What did the third years do over the summer?

Queens’ Computer Scientists have regular Wednesday meetings during term time. Each week we have something new, and this week we were treated to nine 5-minute presentations from our third-year students who told us about what they did over the summer.

First off we had Andy, who worked for JP Morgan Chase and Co. in Canary Wharf, where he produced a data analysis tool for foreign exchange market making. This was clearly very successful: it’s now in production use! After Andy finished his internship, he went inter-railing around Europe and visited loads of exciting destinations including Rome and Berlin.

Next up was Dan, who spent his summer at Optiver after travelling to Barcelona. Optiver are a derivatives trading company based in Amsterdam, where Dan stayed. Similarly to Andy, Dan’s work was focused on building analysis tools for market making. Using mainly C++, Dan produced low-latency tools, which drew on large datasets, to help traders make informed decisions. Dan really enjoyed the company’s friendly character and felt motivated by the competitive atmosphere.

The next presentation was given by Tamara who did something different this summer. After last summer’s internship, Tamara felt like a change and went to volunteer and travel in Ecuador. While she was there, Tamara built houses for local teachers and helped to teach English to the local children. She noticed an interesting technological disparity between the village’s poor infrastructure and the abundance of mobile phones. Hopefully her efforts have helped to improve the living standards for the community that welcomed her during her stay.

Jirka styled his vacation as “A Bohemian Summer”, mainly since he worked in Bohemia. Jirka’s worked in and around Prague with a consultancy company called Boston Consulting Group. While he was there, Jirka undertook two projects: one that produced a global pricing strategy for a large software company; and the other was a machine learning tool that saved the client an estimated €2 million/year, replacing their existing spreadsheet solution. After his internship, Jirka also went travelling.

Bloomberg employed Dhruv over the summer where he built a user analytics tool into existing commercial software, so that Bloomberg can improve their product by considering usage statistics. Using C++, SQL and Javascript, alongside Bloomberg’s internal tools, Dhruv produced a system that collects and displays these usage figures for easy analysis. He had a great time working on a self-driven project and enjoyed sampling Bloomberg’s excellent snacks!

During the vacation, Simon wisely chose to actually go on holiday! He travelled to Northern Italy with his family, and Prague with friends. When he wasn’t travelling around Europe, Simon took several Coursera courses covering the Scala and Machine Learning courses, which he recommends. In addition, Simon also continued his on-going project of implementing a chess engine. Starting from scratch, he decided to use C++ this time (for performance), and summarises the project’s mixed success as “C++, 2.5k lines of code, one big mess”.

Henry M went to work with Microsoft in Ireland, this summer, where he worked on improving some of the infrastructure behind one of Microsoft’s large products. The distributed system he built was focused on ensuring availability and fault tolerance. Henry found that with lots more interns, he had loads of chances to attend social events and engage with them outside of work. While working on a large project can seem daunting, Henry found it rewarding and would also recommend working in another country.

The penultimate presentation was given by Adam, who worked at Telensa, a company that provides smart street lighting solutions to various cities around the world, including our own Cambridge. The aim of Telensa’s software is to detect faults in the lighting and to optimise energy usage. Adam worked on building up the backend system for street light management and found the unique constraints of embedded hardware an interesting and exciting challenge.

Henry T gave the final presentation, and closed our session by telling us about his time working in Redmond with Microsoft. Along with approximately 2000 other interns, Henry spent his time on the massive Microsoft campus, where he worked to ensure the quality of an important part the Microsoft ecosystem. His project streamlined the telemetry data pipeline to ensure that different parts of it remain synchronised. While he was working there, Henry attended loads of great intern events and had fun exploring Seattle and the Bay area.

That concludes the presentations for this week, but next week we have the second-year students telling us about what they did in their first summer since arriving in Cambridge.


Open Days

Next Thursday and Friday (6th and 7th July) are the University of Cambridge Open Days. Please come and say hello! I’ll be in Old Kitchens in Queens’ from 11.15am to 12.15pm and I’ll be in the Intel Lab at the William Gates Building from 2pm to 4pm.

See the Computer Laboratory’s Open Day poster for more information about the events in the department.

Indie game development

Last year we had a talk from Ben Nicholson (aka capeguy), a Queens’ graduate who works in the games industry and is currently starting up his own indie games studio.

He has now shipped his first game! (Currently iOS, with Android on the way)

Ski Three is the world’s first ‘match-three-endless-runner’. Moving and matching tiles in rows of three, the player must clear a path for their skier as she traverses a snow-coated mountain pass, dotted with log cabins, towering alpines, and frozen boulders.

There is more information on Ben’s website.

Congrats Ben!

16/11/2016: Talk by Alex Chan

This week, Alex Chan was invited to give us a talk about Colossus, a British code-breaking machine from World War II. The former Queens’ student noted three remarkable facts about the Colossus: that it was created to decrypt a machine the British know nothing about; that it was created in such a short time frame; and that despite being a huge advance in computing at the time, it had almost no impact on the history of the modern computer.

Alex began with a brief description of the cipher that the Colossus was eventually built to crack, and the machine that was used to implement it. The folk at Bletchley Park knew none of this to begin with, and deduced it entirely by studying the intercepted messages — an incredible feat! Eventually, the team at Bletchley figured how how to decrypt the messages, but unfortunately the process was too slow. To speed this up, they built successively faster and more reliable machines, requiring less and less human input, and this resulted in the construction of the Colossus. This machine could translate any message in about 5 hours, and provided the British war effort with crucial intelligence in time for the D-Day landings in 1944.

In total, there were 10 Colossi at Bletchley Park. What made this collection special is that together, these machines were the first to be Turing complete — a key benchmark in measuring how powerful a computer is. Unfortunately, this achievement was buried deep under the veil of secrecy that covered all that transpired in Bletchley Park, which is why the Colossus did not make its rightful contribution to the field of computing. The talk concluded with a quick summary of the the timeline and how incredible it was that Colossus came around to be.

Apart from finding about a fascinating topic in the history of Computer Science, we also learned plenty from Alex’s polished presentation and delivery. Thank you for a wonderful talk!

How the Part IIs spent their summer

It’s now the end of week three and at Queens’ we have been talking in our weekly seminar about how our Part II students spent their summer. Queens’ Computer Scientists are in the lucky position of being highly-sought-after in the jobs market, with many of them spending the summer in a well-paid internship. Each year companies pay the Computer Lab a fee to attract our students to working for them at a careers fair and there are usually more companies than freshers attending!

One of our freshers, Jamie writes about this evening’s event:

Mark Twain said that “the lack of money is the root of all evil”, so this week the part IIs told us about how they made money over the summer. Of the five part IIs that spoke, four had internships over the summer vacation.

Sam spent his time working for a “startup-like” company called Improbable, who build distributed simulation systems for applications such as weather simulation and large game worlds. Sam worked in the demos building “cool stuff” to show off Improbable’s technology and raved about their friendly culture and staff.

Boeing Defence had the pleasure of Bradley’s internship, where he worked on a machine-vision project. Bradley said that the environment in the R&D office was much better than that in other offices.

Rob stayed in College and worked in the Computer Labs where he developed an open source processor design with the Computer Architecture team. He wanted to explore opportunities in hardware development to complement his previous work in software teams.

The College also hosted Alex while he worked for Mediatek’s testing team developing tools. Mediatek produce phone processor and modems where testing is critical. Alex enjoyed working in a large company where he could experience a globally connected work environment.

With the Computer Lab’s careers fair coming up, this is the perfect time for all years to be looking for temporary internships or permanent post-graduation employment.

How to Give a Talk

Queens’ famous wednesday meetings are evening sessions, normally an hour long, organised by our Director of Studies to give us a bit of extracurricular experience and networking with each other.

Our first session of the year was led by Dr Ramsey Faragher, a Bye-Fellow of the college. With his experience working in industry he led a talk on… well, giving talks.

Ramsey had lots of advice to give us, the main points being:

  • Get your audience’s attention quickly (i.e. the first 10 seconds). The worst thing you can do is boringly introduce yourself and give a long contents page.
  • Design your talk for your audience. Don’t patronise them and don’t skip over slides because you fear they won’t be understood.
  • Keep your slides brief and don’t just read them out. Be fluent in your speech
  • Know your talk inside out, so you can fluidly move from one slide to the next

If you’d like more tips, the below video gives plenty:

Our next meeting will be the following Wednesday where the Part II students talk about their summers.

A CompSci meeting on communication

Let me introduce this post with a ‘joke’ on CompScis:

Q: How do you tell an introverted computer scientist from an extroverted computer scientist?

A: An extroverted computer scientist looks at your shoes when he talks to you.

Ha, ha, ha…

As CompScis supposedly have trouble communicating (an essential skill at any point in life), the second Part 1A meeting was on communication.

Just like last week, we were told to split up into two groups. Armed with a laptop each, the groups were put in separate rooms. Once we got our Skype connection set up (important detail: we had audio communication only) the instructions of the game were told.

Both groups were given a set of Lego which was not too complex, but involved more than just stacking 4×2 blocks. The instructions belonging to sets, however, were swapped. Now, the challenge was to build both of the Lego sets using audio communication only.

Surprisingly enough (not so much…), we did quite well building the Lego sets. The difficulty of the game was therefore increased by limiting the number of persons to touch the Lego in a group to one and that one person had to keep his eyes closed. The result:


A fully working helicopter