That aha moment!!

It’s has been a long time since I last posted an article not related to a coursework at UIC. But, I would like to change this trend and would try to post about my learnings and experiences more often from now on.

There are few moments in life where a person discovers something and things start making some sort of sense after that.It is has been two years since I joined graduate school at University of Illinois at Chicago to pursue my Masters. People always talk about the specialization they want to do in the masters(If you are computer science student like me, you might have heard about terms like software engineering, security , network , AI, ML , data science, etc.), but for me it was a still a exploratory phase in terms of what I wanted to do in terms of specialization in my field when I came to UIC. I had a inclination towards Artificial Intelligence because of the fascination the field bring alongs with it and mainly because the possibilities it has opened up for the people all around the world in terms of creating several opportunities to solve various real-world problems. I think I liked the uncertainty in my specialization at the beginning because it allowed me to explore and learn more about the various opportunities that I had before narrowing down my options and focusing on a single domain.

I will now talk about how everything started to make sense over a period of time. I have learnt through my experience that things do not make sense at the beginning but once one has spent some considerable time and thought over them, the puzzle starts to makes sense eventually. During my first semester at UIC, I wanted to take courses in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. I also had an interest in Distributed Systems because of the type of work I used to do in my previous job before coming to UIC. But, there was one problem which made it difficult for me to take the courses I wanted to take. It was the high demand of courses like AI, ML and Cloud Computing and the shortage of seats to accomodate all the students. I still remember the day that I had to take a demanding test in order to enroll in the Introduction to Machine Learning (IML) course in the first semester. I luckily passed the test and was able to take that course (I don’t know whether I was lucky, because the course was hard and was fun at the same time. But, I have seen overtime that good things are never easy!!). I was not able to register for any of the AI courses because of their popular demand. I did manage to take the cloud computing course and it was one of the most challenging and interesting course I had taken during my time at UIC. Along with all this, I unexpectedly got a teaching assistantship during my first semester where I had the opportunity to teach the undergraduates one of their course. I have always loved talking to people , sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas with them. This opportunity was something I was looking forward to with great enthusiasm. But, academics along with work sometimes could be a bit too much to handle(more on this sometime later). I also took the Algorithms course because everyone should know how to create efficient algorithms :)

So, there I was at my first semester of my Masters program, trying to grapple with the mysterious mathematics and statistics of machine learning, trying to decipher the world of mappers and reducers in the cloud and trying to better the Big O’s for my algorithms. It was interesting, challenging and fun at the same time and I was you could say in a “zone” where I never felt the workload because I was enjoying every bit of the work I was doing on the daily basis(I realised why people say do what you love and you will never work a day in your life!!)

I finished my fall semester with good grades in all my courses but still with a question mark over what to focus on during the rest of the masters coursework. The only solution was to take more courses in order to learn more about my interests in any particular field and see where it went from there on. I decided to take the next level of courses in Machine Learning (the advance level course) and in software engineering (the advance level course). When I think now, the advance machine learning course was and is still one of the hardest course I had taken during my stay at UIC and it was an amazing course. I think the course made me more aware of my interests in the field of machine learning and how serious I was to do something in that field. The advance software engineering was also an interesting course but my interest in that tapered off a bit in that semester.

My first year was an exploratory phase and I think it made me more aware of my interests and strengths at the same time. It was not until the third semester, that I had some clarity over what to focus on during my masters. I decided to do a research project in applied machine learning under the guidance of a very good professor at UIC and at the same time I took the Statistical Natural Language Processing course to learn more about the use of statistics in language processing. It was during this semester that “aha moment” came for me and things started making more sense and I was more aware of what I wanted to do in the future. I think I never looked back from there and had a clear idea with what I wanted to do from there on. I was happy with how the various things were shaping up and was really looking forward to learn more about machine learning and potential it has to shape the future. It was during this time that I started this blog and wanted to share about my journey and experiences with the rest of the world.

I finished my graduate school last week by taking two more courses including Language and Vision , Visualization and Visual Analytics in the last semester. Both of them were interesting and challenging but taught me so many new things about the research going at the intersection of computer vision and natural language and visualization tools available for us to develop real world applications(If you want to learn more about them, look them up in the projects section of this blog). The journey was full of ups and downs(I am not sure which of them were more!!), but it was something which I could have never planned and thought of at the beginning of my program at UIC. I took up things by interests , made choices as new things came along, persisted with things which I enjoyed and things fell into place eventually. I still have a lot to learn in the field as I think I have just started to find my feet a bit now. I am hoping to expand my knowledge more and apply the same as I enter the next phase of my life after my masters. I am hoping the next phase would be as eventful as the last two years!!

I hope you enjoyed reading about my experience. I will be back with something more soon. Stay tuned !!!


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