Spotlight on Alumni

First Threads Graduate Ties It All Together

In December 2007, slightly more than a year after it took effect, the new Threads computer science curriculum at the College of Computing already had its first graduate: Christopher Octa.

Although Octa was already a junior and had been following the traditional curriculum when Threads was implemented, the new approach dovetailed almost perfectly with his interests and some courses he had already taken.

“I already knew I wanted to do something with multimedia—computer graphics, video games, animation—because I’ve always been interested in that,” says Octa. “When I first read the Threads program description, I saw the Media and People threads and I said, ‘That’s it!’”

Developed here at the College, Threads allows students to tailor their programs according to personal interests, strengths and goals by mapping a course along a choice of eight distinct, logical perspectives: modeling and simulation, devices, theory, information internetworks, intelligence, media, people and platforms.

Undergrads choose two threads to create one of 28 possible combinations, each of which is associated with a set of introductory and specialized courses from computer science and other fields that will prepare students for real-world computing opportunities.

In Octa’s case, he combined the Media thread, which focuses on the functional and computational capabilities of systems to maximize their capacity to provide creative outlets, and the People thread, which provides the foundations for designing, building and evaluating systems that treat the human being as a central component.

Students who enrolled in the computer science program at the College during or since fall 2006 are required to follow a Threads curriculum for their degrees. But those already enrolled when Threads was launched, such as Octa, have the option to follow it or the previous, more traditional curriculum.

Octa was fortunate in that he already had taken, simply out of interest, some of the specialized courses he would need for his two threads. That made his decision to follow the new curriculum that much easier and made it possible for him to graduate in December 2007, just three semesters after Threads was introduced. Another three students graduated with a Threads degree in May 2008.

Octa, 23, now works as a software engineer at the Norcross, Georgia, technology headquarters of CareerBuilder.com, the largest online job-search site in the country. He interviewed for the position before he graduated and began working in January. He says the College of Computing’s hands-on approach to learning helped him from the beginning.

“In my job interviews, I was able to talk about things that are actually relevant to my profession because many of the courses I took were project courses, and I had experience doing things,” he says. “Even now at work, sometimes we are trying to solve a problem, and I can think about how I solved a similar problem in a class.”

Since joining the firm, Octa has discovered that he’s in good company, with many alumni from the College working there.

Octa says the courses that involved team programming projects were his favorites, even though they required a few all-nighters. More than that, he says, they also were the best preparation for a career because they taught not only computing skills and knowledge but also how to work together with other people. And that’s an important factor in most computing fields today.

“Some people think software engineers are just sitting in a cubicle somewhere churning out code, but that’s definitely not true in my job,” he says. “It’s all about group efforts.”