The following profiles will give you an idea of the range of careers that computer science can lead to.
Matt completed a Masters degree in Computer Science at Otago: the topic of his Masters was natural language understanding. He worked on a joint project between the Department of Computer Science and the Faculty of Law. The project involved extracting information automatically from unreported legal judgments. This got Matt thinking about the best way to combine science and law.
He joined A J Park, an intellectual property law firm, and completed the professional patent attorney examinations and a law degree at Victoria University of Wellington. Matt is now a partner in the Engineering and Information Communication Technology team in A J Park's Wellington office. He specialises in protecting, registering and licensing patents in the computer and information technology fields. Matt is also a copyright specialist: he has been involved with a number of high profile cases, including obtaining international patent protection and licensing for medical imaging equipment and software-based diagnostic systems developed in New Zealand. More about Matt Adams.
Film animation for Pixar
After completing his PhD in computer graphics at Otago, Alexis was appointed as technical director by Pixar Animation Studios in California. Pixar is the company that created the animated film "Finding Nemo", and is a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company. Alexis had previously worked with two New Zealand companies based in Dunedin - ARL (Animation Research Ltd) and CAT (Character Animation Technology). Alexis has created an open source shape modelling tool called 'swirling sweepers'.
Alexis worked on many of Pixar's famous animated movies like 'Ratatouille' and 'Up', and with three others won the category Outstanding Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture for the movie "Up" at the VES (Visual Effects Society) Awards in Los Angeles.
Robots on Mars and self driving cars
After earning a degree in computer science at Otago, Dave went to the USA to work in robotics at Carnegie Mellon University. Most of his research was focused on autonomous vehicles that can drive you to work while you catch a little extra shut-eye and smart cars that can park themselves. Dave wrote: "Perhaps the most exciting research-related undertaking I've been involved in is developing an autonomous navigation system for NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers. My advisor and I developed a planning algorithm that the guys at the Jet Propulsion Lab decided they would like on their rovers Spirit and Opportunity, and they twisted our arms (it really wasn't hard) to port it to their systems. So I've been working with a couple guys out in Pasadena and the code finally made it through all of their rigorous testing and is currently shooting across the solar system to be uploaded to the two robots on the surface of Mars."
Dave also did Artificial Intelligence research for a computer science-based hedge fund called Two Sigma before joining Google to work as leader of the machine learning and computer vision teams for their exciting and revolutionary self-driving car project. Dave speaks here about self driving cars.
After completing his PhD in high-performance computing at Otago, Kai-Cheung worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Otago on improving 3D terrain model reconstruction algorithms with manycore and distributed computing technologies, with collaboration from the graphics company Areo.
Kai-Cheung is now a research programmer at the Department of Computer Science, University of Auckland. He works on interesting projects that range from novel user-interfaces to unmanned aerial vehicles.
3D Brain Imaging
"I spent four happy years at the University of Otago, working towards a PhD with Lubica Benuskova from the CS department, and Elizabeth Franz from the Psychology department. My PhD research involved the exploration of analysis methods for FMRI data, using functional connectivity measures to identify differences related to brain aging and Alzheimer's Disease. For the past 18 months I have been working as a post-doctoral software engineer at the FMRIB Centre in the University of Oxford, on FSL (the FMRIB Software Library).
I've worked on a few different projects, however most of my time is spent developing software for visualising 3D brain imaging data, and teaching researchers and students how to use the various FSL tools for neuroimaging analysis. One visible contribution I have made is for the visualisation of functional connectivity measures within the Human Connectome project. I really enjoy working in the vibrant environment that FMRIB provides, and I have the experience that I gained, and support that I received, from the Otago CS department to thank for the opportunity that I have been given. Oh, and I really miss the Rocket espresso machine in the kitchen. "
IT for life sciences
While Michael was studying computer science at Otago he became interested in a project for the Department of Physiology, who were dissatisfied with the performance of their old paper chart recorders and asked Michael to develop a computer-based system to replace their old paper-based one. The project led to the co-founding of ADInstruments, which manufactures similar products for the world market. ADInstruments now has nine company offices and over 40 distributors worldwide, although the research and development office is still in Dunedin. The company specialises in data acquisition systems for the life sciences.
IT for education
After studying medicine, Jenny re-trained in computer science at Otago by doing a Diploma for Graduates. She then began working for the Higher Education Development Centre of the University of Otago, and became the director of its Educational Media unit, which works with lecturers to find ways of enhancing teaching and learning through appropriate use of information technology.
She writes: "Doing computer science does not mean you will end up consigned to talking to machines all day! I would hate that. Designing solutions to some intriguing problems with a talented team of programmers, designers and AV producers is really rewarding. The best thing is when you evaluate something you have been part of creating and find that it has had a positive impact on students and their teachers."
He earned his degree in computer science at Otago, then Stuart joined Orion Health as a software developer. He explained: "Doctors don't have time to run six different applications at once to get all the information on a patient: that's why Orion Health makes a Medical Applications Portal, which brings them all together. The software I wrote makes a real difference to doctors and their patients." Stuart is now a Java developer with BSkyB in London.
After earning a computer science degree at Otago, Paul first worked in software development for banking and then realised people were willing to pay him to make computer games for a living. He worked for various companies in California on games such as "Warbreeds" and "Panzer General 3D: Assault" and was senior software engineer for the Playstation 2 game "Robin Hood: Defender of the Crown". Paul then moved back to New Zealand to focus fulltime on Traygames, an online game service company (co-founded by Paul) having offices in the United States and New Zealand. More recently he founded Landshark Games, ('Aviator', 'Bad Candy') based in Singapore.
Mike did a degree in Computer Science at the University of Otago, then founded web software company Cloud Cannon with George Philips (who also did a Computer Science degree at Otago). The software is a CMS which allows web designers to set up and host web sites which are flexible, attractive and allow non-tech staff to easily update them without having any coding skills. The company has attracted $650,000 worth of investment from various sources. Though starting up in Dunedin, the company has now relocated to San Francisco.
Computer games, animation
Tim studied both computer science and design at Otago, followed by a Master's degree in Entrepreneurship. His interest in computer games led him first to found the local student chapter of the IGDA (the International Game Developers' Association) and then to bring together a group of fellow graduates to form an interactive entertainment company based in Dunedin. He also worked in animation for NHNZ before becoming CEO of Straylight Studios in Dunedin. Now he heads Runaway, the computer games division of Natural History New Zealand, also based in Dunedin.
Platform Engineer at Mozilla Corporation
After finishing his Honours and Masters degree in Computer Science at Otago, Chris was recruited to work at Innaworks in Wellington as a software engineer. There he was involved in a project to automatically port J2ME programs to C++ for the developing mobile phone software market. This involved reimplementing much of the Java Standard Library and many of the services that a Java virtual machine has in C++.
After 18 months at Innaworks he moved to Auckland and was hired by Mozilla to work as a software engineer on the Firefox web browser. This is the software that roughly 20% of all people on the internet use to view web pages. This is an exciting time in the browser space, with a large number of new capabilities being rapidly standardized and added to web browsers, and now the trend towards mobile computing.
At Mozilla Chris works on mostly the playback code powering the HTML5 video and audio elements. This is very technically challenging work, but it's exciting to see his code being relied on to play video on popular sites like YouTube. Chris also implemented the HTML5 Fullscreen API in Firefox, which Facebook are now using in their photo viewer on their desktop site. Chris says: "My time at Otago provided a solid foundation for my career as a software engineer. The algorithmic and coding skills I learned in my undergraduate degree really helped land my first job, while my Masters honed my communication and analytical skills."
George completed his BSc in Computer Science, and since then he has been building a highly successful business called CloudCannon, an easy way for users to build websites simply by using Dropbox. George says "Computer Science at Otago taught me the wide base of knowledge that is required to be a great developer. From building games to programming robots, I enjoyed every bit of the course. Computer knowledge is incredibly important in any field, and I would recommend Computer Science to anyone, not just developers."
After earning a degree in computer science at Otago, Denise joined the Royal New Zealand Navy. Her first posting was to the Devonport Naval Base, where she worked on the Bridge Simulator used for training. She has completed several operational deployments on a Naval frigate, to the Persian Gulf and also to Vladivostok, Russia. She is now working as a Weapon Engineering Officer (a systems engineer with a specialisation in weapons, sensors and computer systems). Denise currently works on projects which introduce new capability into the Naval Fleet.
She says the grounding from her Honours degree in Computer Science makes her job a lot easier. "The logical approach to problem-solving really appealed. They taught the principles and theory behind how a computer works - so it's very easy to adapt to other systems."
Successful innovator, Areograph
After completing his degree in computer science at Otago, Luke specialised in the development and commercialisation of new technology in the ICT sector. He co-founded Skinkers, which grew to be the world leader in desktop alerting software, winning a European award for innovation. Clients included broadcasters and large corporates (e.g. BBC, The Wall Street Journal). Next, Luke founded Areograph in Dunedin. Areograph is a research and development company working with view dependent texture mapping and image based modeling for military, film and games industries. The company has won two World Summit awards for its 3D modelling software. See Areograph.com.
After earning degrees in languages (Spanish) and computer science at Otago, Leah joined Orion Health. Leah's role is on the business side of things rather than the software development side - she checks calls for tender to decide whether Orion should respond and make a bid for the business. Sometimes the decision depends on technical factors, for which her computing background is relevant. (And is it just coincidence that Orion has an office in Palma de Mallorca, where everyone speaks Spanish?). Next, Leah moved to London to work for Orion's UK office. She worked as a Bid Writer for about the first three years of her time with Orion and then worked briefly in the Documentation Team and the Integration Team (this team configures Orion's products before they were installed at customer sites). Since joining the UK team in London Leah has done some bid work and helped prepare demo systems, and is now an Implementation Consultant.
Entrepreneur, Igtimi Ltd (high-end GPS equipment)
Kylie, who was Dunedin born and raised, wanted a career that used both science and art skills, so she did a BSc majoring in Computer Science with papers in Design, and then completed a graduate diploma in Computer Graphics at Otago. After graduating she worked at Animation Research Ltd (ARL), the Dunedin-based company that became famous for producing the America's Cup graphics. She was a senior animator and team leader, both at Animation Research and later while working as an animation contractor in London. Kylie has worked on the Ribena cyberberries ads, the Human Potential television documentary series, and the underwater world of giant squid for Whale Watch Kaikoura.
After she returned to New Zealand, Kylie worked for Natural History NZ (NHNZ) as a VFX Supervisor before starting her own business - Igtimi Ltd. This company sells high end, marine-capable Live GPS equipment for competitive water sports. The products have been used during the America's Cup, on the Volvo Ocean Race boats and by New Zealand's Olympic sailing campaigners for their training. There is a lot of variety in her job - everything from managing the team to programming, design, and meeting clients. Kylie gets to travel to sporting events and install her trackers on racing yachts and power boats in places like China, Dubai, Chile, USA, Qatar and Europe.
Kylie also designed the penguin that is the logo of the Department of Computer Science (thanks, Kylie!) Read more about Kylie's career.
While studying Computer Science, Finance, and Marketing at Otago Craig teamed up with his brother to develop and launch Language Perfect - an online vocabulary tool for high school students.
Says Craig - "It's exciting to be at the cutting edge of the education revolution, towards interative, collaborative learning tools that have an enormous effect on society. The University environment is just amazing - you've got all this expertise and astonishing resources available. Language deparments, graphics departments, and thousands of students to test and give suggestions."
After winning the $40K Audacious Business Plan Award at the end of his first year of study, then the ComputerWorld Excellence Awards Young ICT Category in his second year, Craig took a year off to develop the business. He returned in 2010 to complete his degree.
As for Language Perfect - it currently has more than 20,000 annual subscribers!
While at University Ben focused on web development, taking both the web papers in first year, and then taking the 3rd year database paper in second year. He would spend hours and hours in between lectures programming his own web apps. Ben was so excited about getting out into the real world that the very day after his last computer science exam he was starting work. AVOS is a company based in Dunedin, founded by Chad Hurley and Steve Check, co-founders of YouTube. Ben says "The two web papers at Uni had given me all the skills I needed to get the job."
Next Ben set out to build a website with a team of 3 others, also students, and ex-students from the Uni. They called it Linkerly and released the site in time for OWeek, after just a month of preparation. The site quickly achieved a solid user base. The site uses modern web technologies and design practices, including many learnt while at the University of Otago. Ben found the COMP212 paper especially helpful as a grounding block for learning other, more powerful web technologies. The backend for the site is written in PHP, the same language that is taught in COMP212 (now COSC212). Ben says: "If I was going to give a recommendation for future or current students, it would be to take the two web papers, and then use your own time to build on the skills you learn from them. Employers want to see projects you have done in your spare time, and showing them your work will impress them often more than just high grades alone."
Ben has also worked as a Front-end Engineer for Condé Nast, has created Toast Rooster (a management tool for Toastermaster's Clubs), and as Tech Lead for Banqer (a financial education app for schools).
Control software for Formula One racing cars
Mark Williams doesn't need computer games to get a feel for Formula One fantasies. He's been at the forefront of world motor racing for a decade. Soon after Williams completed his PhD at Otago he joined British American Racing (BAR) to develop on-car embedded control software. He moved to the Jaguar Formula One team to run their PC software group before returning to BAR, which was first renamed Honda, and then in became Brawn GP. The team achieved a fairy-tale comeback from Honda's withdrawal to win the drivers' and constructors' championships. Having fulfilled his goals at Brawn, Williams moved on to Red Bull Racing ahead of the following season. He managed on- and off-car software groups, then ran projects integrating systems across the team, including video analysis, GPS data, and track surveys, and he is currently running Red Bull's driving simulators.
At Otago Williams developed a technique for analysing digital video streams to extract three-dimensional coordinates of objects, which set him up for his career. “Two key lessons from Otago have shaped my time since,” he says. “Firstly, the PhD process taught me how to produce solutions: defining a problem, understanding it and solving it are crucial for any engineering enterprise, and that ability is surprisingly uncommon. “Secondly, Professor Brian Cox taught me about attention to detail. It may be commas, apostrophes, or software testing, if everything is treated with rigour it will always produce better results.”
And you don't get better results in Formula One than winning both the drivers' and constructors'championships for the fourth year in a row.