As part of his 2020 spring term course, Applied Data Structures, Associate Professor & Chair of Computer Science Jaime Spacco called upon alumni to help students polish their job-interviewing skills and learn more about working in computer science.
In the course, students solved real-world problems by applying the key data structures covered in previous courses to real-world data. Students worked on a variety of projects, such as using graphs to determine the shortest path between different locations and implementing a disease-transmission simulator to model the effectiveness of interventions such as social distancing.
As Spacco adapted his class to the circumstances of distance learning, he incorporated some new elements that drew on the knowledge of Knox alumni, such as video question-and-answer sessions with professional developers, along with mock interviews.
One area of focus was giving students practice with what are called “tech interviews” or “coding interviews.” The interviews are very specific to the field of computer science, and someone who performs well in a tech interview stands a better chance of getting hired, Spacco said.
In a tech interview—which is often conducted online, even when there isn’t a pandemic—the job candidate is asked a programming question and is expected to sketch out a solution. “It’s not just the code you sketch out, but also the clarifying questions you ask that show your thought process” to the prospective employer, Spacco explained. “It’s a very challenging skill to learn.”
The alumni willing to provide career-related guidance to students in Spacco’s class included Tim Banks '81. “Writing software is what I’ve been involved in for almost 40 years now,” he said. “I like working with college-age people and seeing them understand what a career in IT looks like.”
Another alumnus, data analyst Kameron Wells '17, said, “I’m always looking to help Knox students anyways, so when Spacco reached out, I was happy to help.”
“I loved my time at Knox and got my break into analytics with the [Baltimore] Orioles through a Knox alum, Derek Papp '01, so it’s only right I return the favor,” Wells added. As for the students he spoke with online, Wells said, “I think they all did an incredible job taking this unprecedented [term] in stride.”
Photo at top of page: Professor Spacco with computer science students in January 2020.