First week of masters in computer science

Matt Chung

Jan 22, 2019

January 7th, 2019 marks the first day of my computer science master’s program through University of Georgia Tech. The week leading up to the first day was somewhat stressful since I was mid flight (returning to Seattle from London), my plane hovering over the massive blue sea, while I frantically typed away on my keyboard trying to register for a course in my allotted time window. Because of the spotty internet connection on the airplane, it took me about an hour and half to register for my course and by that point, the open spots filled up so fast that I positioned 100+ on the wait list (which I discovered, later on after reading online posts, that 100+ wait list is normal and that I would like get get into the course, which I did).

Anyways, despite all that headache, I’m officially enrolled in a course that I’ve wanted to take for a very very long time: Introduction to Operating Systems. So far, although it’s only been 1 week, I love the course, for multiple reasons.

First, I love the collaborative and sense of community of the program. Before getting into this master’s program, I was taking a handful of undergraduate computer science courses (e.g. computer organization, discrete mathematics, data structures) from University of North Dakota and University of Northern Iowa, two excellent schools that offered courses through their Distant Learning platform. Now although I learned a lot from the courses, I always felt like I was working in isolation, by myself, my only interaction was through a few short threaded e-mails with the professors. But now, with this course, there’s an online forum (i.e. Piazza) and chatty chatroom (via Slack, which was paid out of pocket by one of the TA of the course), where students fire off questions and comments (especially random comments in the #random slack channel). So in a sense, despite never meeting these folks, there’s a sense of comradery, a shared a goal.

Second, I’m learning a ton of material that’s not only applicable to my day to day job (as a software engineer) but material that I’m genuinely interested in. For the first week, the professor of the course has us reading a 30 page white paper (titled “Introduction to Threading”) written in 1989, a seminal piece of work (on threads and concurrency) that gives me perspective and appreciation of my industry. In addition to reading the white paper, I’m watching lectures covering fundamental operating system concepts (e.g. processes, virtual memory) and above all, writing C code! A ton of C code!

The project has us writing code for a multi-threaded client and multi-threaded web server (think implementing HTTP protocol) that’s intended to teach us how to write safe, concurrent systems that utilize the threading facility offered by the operating system.