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Evan West: Alumnus

Department: 
Computer Science
Degree Program: 
Computer Science, B.S.
Undergraduate Institution: 
University of California, Santa Cruz
Graduate Institution: 
Stony Brook University

Evan West received his BS in Computer Science from UC Santa Cruz in the Winter of 2019 and will be pursuing his Ph.D. at Stony Brook University in the Fall. While a student in the Baskin School of Engineering, he had the unique experience of teaching his own student-directed seminar. He spoke with us about what he learned  from the experience. 

How did you first become interested in computer science? 

My father was a computer architect. He would use terms and talk about things that I didn't understand, but he was always really excited about it. In ninth grade I got fed up with not understanding what he was talking about and I looked up an HTML tutorial. Over the course of the next three to four months, I ended up going through tutorials in six or seven different programming languages. I thought to myself, “I really enjoyed this. I think this is what I should study in college.”

Why UCSC? 

I knew UCSC had a good computer science program, and the environment here is great. Being able to walk to class in the redwoods is fantastic. There are great professors who definitely care about the students. The really great thing about being here has been the interactions I've had with professors in office hours and class.

My professor for my distributed systems class, Peter Alvaro, was the first professor I went to the office hours of, just because he was so approachable. He created a really welcoming environment and I appreciated that. Distributed systems is actually an area I'm thinking about for my graduate degree, and I think it comes back to the experience I had in his class.

What was it like teaching your own student-directed seminar?

I taught CS 42A back when there was still a CS department, and that the title of the course was “A Survey of Computational Mathematics.” The idea was to look at the fundamentals of computer science and some basic mathematical proofs for things we're already familiar with and then go from there to more complicated topics like cryptography and compression...

That class was an amazing experience. Being up in front of thirty of my peers and teaching them advanced stuff was a unique experience. I would definitely highly recommend it. If you, or you and a group of friends, have something you care about, approach your professor and say, “I want to teach a course on X, Y, and Z, and this is what I want to put in it.” They might be willing to do it. 

What did you gain from the experience? 

In terms of personal growth, I am definitely a lot more comfortable being in front of people. In terms of technical growth, there's no better way to learn how to do something than to teach it. I cemented my knowledge of those topics pretty well by teaching them. Finally, I made a lot of friends with a number of other people here at UCSC. There are people who I see and they wave to me because they were my students, but we are also in the same classes. It makes for interesting group projects when I'm working alongside someone I recently taught. I've also had people come up to me and say, “your class is the reason I got an internship or a job offer,” and that is wonderful. It's definitely one of my prouder moments. 

What is your dream career?

That's such a hard question. I would say that right now where I'm at is that I really want to find something I can do where I can take all these skills that I've learned and apply them towards something where I'm like actively helping other people. I'm considering graduate school right now to be able to teach in the future. I think that could be a good way to give back and to inspire the next generation. Teaching a class and collaborating with peers on random projects outside of what was required was the best part of my education here. Doing that again would be great. 

Do you have any advice for other students?

I would say that like the one thing I struggled with in the beginning of my time here was that I didn't put myself out there very much... I think just taking the leap is important, even if you don't feel like you're necessarily fully qualified. Find those people who you think are pretty cool and try to be their friend... I became friends with a couple of other students who I thought were very successful, and that led to my internship that led to teaching the student directed seminar. It was like the domino that fell first, that led to where I am now.