Featured Major: Computer Science

CBU offers two related degrees in the broad field of computing with courses taught in three schools. The School of Business offers courses in Management Information Systems (MIS), the School of Engineering has a major in Computer Engineering (ECE) and the School of Sciences has a major in Computer Science (CS). The MIS courses prepare a graduate to manage software that solves problems in a business environment. The ECE degree prepares a graduate to design hardware and software. The CS degree prepares a graduate to develop software. A computer scientist designs algorithms to solve applied problems efficiently with software in such areas as video games, search engines, bioinformatics and secure communication. For example, one reason why Google is such a widely used tool for web searches is the speed and quality of its search algorithm.

Dr. Yanushka, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science teaching the CS 234 Data Structures Lab.

Dr. Yanushka, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science
teaching the CS 234 Data Structures Lab.

Dr. Pascal Bedrossian, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, used a genetic algorithm to create a final exam schedule that meets the needs of both students and faculty. His algorithm creates a final exam schedule that a) has no conflicts for students; b) has no student taking four exams on any day; c) allows faculty to schedule multiple sections in one time slot for a common final exam; and d) minimizes those students who have three exams on one day. His algorithm represents a significant improvement over the old way where some students had to resolve conflicts of two finals in the same period and common final exams for multiple sections were difficult to accommodate.

Our Computer Science majors take an internship course in their junior year where they help to develop software for local businesses. They next take a capstone course in their senior year in which they complete a software project for industry in order to gain additional experience and use their skills and knowledge bases to solve a real problem. Our best graduates find jobs with companies such as Microsoft, Google and the New York Times. Some of these graduates have been featured in previous issues.

The Computer Science degree requires an option in computer engineering, information technology management, bioinformatics or forensics. Bioinformatics applies techniques of computer science to solve biological problems at the molecular level. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital uses bioinformatics as one of its research tools to find cures for diseases. A computer scientist in forensics applies techniques of computer science to answer questions in the legal field.

CBU offers the opportunity to obtain dual degrees in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, and dual degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics. CBU has also developed a degree in Cyber Security and Digital Forensics that requires several computer science courses.

Featured Alum: Vaskin Kissoyan, Computer Science 1996

Hi, I’m Vaskin Kissoyan. I graduated from Christian Brothers University in 1996 with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Psychology. I’m currently the CEO of Lokion Interactive, and I’d like to tell you the story of the very first CBU web site (http://www.cbu.edu.)

In 1993, I had my first introduction to the Internet. I was at the CBU computer center using the VAX VMS system. Up until that time I had been working with pre-Internet networks such as the BBS-based Fidonet. That first glimpse of direct access to the Internet was a watershed moment for me. I was hooked. I had dreamt of a world that was interconnected, and, suddenly, what had seemed like science fiction became real possibility.

Part of my fortune was timing–it was a great time for nerds–but my classroom experiences at CBU allowed me and encouraged me to apply lessons to this new public network we now know as the Internet. During a junior year semester project, I was able to research and develop using the latest Internet technologies, which were just beginning to flourish. Under the direction of Dr. Yanushka and armed with a Dec Alpha machine and a T1 line, I researched the new software needed to make websites. It was a software package provided by CERN, the famous physics lab where Web technologies were invented. These days that same software lives on – more or less – it is best known as “Apache.”

My curiosity about the web resulted in CBU’s first website. I proceeded to evangelize the technology by surreptitiously installing the Mosaic browser (predecessor to Netscape, Internet Explorer, Firefox, etc.) on every computer in every lab on campus. I literally went computer to computer installing it, setting it to auto-start and making www.cbu.edu the start page. In its earliest iteration, the CBU website consisted of a few very basic items, such as contact info and a picture of the bell tower. Realizing the potential of the web site as a marketing and communications tool, I lobbied the head of the admissions office to use the website for recruiting. Eventually, faculty and staff got interested and once a new system administrator was hired, he took over the care and feeding of website, which is now hosting this article. I am very proud to have been involved with CBU and web technology at such a historic moment in time.

As graduation approached, I looked for ways to apply my skills and start a career in the industry I loved. Together with my friends Marcus Stafford and Mike O’Hearn, I built Quest Interactive Media, which produced web applications for FedEx, Harrah’s and International Paper. We created some of the best technology that Internet software of that time could offer. This type of work caught the eye of USWeb, a firm that was building a national network of Internet-focused teams.

When Quest Interactive Media was merged into USWeb/CKS (later known as marchFIRST) in 1998, I moved to the Washington, D.C.-area to join a large eCommerce group. There I further refined my experience in various fields, building sites for National Geographic, Tower Records, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and many other big brands. Ever since that time, I’ve been involved heavily with eCommerce, specifically enterprise-level eCommerce systems.

Twelve years ago, I helped found Lokion Interactive, a Memphis-based interactive agency, that picked up where Quest left off in its pioneering role in the high-tech web services market. Today, we have an excellent roster of Internet experts, and we work with many prominent clients, helping them with digital strategy, design, and software development. We can execute on the entire array of services required to deliver a great customer experience on the web, mobile phones, kiosks, or other devices.

I’ve always been very vocal about the outstanding education that I received at Christian Brothers University and am especially proud to have been taught by Drs. Yanushka and Bedrossian in the Computer Science department. During my time at CBU, I was also very lucky to have attended a couple of Electronic Engineering (EE) classes taught by Dr. Olabi. One particular class covered everything from the basic logic of “AND and OR” gates to burning a 4 bit microprocessor as a final project. I’ve held onto the final project report from that class. I never delved any further into EE, but the mere fact of understanding CPU interaction on that level has helped me with problem solving and has given me a very unique perspective when it comes to software design and coding.

My bottom-line advice to young students and alumni alike is that education is not solely about facts and grades. Learning to enjoy the journey of discovery and be comfortable with a constant flow of change is much more valuable in the long term. Dive into the industry you’re most likely to be involved with and just read about it. Listen to a niche podcast. The more time you invest in that, the more comfortable you will feel making the important decisions that affect your future.

Vaskin Kissoyan
CBU Class of ’96

Featured Alum: Warren Turkal , Computer Science 2003

I graduated with a BS in Computer Science and a minor in Art in May of 2003. I have had quite a few interesting experiences and jobs since then and am now living in Campbell, California, part of Silicon Valley. I am also very involved in educating folks about free software (free as in freedom, please see http://www.fsf.org/ for more info). I have given talks to various groups and have engaged in consulting various companies on using free software.

Warren Turkal and his new son.

Shortly before I graduated I was summoned for jury duty at the Federal court in Memphis, TN. Originally, my service was scheduled for the same week as my finals, and I thought that conflict would get me out of it. I was wrong; I just got rescheduled. Considering that I didn’t have a job yet, I thought it would probably be an interesting experience, and I hoped I would get selected. I did, and I ended up serving as the foreman on a really interesting criminal case. After the defendant was convicted, he fled and became a fugitive. He was actually caught in late 2007.

My first job after college was as a contact Unix System Administrator at FedEx Services in Collierville, TN. I paid off all of my student loans during this contract. I strongly recommend avoiding student loans (and any other debt) if at all possible. During my FedEx contract, I actually interviewed for a contract position with Google in Atlanta to work in a data center, and failed to get hired. I actually paid one of my friends to drive to Atlanta so that I could try to rest on the way as I had to leave immediately after work to get there on time. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get much rest. We got to our hotel after midnight and with only a few hours to spare before the interview. Then, I woke up later than I wanted to. However, I feel that my greatest mistake was wearing a suit to the interview. I was interviewed by one guy with a backward hat, jeans, and a T-shirt, while the other fellow had on jeans and a casual shirt. Due to lack of rest, I blanked on some really simple computer trivia, and I was kicking myself the whole way back to Memphis as a result.

Back at FedEx, I eventually converted to a full-time employee, and my title became Technical Analyst. With this, I realized a goal from the time that I was a young teenager. One of my close family friends was an employee of FedEx, and I always wanted to be employed there. However, things didn’t work out so well there. While certain positions were almost certainly more interesting than mine, I found myself less and less motivated by my work as time went on. My manager also made my time there really unpleasant. I have some really good stories though. During most of my tenure at FedEx, I was also consulting with local businesses on IT issues involving Linux and other free software on the side. I ran a company called Penguin Techs during this time. I worked at FedEx at night and ran my business by day. Having gone as far as I felt that I could in my FedEx job, I quit for a job with a small web hosting company in Memphis in late October 2005. I was willing to go anywhere to get away from my group at FedEx. This new job only lasted for about two weeks.

I finally realized that I just needed to leave Memphis to take my career where I wanted, so I took a road trip to visit some of my family near Denver, Colorado. I applied for nearly every job for a Linux systems administrator in the greater Denver area while I was there. I received no callbacks during the trip, and headed back a couple weeks later. I then got a call from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, about a job as a Research Associate (actually a Linux systems administrator) for a small research group in the Department of Atmospheric Science. I flew out for the interview in December and started the job in the middle of January 2006. I also moved Penguin Techs to Colorado. It was a beautiful location, and I learned a lot by being the expert for all of our systems. I really enjoyed the Fort Collins area. My favorite part of the town was the local free software scene. There was a weekly group that I attended called Hacking Society that had a lot of really interesting people involved. While this group wasn’t strictly a free software group, there was a lot of discussion around that topic. I also had the opportunity to consult with an attorney on some computer forensics during my time in Fort Collins.

In early 2007, I was contacted by a recruiter at Google for a Site Reliability Engineer position in Mountain View, California. I was certainly surprised they called me back given my abysmal interview performance before, but I certainly was interested. After a long and arduous interview process, I found out that I had the job. I moved out to Campbell, California, and started in July 2007. I have one thing to say about this job. This is the best job I have ever had, by a long shot. I currently work with the infrastructure systems. I also have a few other projects on which I work that make up about 20% of my work. These projects are related to free software production or research and development of new technology. I also get to work with a lot of really great people. Some of the most notable include Ken Thompson (one of the creators of UNIX), Guido van Rossum (creator of the Python programming language), and Jeremy Allison (core developer for SAMBA). Shortly after I started at Google, I had the opportunity to address the Public Relation Society of America in Memphis. I got to talk about the future of mobile technology and where I thought it was headed. It was a really fun experience.

On July 4, 2008, I got married in Las Vegas, Nevada, with my wife’s and my family there. I got to drive a DeLorean back to my hotel that night. On October 9, 2009, Aerick Linus Turkal, my first son, was born. Things just keep getting better!

I would like to end with a little advice. Don’t ever stop looking for what makes you happy. I feel that my willingness to think outside my box has allowed me the opportunity to go much farther in my life and career than would have otherwise been possible, and I am very happy for that. Also, if you have an interest in free software, please don’t hesitate to contact me by email at wt@penguintechs.org with any questions.

Featured Alums: Rebekkah ‘Griffith’ Robbins, Biology 2005, and Paul Robbins, Computer Science 2003

Rebekkah and Paul in Times Square, New York City

Rebekkah: I received a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and a minor in Spanish from CBU in December of 2005. A day after completing the requirements for graduation, I got married and moved to New York City with my husband, Paul (Computer Science ‘03). I took a position as a technician in a tuberculosis research laboratory at Weill Medical College, the medical school of Cornell University. The main goal of our lab (with help from various collaborators) is to identify and characterize possible new drug targets forMycobacterium tuberculosis, the causative agent of tuberculosis. Numerous grants fund our lab and they include those from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the NIH. Much of our work is performed in a Bio-Safety Level 3 laboratory, working directly with the tuberculosis pathogen. My largest individual project is characterizing a controllable protein degradation system for the Mycobacteria genus using a mechanism adapted from E. coli. With the results I have been observing, I am hoping for a publication to arise from this project within the next year or so. At some point in the future, I plan to attend graduate school and obtain my Ph. D. to continue research of infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

New York City is a fabulous place to live. Paul and I never thought that we would ever relocate to a city like this, but we feel quite fortunate to have the opportunity to live here. A fellow CBU School of Sciences graduate, Paul works for The New York Times and both of us feel that to live here is to live on the cutting edge of research and technology. The biggest down side so far has been the lack of good southern barbecue, but we enjoy traveling back to our home towns of Nashville and Memphis to satisfy our craving quite often. We have a dog named Oakleigh who keeps us busy rock climbing and chasing squirrels in Central Park. We are enjoying living in the big city as we wait to see what the future has in store for us.

Paul After finishing my BS at CBU, upon a recommendation from Dr. Yanushka, I enrolled into the Masters of Science program at the University of Memphis. I completed my Masters with a concentration in Management Information Systems in May of 2005. While working on my MSBA, I moved from a programming job at AutoZone to a position at Fred’s Inc working on their pharmacy computer systems. In October 2005, I relocated to NYC to work for Duane Reade, a pharmacy chain with 250 locations in the metro New York area. In early August 2007, I started a position with the New York Times working on the nytimes.com website. The programs I work on contribute to the dynamic page generation of the many different topics on the site. Much of the work involves XML, PHP, Perl, and mutliple database products. Open source software plays a major role in our culture, including our contribution to many open source products. My department recently moved into a new building near Times Square which is one of the tallest building in NYC.