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Climbing and coding in Colorado

A dedicated bouldering enthusiast and Computer Science student at the University of Colorado Boulder sat down with Cybernews Academy to discuss his academic interests, how he is navigating university life, and what motivates him to work and hone his craft. Let's welcome sophomore Nathan Khazam, who diligently studies Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Passion through the pandemic

Let’s begin with the origins of this tech fanatics' interest in the digital realm. This budding computer scientist’s passion for technology surfaced during the pandemic. “I got interested in circuitry and a bit of logistics. I played around with things related to computer science, and it all seemed interesting. I worked on that for a year or two and came to love the craft. My dad is also an electrical engineer, so it’s kind of in my blood.” Nathan also took some computer science classes in high school that helped spark his passion for logic, reasoning, and artificial intelligence. “I got interested in computer science as I’ve always liked the idea of evolving systems.” Nathan was unsure about the route he would take after high school, so he chose computer science as it is highly versatile and could potentially be “a huge investment” in his future.

Beginnings at Boulder

At the beginning of his academic journey, only some things were straightforward. “I chose computer science right before college because I wasn’t exactly sure where to begin. It was a bit last minute, but it worked well for me.” Originally from California, Nathan traveled to Colorado to pursue his love of bouldering (rock climbing). “I enjoy rock climbing on the side. I do it about three times a week.” Once he found a hobby he was interested in, he wanted to ensure that he could pursue it while at university. This was one of the factors that swayed Nathan’s decision to study at the University of Colorado Boulder. There were a few other institutions that Nathan looked into when deciding what university he should attend. “I considered attending RPI, which has a technology engineering focus, or Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York.” However, Colorado spoke to this student as the state's climate and the activities he enjoyed pushed him toward Colorado Boulder.

Versatile and flexible

This student described the computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder as extremely versatile and flexible. “I would say that computer science at the University of Colorado Boulder is very diverse in its structure. There are a few required classes you need to take (which are called core classes), but these are simply introductions into all the field of computer science.” This course allows you to touch on all aspects of computer science, such as cybersecurity, robotics, artificial intelligence, and more. “This structure allows you to specialize even in your bachelor's degree. My friends are headed down the cybersecurity route, where they have to do a lot of low-level programming and systems architecture. I’m dipping my toes into all aspects of computer science to see what I like by the time I graduate.” For someone who doesn’t know exactly where they want to go but loves technology, computer science is an excellent option because it is incredibly diverse and allows students to experiment with different avenues of computation.

Wondrous web development

During our discussion, Nathan talked about the various projects he has worked on at university. “I’m building a website for class right now, which is our final group project focusing on elements of software development. We are designing and creating the back and front-end database and the website hosting.” This website Nathan is co-creating is a car reselling service where these students can add their input. “We add more information than the average car reseller, and with more information, you can decide if the car is for you.” This project has taught Nathan many invaluable skills that will help him post-graduation. “I learned a lot about databases, SQL, and APIs while participating in this project. I’m learning about web interaction, so I’m coding with Python and using Selenium, which allows me to open web browsers and interact with the pages, which has been a great added experience.”

Tools and tricks

The University of Colorado Boulder supports its students through their academic journey by equipping them with the tools and skills necessary to enter the industry. Nathan told Cybernews Academy about the University of Colorado Boulder and what he learned there. “The main things I’ve learned while studying at the University of Colorado Boulder are programming languages. You need to learn a lot in your own time, but we have focused on learning JavaScript, CSS, and HTML for web development in our software development course.” Alongside these languages, Nathan commands tools like VSCode, Jupyter, Notebook, and GNU debugger.” Not only did this computer science student master a range of programming languages, but he also honed his time management skills, which proved useful while studying computer science at degree level. It can be intense when you have to learn a language in under a week, so understanding the coding languages early will put you in a great position when you start your computer science course. However, this student expressed gratitude for his university’s laid-back atmosphere and versatile approach to teaching.

The beauty of Colorado Boulder

The University of Colorado Boulder has a relaxed learning approach, allowing Nathan to immerse himself in all the university offers. “The diverse nature of the University of Colorado Boulder contributed to my decision to attend this university as opposed to any other institution.” The University of Colorado Boulder has a wide range of majors to explore and various activities to participate in. Nathan enjoys this aspect of the environment as he can explore new avenues related to computer science. “Instead of my university forcing me to do a bunch of required classes for three years, I have the opportunity to take many different courses such as robotics, AI, and cybersecurity in my sophomore year.”

Key author

This summer proved eventful for Nathan as he took part in an internship with ML Commons. This industry benchmark group sets standards for different AI models and datasets, and Nathan joined the datasets working group to assist with the Data Provenance Initiative. “This project was started by a group of MIT students and AI enthusiasts worldwide to show the emerging issue in large and popular AI datasets." Nathan is describing the issue of data transparency, which describes where data originates and how it is intended to be used. “This is an issue because data sourced from places that don't allow AI use or commercial use of their data, meaning that AI models can be taken down or sued due to misuse of data they didn't even know about. To combat this issue, the second part of the paper discusses the ‘data provenance explore,’ where we document and share information about data sources in large and popular datasets.” Throughout this process, Nathan learned about data curation, documentation, and navigating large dataset repositories such as Huggingface. “My tasks included gathering key metadata for datasets, creating a download script, and creating prompts for Chat-GPT to help categorize datasets.” Once complete, the paper was published and seemed to garner much interest. Nathan’s work had proved successful, and was considered one of the paper's key authors.

In the future, Nathan hopes to hone his interests in artificial intelligence and evolving systems through graduate studies. “I am considering attending graduate school as I would love to stay in education as long as possible.” Nathan’s time at the University of Colorado Boulder has been an exceptional experience, so much so that he wishes to continue studying computer science-related courses upon graduation. As our discussion ended, Nathan bestowed some university-related wisdom upon us. “Don’t stress too much about brand reputation as it’s not the be-all and end-all. Whether you attend a smaller institution or a world-renowned university, you'll probably get a similar education. As long as you enjoy the atmosphere, you’ll succeed.”