excited for products such as Google Glass and Siri. These products help to seamlessly integrate technology into our lives. The decade of holding devices in front of our face could be over soon.

Hometown: Kent, Washington

Follow on LinkedIn here.

Mike Locascio

Michael Locascio

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Mobile and cloud technologies, K-12 computer science education.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? How (computer science) intersects with other fields of study. Moreover, one of the most important skills that I developed was learning how to think computationally and creatively in order to solve a specific problem.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Working as a software developer at Microsoft.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? I get excited by the amount of open source tools and developer platforms that are available (in both the web and mobile space). It encourages learning, collaboration, and innovation.

Hometown: Federal Way, Washington

Angie Zhu

Angie Zhu

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: The web, social network

What was the most interesting thing your learned while studying computer science? The most interesting thing I learned is that anything is possible. With computer science and technology, our daily lives have been changed drastically. Flip phones were so trendy a few years back, but now they seem ancient. It amazes me how fast technology evolves, and studying computer science has really enabled me to comprehend those changes and potentially be a part of it.

What will you be doing after you graduate? I am a software engineer at Google, Mountain View, California. I work on Google+.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? Today, almost every web product has a social component to it. However, our interactions online with each other are still different and limited from what we have in real life. Right now, a lot of effort has been centered around making that online social experience as natural as possible. Just imagine when we are able to mimic human interactions and strengthen relationships through the web, how empowering would that be?

Hometown: Chongqing, China.

Eric Spishak

Eric Spishak

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Programming languages and software engineering.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? We laid out a basic processor (and it actually worked!) It was really interesting to learn in-depth how a processor works, but it’s something I’d never want to do again.

What will you be doing after you graduate? 5th year Master’s Program in Computer Science at the University of Washington.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now?  User data is becoming more easily stored online, allowing users to detach themselves from a single computer and easily access their information over the Internet.

Hometown: Bellevue, Washington.

Twitter handle: @emspishak

Jenny Abrahamson

Jenny Abrahamson

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Distributed Systems, Security, and Software Engineering.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? I loved learning gritty details about the OS. I felt empowered once I realized that even at the lowest levels, there’s no magic!

What will you be doing after you graduate? Spending the summer as a software engineering intern at Google Munich, then returning to UW CSE for the 5th year masters program.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? I’m excited about brain-computer interfacing, which promises to be both useful and lots of fun.

Hometown: Seattle

Gabriel Pratt

Gabriel Pratt

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Bioinformatics and computational biology.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? How you can apply a very interesting, and often times simple set of approaches to solve problems that couldn’t be solved any other way. Having and building the tools available to analyze and visualize vast quantities of information is something that is very powerful.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Graduate Student at UCSD, Bioinformatics and Systems Biology

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? The push for big data analysis and analysis tools. Specifically in the realm of personalized medicine where in the next five years most people in first world countries will have the power to know their entire genome. What that means for personal health, and more importantly how doctors, companies and researchers can leverage that information to improve personal health is going to be stunning.

Hometown: Seattle

Twitter handle: @gabepratt

Ethan Faust

Ethan Faust

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Systems: Distributed Systems and Operating Systems.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science?  Real world analogies are extremely helpful in understanding and solving challenging problems in computer science. From waiting in lines at grocery stores to sending messengers through battlefields, most problems we encounter have already been solved. We just need to be clever enough to understand the problem, find the right solution, and write it in a form the computer can understand.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Internship in Seattle at Amazon.com again this summer (Kernel and Operating Systems team). Moving on to UW CSE’s Masters Program this autumn. After that, full-time at Amazon, hopefully.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? Computers are becoming increasingly ubiquitous. I’m interested to see how new kinds of devices in buildings, clothing and vehicles can improve the human condition.

Hometown: Bainbridge Island, Washington

Web site: EthanFaust.com

Colleen Ross

Colleen Ross

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Algorithms or web programming.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? “I have a degree in Industrial Engineering, which … focuses a lot on efficiency and optimization. I remember being in data structures and algorithms classes and learning about the traveling salesman problem, the knapsack problem, djikstra’s algorithm, etc. and thinking “wow, this is all stuff I’ve learned before… but now I can actually use it!” The industrial engineering department had only taught me the theory behind these problems/algorithms, and how to solve them by hand on a small scale, which isn’t very practically applicable. Computer science taught me how to actually use the theory I’d learned.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Working as a web/software developer for collegebrain.com.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? “I’ve been too focused on my own studies to be super aware of what’s going on otherwise.”

Hometown: Seattle

Steve Geluso

Steve Geluso

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Computer science is not my greatest interest. Instead, it allows me to pursue all my interests. I’m most interested in tailoring. I enjoy exploration and optimization. Perhaps someday I’ll wake and want to become a teacher. When that day comes I will explore how people learn, optimize how I teach, and thus program myself.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? The greatest educational experience I have had while studying computer science was designing a computer processor. There’s something to be said about taking things apart, finding out how they work and then putting everything back together. It was as if the ritual filled me with the magic I mistakingly thought inhabited the device. Simultaneously, gaining an understanding of how a computer works gave me an understanding of how understanding works and made everything in our complex world a bit more surmountable.

What will you be doing after you graduate? I have a two-phase graduation plan. As Seattleites know, anyone that puts their time into a Seattle winter owes it to themselves to reap a Seattle summer. I’ll stay in Seattle working remotely as a web developer for &yet, an inspiring web development company based in the Tri-Cities. Come September, I will move to San Francisco to work as a software engineer for Google, an aspiring web company based in Mountain View. Past summer, my long-term goal is to help pioneer a colony on the moon.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now?  In my humble opinion, the most exciting things happening in computer science right now involve machine learning and Big Data. We’re becoming expert naval-gazers, introspecting on the data that we gather and generate. Machine learning will help make scientific breakthroughs, giving us perspective to identify currents in oceans of data. Machine learning will also deliver better advertisements.

Hometown: Richland, Washington.

Twitter handle: @geluso

Mary Pimenova

Mary Pimenova

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: I mostly consider myself a generalist. If I had to pick, probably systems/networks.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? “Theory of computation was probably the most interesting class that I took. Even though I can’t really imagine applying theoretical computer science in my career, but I like having the background and context for understanding the limits of computation.”

What will you be doing after you graduate? Software Engineer (Infrastructure) at Facebook in Menlo Park, California.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? “In the longer term, I’m very excited about self driving cars and more robots involved in our everyday lives. That seems futuristic and cool. In the nearer future, I think it’s awesome how cheap and easy it is becoming to prototype and launch ideas that have potential to change an industry. Server space is cheap and there are plenty of frameworks and tools in place which make it simple for a few people to release a working product after a few months of work.”

Hometown: Pereslavl, Russia

Follow on Facebook here.

Greg Bigelow

Greg Bigelow

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: The intersection of human-computer interaction and machine learning.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? I’m still not sure what a computer program is. They seem to haunt the space between machinery and dreams.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Software engineer at Facebook.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? I suppose we might soon have decent virtual reality. If we get to the point where a virtual world has some significant fraction of the sensory richness of physical reality, it will become a tempting place to conduct large portions of one’s life.

Hometown: Gig Harbor, Washington.

Pratik Prasad

Pratik Prasad

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Human Computer Interaction, Distributed Systems.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? The most exciting project I worked on was a low-cost ultrasound system for developing regions. Our team made a simpler, more learnable system for obstetric ultrasound.

What will you be doing after you graduate? I’m joining TellApart as a software engineer. TellApart is a Silicon Valley startup helping online retailers make the most of their data.

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? One of the most exciting trends goes under the name ‘Big Data.’ While the buzzword is inane, there is an important and growing challenge of extracting meaningful information from a large amounts of data. This challenge reaches fields as diverse as distributed systems to engineer large-scale systems, machine learning to distill information and HCI for useful presentation. The applications are as vast as our imaginations will allow, from social networks to computational biology, and economics and global development.

Hometown: Vancouver, Washington.

Twitter handle: @pratik

Siwei Kang

Siwei Kang

Computer science area of greatest interest to you: Web development and UI design.

What was the most interesting thing you learned while studying computer science? After working on various types of teams through my classes and hackathons, I learned that building a digital product is a matter of idea, design, execution, and most importantly, some awesome teammates that have great passion and never give up. Our computer science skill set provides us with a playground for innovations, where we can actualize our craziest idea within the shortest amount of time and budget.

What will you be doing after you graduate? Software engineer at Amazon.com

What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in computer science right now? Machine learning, like Decide.com. Instead of focusing on present, machine learning enables us to predict the future.

Hometown: Beijing, China

Twitter handle: @ksiwei

A big thanks to all of the students who answered our survey. If you’re a computer science grad — from 2012 or years past — let us know in the comments what excites you about the future of technology.

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