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Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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Google, Amazon, Intel, Bloomberg—that’s just a small snippet of where Yeshiva University’s computer science graduates are working, thanks to a vibrant program created by the university and its dynamic department chairs. Professor Judah Diament and Professor Alan Broder, who each chair the Yeshiva College and Stern College computer science programs respectively, have made it clear that the success of their students lies in a unique combination of factors only seen at YU.

The first element rings true for all graduates of YU, regardless of major: an outstanding work ethic rooted in the ability to manage a dual curriculum. “I think one thing that is unique about YU is that the mind-boggling hours the students keep,” Diament remarked. “The time management is just so much better than what you see in most universities.” Broder noted that he’s received the same feedback from companies throughout the industry, that “students at other universities are not taking this same course load year after year … Our students have learned to manage their time and work hard.”

David Mandelbaum, a Highland Park native who graduated from Yeshiva College with a computer science degree in 2019, has heard a similar sentiment when speaking to potential employers. “Companies that take interest in my educational background can see that I’m an interdisciplinary thinker, and that I don’t have only one interest,” he shared. “I think that’s a unique aspect that YU students have that makes them stand out during interviews.”

Mandelbaum now works as an assistant vice president at Citibank, where he utilizes both the technical skills and the practical problem-solving he learned during his time at YU. “A lot is taught in the computer science classes,” he explained. “It’s both theory and practice … it’s about making sure you understand the fundamentals of the different areas that are important to succeeding in the field. It was the professors’ priority to make sure we understood the concepts and that we could apply them.”

Mandelbaum is touching on the second element of the computer science program’s success: the balance between theoretical and practical, both in and out of the classroom. “[The students] do really hard large-scale projects; they’re building real software,” he explained. “These are not toy assignments you would find in other academic programs.”

Diament has structured the curriculum at Yeshiva College specifically to help students gain skills needed for the “real world” of computer science. In order to do that, he needed to hire a robust faculty with industry experience—not just academic achievements. “You can’t prepare people for an industry if you know nothing about it yourself.”

Diament recalled: “In my time in industry, new college graduates I encountered may have known computer science fundamentals, but they were usually not prepared to be productive contributors on a real-world software development team. So when I came to YU in 2016, one of my overarching goals was to have our graduates be prepared to hit the ground running.”

Broder takes the same approach at Stern College, where his focus is to deliver a classic computer science education with courses that are focused on “applications to real-life data.” Like Diament, Broder has decades of industry experience, having founded a technology company, and similarly makes sure that the faculty in his department “all have training in both the theoretical and the practical.”

Part of giving students the experience needed for a career in computer science is assigning projects that allow them to utilize the theoretical knowledge they’ve acquired in class. And for Stern College graduate
and Passaic native Aliza Pahmer-Aron, the projects are what helped her secure her internships, and ultimately, her job.

“The projects were very hard, but these are the projects we’re putting on our resumes,” Pahmer-Aron explained. “Since I had coded in Python, I was able to work for a company that also used Python, and I was definitely prepared.”

Pahmer-Aron explained that her current job as a software engineer may not use a lot of the technical skills she learned while at Stern, but she was certainly equipped to master the interview process, thanks to the resources provided to her by Broder and the computer science department. “I did all of my interview prep using slides from the classes I took … it covered everything that I needed to know and was asked about.”

The new Intel employee is referring to a third element of the computer science department’s success: interview preparation and readiness. “I have probably personally interviewed several hundred people in my career while I was running my company,” said Broder. “When I talk to my students in my courses, I’ll make sure to say, ‘Focus well, because I can guarantee you that what we cover today will come up in job interviews.’ And those students will come back to me and say, ‘That’s right, I was asked that very same question in an interview, and I was ready to answer it.”

West Orange native Tehila Azar, who graduated from Stern College this past year, echoed exactly that when describing her interview process for her current position as a software development engineer at Amazon. “The interviews are a big part of it,” she explained. “[In class], we learned a lot about algorithms, data structures, how to solve problems and how to think … so when I was studying for my interviews, I felt very prepared.”

Once on the job, YU’s computer science graduates are typically more prepared for the team-working and collaboration of the industry than other recent graduates. This is due in part to another element of the program’s success—creating an environment of cooperation for the students.

In an effort to promote practical industry teamwork, Diament has introduced project-sharing tools that are used in companies throughout the industry. “When you go out into the world, you work on a team where you share your code with other people, and you’re all building one large thing together … but these are not the tools you use in university,” he explained. “So starting already in the second semester, the students are handing their work in using the same tools they would use on the job to add their code to a team project.”

And on the more abstract side of creating a collaborative space, the computer science students themselves have committed to constructing an atmosphere of team spirit by supporting each other and helping one another throughout their time in college. This sentiment was expressed by both Pahmer-Aron and Azar, and highlighted by Broder as a distinctive quality that makes YU’s computer science program special.

“Unprompted, a student by the name of Michal Kaufman shared with me the following: ‘It’s really nice to be a part of the Stern computer science major because of the amazing avira, the culture of supporting and helping each other out and having team spirit. I mean, how many other majors have team spirit?’”

Mandelbaum said that a similar team spirit exists also among the students and the faculty, especially when it comes to making necessary improvements to the curriculum. “The professors were really open to having a dialogue. They’re always keeping the students’ needs at the forefront while making sure that the students get the best training.”

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