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From Numbers to Networks

Posted by Marie Visca on October 5, 2015 in News, Students, Alumni & Friends, Undergraduate, HCI, Visualization, Graphics, Students

New CS grad Derek Neil. (Danny Abriel photo)

New CS grad Derek Neil. (Danny Abriel photo)

Originally posted in Dal News.

Derek Neil didn’t start his Dal journey studying computer science, but looking back it’s exactly where he wanted to be.

“I see a lot of the things that businesses do getting automated, computerized, streamlined and a lot of that revolves around having fairly sophisticated computer systems and people at different levels of experience,” he says. “Having a computer science background opens you up to working anywhere along the line of being the person implementing software, to teaching other people how to use the system, to designing new features, to recommending that a giant bank implement a new system.”

Derek first became interested in information technology while working at a sales centre for HP. Realizing how much he enjoyed the computer-based aspects of the company and his work, he began watching lots of online videos about technology and IT, prompting his then girlfriend, now wife, to suggest he return to school.

Finding his specialty

Having previously studied economics at Dal but not completing his degree, Derek seized the opportunity to return to the university and switch majors. Through the Bachelor of Computer Science program’s co-op terms, he worked for three different organizations in Halifax: a mid-sized Halifax based company in Bayers Lake, a satellite office for a company based out of Alberta, and a local start-up.

Dal's computer science program allows students to choose a specialty that guides their course selection. Having already chosen communication technologies and cyber security as a speciality after his second year, Derek stuck around for an extra term when Dal added the data science specialization this year.  

Derek has always had an interest in analyzing data and creating informative visualizations that simplify what can be otherwise overwhelming amounts of information. He credits the data science courses for “not only providing a strong foundation but an introduction to relevant tools. In addition, the specializations have helped identify interests and skill-sets to potential employers.”

As much as Derek learned on his co-op terms, his in-classroom experience was every bit as valuable.

“I know that there are some really strong professors in our faculty that have quite a bit of international recognition for publishing theoretical papers on algorithms, parallel computing, and networking, just to name a few. I think that experience comes out in the classroom where they’re confidently able to answer questions beyond what’s written in the textbook, especially since they’ve contributed to some of the textbooks themselves.

“It’s good as a student because you can ask a question that is outside of the material and they’re able to extrapolate and provide a detailed explanation instead of just dismissing it.”

Looking ahead

Currently, Derek is working as a software developer for Intricate Group, one of the companies where he completed a co-op placement. He plans to continue working part-time for the company as he begins his Master of Computer Science this fall. He has a couple of ideas for his eventual thesis, but says he’ll have a better idea of what he’d like to focus on by the end of winter term.

And though he switched into computer science, he hasn’t abandoned his old major altogether: he hopes to continue taking courses in economics throughout his master’s. Regardless of what courses he’s taking, Derek knows that Dal is the right place for him to continue his studies.

“The university works hard at branching out into the industry,” he says. “They stick to a high level teaching but still give the hands-on experience and introduce you to networking within the particular realm you’re studying.”