How was the student experience at UC-Irvine?
In this interview, we talk to our alumnus, Sanket Khanwalkar, who gives us an insider perspective into life at the University of California, Irvine.
Tell us about your current internship and how you came about acquiring it?
UCI has a reasonable number of career fairs (about 4-5) starting from November and going on till summer. The best companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc. come to recruit. Usually, if you have decent work experience and profile, you end up getting calls from most of the top companies. Converting them completely depends on how good your skills are.
I happened to be lucky since I only gave two interviews (Facebook and Adobe) and I converted Adobe for a Software Engineer (SE) profile, since I had relevant work experience.
Overall, most Computer Science students land up with awesome internships. Students majoring in EECS/Networks etc. also apply for SE profiles, which are in abundance for summer internships.
How has the first semester of HCI at UCI challenged you? In what ways?
Quarter 1, I focused on HCI courses. I improved my skills in UI/UX and social analysis of computing. For Quarter 2, I decided to concentrate on programming courses in multimedia, search engines, etc. Almost all the courses expect you to focus on research more than the implementation.
Did you have any experience before taking up an MS-HCI at UCI? Where and what did you do? How has it helped you at UCI?
My degree is Master’s of Science in Information and Computer Science. This particular degree at UCI has the maximum flexibility in the sense that it allows me to pick courses in programming, SE, HCI, Embedded Systems, Social Sciences, Psychology, etc. Also, UCI ranks 5th in HCI in the US. So it has amazing infrastructure and faculty in HCI.
I have previously worked for about three years in developing mobile apps, majorly on Android. That’s when I worked on developing prototypes and UI/UX. It just helped me develop that design knack in general. So now I have an advantage in focusing more on my idea for different projects and creating a prototype really fast. It takes the pressure off in learning new technologies to accomplish your project goals. So now I can allow myself to think out-of-the-box on my concept and not worry too much about how I’ll implement it.
What is a typical day at college like?
Well, it totally depends on what courses you pick and if you have other commitments or not. Everyone’s got a different day basically. Usually its pretty chilled out, with about 3 days/week of college. Most of the time is spent on assignments and projects. I have been a TA in my last 2 quarters, so it’s been really hectic.
What are the job opportunities for a graduate student after an MS-HCI? What is the minimum, median and maximum salary one can hope to attain after graduating?
Again, there are plenty of programmer jobs are out there. Most of the students who specifically wish to continue in the field of HCI end up doing a PhD. Others take up profiles like UI/UX Designer, Wireframer, etc. However, if you’re looking at securing a core designer role, you’re competing against students from the school of design from all universities and openings being relatively less, you really need to be good at it. Internships pay you somewhere between $35-50/hr. I don’t have enough idea about the full-time, but it’s in the range of $80k-125k depending on your profile, company, and location.
What about start-up opportunities?
I’m not aware of how good the startup opportunities are on a relative scale with other universities. But UCI offers a pretty huge platform since its California! There are dedicated communities and centres in UCI for mentoring, networking, legal advising, etc. The School of Business holds several startup contests throughout the year. Additionally, California has a lot of local competitions for students to pitch their ideas and find mentors/investors.
Southern California has lesser number of startups as compared to Northern California. But it’s pretty decent and you have a good chance of working for one of those if you want. Plenty of options around for picking.
I’m currently working on two different startup ideas myself. The prototypes are ready and am now looking forward to approaching mentors and investors.
What else do you do besides college? Do you get time to pursue any personal projects or hobbies?
Yes, UCI encourages its students to take up personal projects. The faculty and research groups are pretty friendly and encourage you to take up research opportunities or join them in their existing research if you’re interested. Like most of the other universities in the US, UCI has plenty of clubs to join. You’re actually spoilt for choices here. However, time management is key. The undergraduates make the most of these clubs, but graduate life is totally different. I, like most others, also decided to pursue my hobbies like organising events, playing sports, exploring arts, etc. but I have been finding it really difficult to meet the deadlines with all of this.
I’ve still managed to make it to the UCI cricket team and am a core member of the International Student Committee for Grad students. And I am hoping to take up a dance class next quarter.
How did you acquire a Teaching Assistantship (TA)? How has it helped in terms of learning, as well as financially?
For securing a Teaching Assitantship (TA), it’s all about Right match + Right time. You need to apply for a TA in courses that you think you’re the best fit. I applied for an undergraduate course, ‘Intro to Programming in Python’. Since, I had programming experience of several years and knew Python, I got the TA for two quarters. For the next quarter, I will be TAing in a course called ‘Game Technologies and Interactive Media’. Again, I got this one since I have mobile experience and have done some game programming in the past.
Research Assistantships (RAs) are only offered to PhD students since they invest in terms of time, energy and skill. Also the faculty is aware that MS students will graduate early and get a job, so they prefer PhD students.
Learning wise, it definitely helps. But financially it helps you a lot. I have got a 50% waiver on my tuition fees and get a stipend of about $1800/month in hand. A TA is consumes a lot of your energy and time. I found it really difficult to manage four courses and do a TA in the previous quarter. I ended sleeping for only about 4 hours a day. But again, financially its really pays off, so it’s worth all the extra exertion!