Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Surf's up

When my nephew left college with a master's degree in computer science and electronic engineering, he was headhunted by more than a few firms, some of which were in the field of engineering and some of which were in the field of financial services.

Being a talented young man, he was faced with a choice -- should he take one of the jobs he was offered by one of the engineering companies, or should he accept a more lucrative position at a financial organization in The Big City.

After deliberating the issue for several days, he decided to let his heart rule his wallet and took a job working for a software development company, rather than swan off to make his fortune working in a profession that was somewhat unrelated to his education.

It's an issue many graduates are faced with. After spending tens of thousands of dollars on their education, they are inevitably drawn to the idea of making as much money as possible to pay off their loans, even if it means leaving the field of engineering to do so.

What brought this issue home to me again this week was a recent article in "The Dartmouth", the daily student newspaper of Dartmouth College, which just happens to be America's oldest college newspaper.

The article -- which was written by Hannah Wang -- detailed the development of an Android application that uses data captured by the camera in a smartphone to analyze a person's driving habits. To do so, the application analyzes drivers' physical motions, such as head turning and blinking rates.

The application came about as the result of a project by a chap called Thomas Bao who graduated this year from the college. Apparently, Bao began the project knowing little about machine learning, computer vision or Java. But that didn't stop him from studying the subject rigorously enough to develop the application.

Since then, Bing You, a visiting researcher from Taiwan's Academia Sinica, has integrated Bao's driver-side app into a larger project called CarSafe, which uses the dual cameras on a smart phone to detect both driver-side and road-side information to alert drivers about potentially dangerous situations, such as unsafe following distances.

Having now left the college, however, the talented Bao has waved goodbye to the engineering profession. According to the article, he is now working at Evolution Capital Management, a hedge fund based in Hawaii.

Now the article, of course, doesn't specifically say why Bao chose to do so. It may have been for financial reasons, or it could have been because he is fond of big wave surfing. But whatever the reason, I think it's a shame that Bao and many other talented folk like him don’t remain in the engineering business like my nephew chose to do.


1. Professor creates phone app for safer driving habits

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