In June 2020, Daniel Schwartz (BS Computer Science, ’20) addressed his classmates in a virtual commencement ceremony for the College of Computing & Informatics (CCI). Schwartz’s ambition to work with machine learning and computer vision pushed him to continue his studies at Drexel, where he is currently enrolled as a doctoral student in the Computer Science PhD program. Since completing his undergraduate degree, Schwartz has also worked at his former co-op employer and CCI Corporate Partner Dell Boomi, a company specializing in cloud-based integration, API management, and master data management.
CCI: What made you decide to stay at Drexel for your PhD after completing your undergraduate degree?
DS: When I was on co-op at Dell Boomi, I was really fascinated with machine learning research. I was more intrigued in creating new machine learning architectures than using previously existing models. What I realized is that to pursue a career like this in industry, it is helpful to have some higher degree. Getting a PhD is something I wanted to do, so instead of waiting 10 years or pushing it back when I have other things to take care of, like a family, I felt like right away was the perfect time to get started. I was already working with Dr. Shokoufandeh for the past few years and completed my undergraduate thesis advised by him. I knew I wanted to pursue a doctoral degree and I was aware that to do that, I’d need a thesis committee. Since I’d already formed such close connections with a lot of the different faculty here at Drexel, my panel consisted of all the faculty with whom I conducted research previously. Different people I’ve been able to work with here through my coursework and research have helped push me to where I am today.
CCI: Talk about how that co-op experience helped you crystallize your post-undergraduate goals.
DS: I’d spent so much time in academia where you’re mostly writing papers and going to conferences, so going into industry and searching for ways to capture ideas and keep it for intellectual property was a different and really interesting experience for me. I was able to work directly with [Dell Boomi's] Chief Technology Officer, Michael Morton, and the emerging technologies team. I had the chance to work on proof of concepts of new ideas and using technologies like machine learning and AI, looking for ways to employ them in their business. It was cool to see that some of the proof of concepts went on to be larger ideas that the company actually worked on. A few projects I worked on actually ended up in patents related to Deep Learning models trained at the edge and Natural Language Processing.
CCI: Are there any activities, organizations, or projects you’ve gotten involved with since finishing your undergraduate degree last year?
DS: Last year, I was inducted in the Upsilon Pi Epsilon honor society and have been the acting treasurer since. It’s actually an undergrad and graduate student organization, so I’ve been able to continue on as treasurer this year. It’s very interesting to see the inductions of all the top students in computer science be recognized for their hardwork and come together to share experiences with one another. And in my experience, a lot of the campus organizations are either undergraduate or graduate, so it’s been cool participating in an organization that includes them both.
I also took part in the Doctoral Student Association research poster presentation a few months ago. They held elections a couple months ago, so I’m now also the treasurer for them in the upcoming year. It’s interesting to see how the DSA has an impact on what’s going on in the College and is pivotal in the return-to-normal transition.
I’ve also taken part in Drexel AI and have worked on a couple papers that we sent to conferences with that group, so I’ve gotten more involved in that organization as well doing research.
CCI: Sounds like you’ve been busy!
DS: I’m also baking and cooking a lot more since COVID started. I actually started a food Instagram (@a_dan_good_dish). It’s more for me than anything; well, my girlfriend likes it a lot too because most of the stuff I post I give to her [laugh]. I’m not really interested in getting followers but it’s nice to go back and remind myself when I find a great recipe, I can go back and do it again.
CCI: You’re a multi-year Philly Codefest winner. What did you learn from participating in Drexel’s hackathon that has stuck with you as you progress into your career?
DS: I like that Philly Codefest themes tend to focus on things related to Philadelphia. Two years ago, it was economic inequality and this past year the focus was water sustainability. And I think it’s an interesting approach. For most hackathons, the focus is more on ‘what can we do with computers?’ as opposed to ‘how can we apply computers to some social problem like economic inequality?’ I think it's good because as students, we live in the city for a few years and instead of just coming [to Philadelphia] and taking it for granted, it’s an opportunity to see what you can give back.
For instance, [when our team won in 2019] that project was based on my experience with Pennoni Honors College and participating in their alternative spring break. I spent a week in Old City and went to different homeless shelters and food banks. It was really interesting to take that experience of doing community service and then look for ways to apply technology and algorithms to that task.
CCI: You’ve been at Drexel for a while, but your first year as a PhD student was unusual due to COVID. What was it like adjusting your routine when your coursework moved online?
DS: I’ve been very fortunate in that I was already accustomed to ‘the remote lifestyle’, doing remote work for Dell Boomi. Most of my meetings for the past two years have consisted of being on Zoom before a lot of other people even knew what Zoom was, so I didn’t have to do too much adjusting with respect to transitioning online. I can bet that many of my classmates had similar experiences.
The biggest change for me was going from taking 20 credits a term as an undergrad to now taking only 9 graduate credits at a time. I’ve actually been able to do my class work, my work for Dell Boomi, and still feel like I have more free time than I did before. I’ve been able to find ways to focus on enjoying myself and having a better work-life balance than I ever did before. It’s easy for computer science students to just spend all day on the computer and it’s been a nice change for me to get out and ride my bike and explore Philadelphia a little more.
CCI: Any parting words or advice for our Class of 2021 graduates?
DS: I want to congratulate all the graduates for their hard work and perseverance during a once in a lifetime event and wish the best in the job search ahead. If I had any advice after four years at Drexel, is to always plan ahead and get started on your job search as soon as possible. I think the pandemic has really shown us that you never know what’s going to happen. Like Drexel’s mission says, “Ambition Can’t Wait” and it’s a great reminder to stay on top of things and always do the best that you can. Good luck and I can’t wait to see what amazing achievements this year’s graduating Dragons and future ones to come have in store for creating a better world.