Solving the Puzzle of Post-Graduate Success
After attending a vocational high school with a focus in engineering, Jake Souza ’19 came to RWU sure that civil engineering was the path for him. That is until he took a computer applications class freshman year. Using a program called MATLAB, Souza uncovered a fondness and natural ability in computer programming.
Programming, the foundation of computer science, is like solving a good puzzle Souza says. It’s challenging but at the same time it’s fun and rewarding.
“Getting to that final product is a process and it’s tough sometimes when you get those two pieces that look exactly the same and you switch them by accident. It’s the same thing with computer science,” Souza said. “If you have one number that is just slightly off, it won’t work the way you know it should. But once you figure it out, it’s the best feeling.”
His enjoyment in programming and computer science has taught Souza a variety of programming languages and techniques that have not only applied to multiple projects and internships but will also aide him in his future career.
In his artificial intelligence class, using the programming language Python and learning techniques like depth-first search, breadth-first search, A-star search and alpha-beta pruning, he was able to make Pac-Man move through the maze and collect all the dots entirely by himself. Further, in a game design course using the platform Unity, he and his classmates designed a working video game that takes you through various college experiences by asking a series of yes or no questions.
Learning these techniques and how to use a variety of different programs allowed Souza to land an internship last summer with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, where he worked on databases to help improve task delegation and efficiently search for particular items needed for projects.
“Being able to take what I’ve learned, from all the techniques and how to learn a programming language applied heavily for when the Navy more or less threw me into the wind and said ‘you’re doing this,’” Souza said. “The whole internship gave me perspective on how to program more dynamically, to make things work more in unison with itself. After working with the Navy it’s pretty critical that everything flows correctly. You don’t want it to just work for one specific situation. You want it to work for as many as you can.”
While the techniques and programs are important, it’s also been Souza’s extracurricular involvement that has played a role in his success. Being a math tutor, a member of RWU’s Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and on the Men’s Volleyball club sport team taught him essential people skills for his future career.
“Tutoring has been the most beneficial for me. It’s really taught me to break things down into little parts and build it back up so anybody can understand it,” Souza said. “In a workplace, that’s extremely valuable if I create a program but then have to teach someone else who may not understand it like me. Now I know how to go in and show them how it all works and explain it in a way until they get it.”
These people skills are also necessary when working with outside clients. Through his senior design course, Souza is working with a local organization to create a calculator for historic buildings to better define if it’s more beneficial to demolish and re-build, renovate it or leave the building as is. This hands-on experience has been invaluable to him, especially as he prepares to return to the Navy, who works with many outside clients, in his new full-time position as a software engineer after graduation.
After getting settled into his new post-graduate position, Souza hopes to continue his education and receive his master’s degree to make sure he stays on top of what’s happening and changing in the world of computer science.