Senior Jordan Safer, an electrical and computer engineering major from Brookline, Massachusetts, answers a few questions about student life at Carnegie Mellon, what he's excited for this semester, why he chose his major, and how his major and internships have influenced his career decisions.
1. What do you enjoy about campus life?
When I think about campus life, I think about how much I love the campus community. I love seeing my friends all over campus, both in my classes and in the hallways. I love that CMU has a unique set of traditions, including Carnival, Schatz dinners, and notorious computer science classes and School of Drama productions. Midnight milkshakes at Resnik are a classic. I feel like it's very understated through this short piece, but the people at CMU really make it amazing. My friends are incredible people, and both because they are always supporting me, and because they are always inspiring me with everything they do. The people 100% are my campus life, and for me every day boils down to taking care of business and spending time with friends. These cornerstones make life really nice.
2. What do you get involved in outside of cross country/track and field?
I'm very involved in Jewish life on campus! Since sophomore year, I've worked with CMU Jewish Student board, which plans all of the events run by the campus Hillel. Every week we'll get together for "Homework Hangouts" on Mondays, and a slightly more traditional Friday night dinner together to cap off the week. I've really enjoyed different special events we've had, like selling humantaschen (triangular cookies with a jelly filling) for charity, holding a talent show (amazing to see friends from Purnell perform), and having hebrew discussion groups. It's an exciting challenge to plan and execute events when some of my close friends and classmates might be coming, and it also really makes me appreciate how arbitrary everything is, and how easy it is to have an impact.
3. Tell us about an internship you've had.
Last summer I interned at Amazon Robotics in the Boston area. In case you aren't familiar, our team makes little round robots (which look like orange Roombas), which move around all the boxes at Amazon warehouses. I had my own project for the summer, and also went to a bunch of intern events with other interns in the program.
On a normal day, I would drive into work some time from 8:30-9:30 a.m. and jump into working on my project. At around 10 a.m., I had a team meeting where everyone in our team explained what they had been working on, and how everything was going. We would work together to make critical decisions, since everyone on the team was going to be affected by everyone's work. After that, it was right back to work. Usual work was always connected to programming, but it was a mix of figuring out what was needed and putting everything together. That could include looking for software applications online, testing things out in real life, doing calculations on a sheet of paper to figure out how things come together, or writing the program necessary to combine it all. I put together quite a few powerpoints and excel spreadsheets over the course of the summer where I explained different parts of my projects, and broke down different design decisions I made. Overall, it was a productive summer!
The previous summer, I interned at Motorola Solutions in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was an incredible experience working internationally, both because I got to live in a very different location and because I got to experience a very different workplace culture. I really want to recommend internships abroad for freshman/sophomore summer, because many of my classmates had trouble getting "competitive" internships at established companies in the U.S, because established internship programs can be very competitive to get into. Meanwhile, many international locations don't have internship programs (Motorola did not have one), which means that many of them would be excited to hire an excited CMU student for the summer (at the very least it's cheap labor for them)!
As far as the actual work, my team worked on a utility cellphone for heavy duty use (like in construction or law enforcement). My daily work amounted to reading through lots of technical documents for the phone software we were working with, which was partly designed by ARM, Qualcomm, Google (Android), and Motorola. I was assigned a specific feature to focus on, and spent the summer working on basic code to get my feature working. The work was very hands off, so I was given some tools and then left almost entirely alone. If I had questions, or needed access to more information, I always needed to ask, and I needed to be prepared, because sometimes it took a day for me to get help with a question I had. It was very important to be self starting.
4. How did your internship help form your career decision?
My internships helped me understand how Research and Development (R&D) worked in industry, so they really helped me make a more informed decision about what I wanted to do post college and beyond. There were definitely very exciting aspects of my work, because the applications I worked with were real products and technologies that I could see in day to day life. There were times when I felt drained by my work, because of lot of energy can go into memorizing how different programs work, which isn't always very rewarding. Learning how different technologies work can be quite interesting though.
5. What are you excited about this semester?
This semester, I'm jumping into neuroscience, which is super exciting to me, because I think it's a super exciting application of a lot of the work I've done in ECE for three years. I joined a research lab at UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center), where we are analyzing mouse brains to see how the brain cells communicate with each other. In class, I'm learning to apply machine learning to neuro-signal processing, which basically means we've designed special implants to read signals from our brain cells, and now we can save the data and use it to see what we are thinking about ("basically"). Suffice to say, I'm very excited!
6. Why did you select your course of study – what has been a favorite class?
I picked ECE in part to challenge myself, in part because I thought computers would be a great tool, and in part because I want to know how everything works (engineer here), and everything includes computers. One of my favorite classes so far has been Computer Architecture, because we spent the class building actual circuit designs for computers. Every time I drew up a full circuit diagram, I couldn't help sending everyone I knew a snap (snapchat) of it.
7. What class would you recommend someone take?
I feel like a bandwagon fan for saying this, but if there was one class I could call a must take class at CMU, I would pick 15-112 (Introduction to Programming). Unfortunately it's one of the most time consuming introductory classes you'll find, but on the plus side, you'll learn how to program, which is amazingly useful when you can write a program to do all of your math homework in 10 minutes (not joking). 15-110 is not a substitute; It's more of a high level class. Beyond 112, I would recommend a good statistics class (36-225) and Accounting, because these are both really practical classes for real life.
8. What have you enjoyed about living in Pittsburgh?
As an XC runner, I love running in Frick park. Frick park is a beautiful park with miles of running trails, multiple park areas with fields, playgrounds, sledding hills, and a nature center. Running through Frick park, there are great views from the peaks of hills (if you know where to find them), and trails that can take you from Squirrel Hill all the way to the Waterfront Mall. I really think Pittsburgh is blessed to have such a large and beautiful park, no matter who it's named after.