School of Engineering and Computer Science

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ECS lecturers the best

26 Oct 2016 - 11:02 in Achievement


The School of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) was twice recognised for teaching excellence at the Student Representation Celebration held by the Victoria University of Wellington Students' Association (VUWSA) recently.

From more than 100 nominations, VUWSA's selection committee awarded ECS's Dr Elf Eldridge the prestigious Lecturer of the Year Award, while Senior Tutor Dr Howard Lukefahr received an Honourable Mention.

It was the first time that Victoria's outstanding lecturers were recognised at the awards, alongside the achievement of exceptional student representatives and student leaders.

Annaliese Wilson, VUWSA's Education Officer, said the time was right to celebrate Victoria's unsung heroes with a formal awards ceremony.

"We wanted to recognise the quality of our talented teaching staff and the time and effort they put into making their lectures useful and engaging", Annaliese said. "The Education Team had a tough time selecting the winners becaues of the high calibre of the candidates".

Elf Eldridge, a well-known personality around campus and an ECS institution in his own right, is currently teaching ENGR101 (Introductory Engineering) and ENGR110 (Engineering Modelling and Design). He is also actively involved in many of the student hackathon events held throughout the year and frequently uses social media to engage with students.

Students nominated Elf - one describing him as "hands down the best lecturer I have ever had" - for always making lectures enjoyable, for his clear and accessible teaching style, and for going above and beyond the call of duty when students need extra help.

"Elf is very passionate about engineering, friendly and empathetic - and he makes every class interesting", said one student. "He can explain difficult concepts well, he is entertaining to listen to, and he captivates the audience no matter what the topic".

"Elf really enjoys the subject he is teaching, which makes for a good vibe in class", said another student. "When I queried a grade, he sat down and remarked my assignment with me, giving me personal feedback as he went".

Elf himself says the best thing about being an ECS lecturer is working with students who have a great mix of enthusiasm and humour - and teaching a subject that is so relatable.

"Engineering and Computer Science is so easily connected to modern life; be it from examining content throttling by Internet Service Providers, to discussing the effect of bugs in games; from the design of new graphics cards to the ethics of probing the security of a network", he says.

Elf has also honed his teaching technique to get the best from his students.

"I try to acknowledge that my students are human - for example, I split my lectures into two 20-minute chunks with a break for a discussion or a video in between, so it's easier to concentrate", he says. "I also use my class reps to keep track of how busy students are; I sometimes cancel lectures to give students more time, and I visit the labs regularly to keep tabs on their progress."

Senior Tutor Howard Lukefahr's students were equally quick to point out his commitment to helping students achieve highly in the four 100-level Engineering courses he teaches.

"Howard has gone out of his way to help us get through our first year of engineering and our first set of university exams", said one student. "He even ran extra tutorials before assessments".

Students also commended Howard for making sure that no one is left behind.

"He always makes sure that everyone understands the concepts by teaching in an engaging, fun and informative way. I am nominating him because he is the most involved and passionate lecturer I have ever had.

"It's because of him that I have succeeded this year".

Howard himself says it is a "great honour" to receive the Honourable Mention from VUWSA.

"I get to work with very keen and able students everyday - they like learning and I like helping them learn", he says.

Kittens make game from scratch

06 Oct 2016 - 10:47 in Achievement


Two ECS students were part of team Wise Kittens that won first place at the recent PxlJam 48 Hour Game Design Competition held at Victoria University. We asked third year Software Engineering students Hannah Craighead and Tana Tanoi to share their thoughts on the competition - and their road to game-making success…

“PxlJam is a whirlwind event where teams have to design a game in just 48 hours based on a given theme. This year’s theme was “It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!” We competed last year after we were encouraged to get involved by one of our tutors - and we enjoyed it so much we decided to have another crack this year.

Our team consisted of us coders – Hannah and Tana – as well as designers Nicola Yeo and Gerrit van Rooyen, and our friend Jackson Cordery, who studies musical composition. There’s a great mix of people who take part, from first years who we’ve tutored ourselves through to PhD students who’ve tutored us. There are even people outside of the University who come along because they have a passion for game-making.

After the theme was announced, we spent the first few hours coming up with an idea for the game, which we found really challenging to begin with. The theme could be interpreted so many different ways and we wanted to come up with something unique. So we deliberately built bugs into our game, but gave players the ability to turn those bugs into tools they could use to complete each level.

Although we probably got more sleep than the majority of competitors, time management was still the biggest issue. We spent a lot of time getting the game mechanics to work - and we still didn’t have any levels designed three hours out from the end of the competition!

There were so many awesome games and it was amazing to see what other people came up with. One of the highlights was collaborating with the two designers in our team – they were great to work with and they also created some really cool content that was key to our success. Jackson’s compositions were also a real selling point: his music was amazing and everyone who played our game commented on how nicely the different pieces of music complemented the overall experience.

We didn’t expect to win overall – we were just there to have fun making games with our friends – but we were so happy to place first after last year, when our game was nowhere near as good. This year’s competition was sponsored by Victoria University, Victoria Engineering Club, Acidic website developers and Powershop, so we got to choose from a big pool of prizes: everything from Nerf guns with foam ammo to Steam gaming vouchers.

We’d love to revisit our game in the future to really flesh it out. We need to fix up some bugs and create some more levels and content. We met some awesome people, got great content for our portfolios – and it was some of the best fun we’ve had this trimester!”

Top appointment to head Victoria cybersecurity partner

27 Sep 2016 - 09:57 in Achievement


Victoria University has welcomed the appointment of NZX Chief Operating Officer Mandy Simpson as head of Cyber Toa, Victoria's partner in developing a centre of excellence to strengthen New Zealand and the Asia-Pacific's resilience against cybercrime and cyberattacks.

“The appointment of someone of Mandy Simpson’s calibre as Chief Executive Officer is further testimony to the quality and impact of Cyber Toa,” said Professor Dale Carnegie, Dean of the University’s Faculty of Engineering.

“A combination of Victoria’s research and teaching excellence, Cyber Toa’s status as one of just 10 certified training partners in the world of the gold-standard Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University in the United States and Mandy’s extraordinary leadership skills makes for cybersecurity capability and potential unmatched in New Zealand.”

Victoria’s partnership with Cyber Toa, previously the cyber division of Total Risk, includes a new Master of Cybersecurity, with a range of undergraduate degrees also proposed.

In addition, Cyber Toa’s existing SEI-accredited cybersecurity training delivered in association with Victoria is being expanded to eventually include all 42 courses the SEI has available.

Cyber Toa and Victoria will be the only provider in the Southern Hemisphere to offer all the courses, teaching them in Wellington and Auckland, and if demand requires in Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

The partnership also sees the establishment of a commercial computer security incident response team, or CSIRT, run by Cyber Toa and based at Victoria’s Kelburn campus, where it will offer proactive and reactive cybersecurity support to businesses and other clients.

Chief Operating Officer at NZX for the past four years, Ms Simpson has held senior roles at the State Services Commission and IT services company Fronde.

Born in Britain but a Wellingtonian since 2006, she has an Executive Master of Public Administration from Victoria’s Australia and New Zealand School of Government and a Master of Arts in Law from the University of Cambridge.

She trained as an accountant at Deloitte in London, specialising in financial investigation, and later spent four years at the London Stock Exchange, initially in market surveillance.

Ms Simpson said: “I’m excited to be joining Cyber Toa in this key growth phase. As the use of technology accelerates in all areas of our business and personal lives, the need for qualified, capable cybersecurity professionals has never been clearer. With Cyber Toa’s world-class expertise, and in partnership with Victoria University, we’ll be able to make a significant difference to our clients’ ability to respond to this growing threat.”

Postdoctoral Fellow: Introducing Harith to ECS

26 Sep 2016 - 09:36 in Research


Name? Harith Al-Sahaf.

Born in? Lincoln, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Lived in? Iraq (1984-2006), and New Zealand (2006-present).

First job? Yarn machine operator (Iraq), Delicatessen, New World (New Zealand), and Tutor for SWEN304 (VUW).

Position at VUW? Postdoctoral Fellow working with the Evolutionary Computation Research Group.

Most looking forward to at VUW? Joining the team!

Key research interests? Evolutionary Computation and Computer Vision.

Why Wellington? Definitely not for the weather, but absolutely for the friendly people.

Favourite movie? The Message, The Godfather - and almost all comedy movies.

Favourite musician? Lionel Richie, Air Supply, ABBA.

Favourite food? My mum’s.

Quote to live by? “The more you know, the more you realise how much you don’t know – the less you know, the more you think you know”.
- David T. Freeman

Digital Disruption: A Wellington Case Study

20 Sep 2016 - 11:46 in Event


The challenges facing Wellington's fast-growing digital industry were explored in a recent seminar hosted by Victoria University.

The event, titled "Digital Disruption: A Wellington Case Study", brought together staff and students from Victoria's Schools of Engineering and Computer Science, and Management, with industry experts and practitioners, who delved into what it takes to thrive in the digital age.

Dr Richard Norman, a co-host of the event, is a senior lecturer in Victoria's School of Management. His research focuses on understanding how people and organisations can adapt to technology change.

"The work environment is changing. Occupations are changing, there are new sectors emerging—such as the cyber security sector—and companies are becoming more agile, with a focus on fast development and fast turnaround", says Dr Norman.

"What is distinctive about this event is that it brought together both the people and the technical sides of business. For companies to be successful they really have to be on top of both. We have had a lot of interest in this event from the local digital industry—it's a good opportunity to share knowledge".

Dr Stuart Marshall, Head of Victoria's School of Engineering and Computer Science, says that the event gave students an important opportunity to hear about the industry many of them will be working in.

"We ran a similar event late last year, which was solely for industry. This year we wanted to open it up to students, so we ran it during class time to make it even more accessible. When students graduate a lot of them will be working in these digitally-focussed companies, and this was a valuable opportunity to hear about what the environment is like".

This year, the speakers were:

- Associate Professor Kris Bubendorfer, Victoria University of Wellington
- Professor Neil Dodgson, Victoria University of Wellington
- Collier Isaacs, Farm IQ
- Ruth McDavitt, Summer of Tech
- Dean Pemberton, Network Startup Resource Center
- Anthony Pratt, Park Road Post Production
- Laura Reitel, Lightning Lab / Creative HG
- Chris Ward, Total Risk / CyberToa
- Dr Ian Welch, Victoria University of Wellington

Victoria alumna helps give Google Maps the green light

31 Aug 2016 - 12:41 in Alumni


Victoria University of Wellington alumna Anna Friedlander has gone from being a problem-solving, data-driven computer science student, to one of the 57,000 Google employees delivering search-engine functions people can’t imagine living without.

During study for her undergraduate degree at Victoria, Anna was a finalist for Google’s Anita Borg Scholarship, attending a scholars’ retreat at the Google Sydney office.

“I guess it was this experience that got me on the Google Scholars list, but it wasn’t until the second time that I was contacted by a recruiter that I realised it wasn’t a scam and that Google were interested in me,” says Anna, who completed her Master of Computer Science at Victoria in 2013.

Her Master’s research with the radio astronomy group at Victoria focused on developing new methods to automate the process of finding galaxies in astronomical images.

“Data from radio astronomy has one big similarity with other big data today: there is an almost unimaginable amount.

“Radio telescopes produce exabytes of data on hundreds of millions of objects, so automated methods of detection are absolutely crucial. Current methods find bright objects really well, but aren’t as good for finding faint sources, or those that are spread out”.

An exabyte is one billion gigabytes, or 1018 bytes.

After graduating, Anna was offered a position as a software engineer at Google Sydney where she worked in the Geo Monetisation team experimenting with different advertisement formats to optimise their relevance and usefulness.

In mid-2015 Anna transferred to the Google Zurich office where she began working on the book-a-ride (taxi) mode in Google Maps Mobile, a service allowing users to compare ride service options, a project she describes as the highlight of her career to date.

“It’s amazing to know that people in places as diverse as London, Mumbai, New York, Nairobi, Rio, and Wellington have seen and used a function of the app that I helped to develop”.

While the work Anna is doing at Google may be different to her research at Victoria, she says the skills she learnt during her degree have been invaluable to her career.

“Victoria’s focus on working across disciplines and sharing knowledge from those who have different expertise has set me up to work with people who all have different functions across Google.”

18 Aug 2016 - 11:06 in Achievement


A Victoria University student is helping local high school students learn basic computer science skills through an after-school coding club.

Software Engineering student Mansour Javaher runs weekly sessions for around 30 students in Years 9 and 10 at Wellington College.

“I really enjoy teaching. It’s great to see the students listen and respond to what I have to tell them. I try to make the classroom a friendly atmosphere so they can relax and have fun,” says Mansour.

“I recently moved to Wellington from Iran, and teaching has not only improved my own knowledge in computer science, but it makes me more confident and helps me practise my English language and communication skills. It’s been a great experience.”

In Term 2, Mansour taught the students fundamentals of programming. They’re now developing websites, and next term will learn with Raspberry Pi— mini computers that help with programming projects.

Recently the decision was made to extend sessions to twice a week.

John Barrow, Outreach Coordinator at Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, says Mansour has been an outstanding asset.

“Mansour has taken the lead and has been helping out regularly. His teaching initiatives and efforts have been excellent—we’re very proud of him.”

The students are learning some really great skills, says Wellington College digital technology teacher David Roberts.

“It’s important to show students examples of what different disciplines there are out there and what they can do. And the high amount of interest we’ve received about the club demonstrates the demand for it.”

Photo credit: David Benseman

From grad student to ECS lecturer: Introducing Yi Mei

12 Aug 2016 - 13:47 in Achievement


Name? Yi Mei.

Born in? Yongxiu, a small town in southern China.

Lived in? I lived in several Chinese cities when I was a student, then I spent two years working in Hong Kong. After that I moved to Melbourne for three years before coming to Wellington last year.

First job? When I was an undergraduate, I worked part-time as a private tutor, just to earn a bit of extra money.

Position at VUW? I’m a Lecturer in Computer Science.

Most looking forward to? Pursuing my academic career goals in such an excellent workplace. It’s always exciting to have opportunities to collaborate on research that can change the world. I’m also looking forward to sharing my knowledge with students – it’s great to see them grow and develop.

Key research interests? I’m really interested in artificial intelligence, machine learning and optimisation. I’m particularly interested in the most challenging problems, such as scheduling and combinatorial optimisation, and how to tackle them using evolutionary computation - a stream of very powerful optimisation techniques. I’m also interested in the human-like machine learning ideas such as reinforcement learning and lifelong machine learning.

Why Wellington? I love New Zealand. Coming from a heavily polluted and dictatorial country, I enjoy the freedom, fresh air and breathtaking scenery here. More importantly, people are so nice! I don’t want to leave after making so many great friends.

Favourite movie? Forrest Gump. It taught me that life is not decided by how you were born, but by how you face it. Everyone has the chance to pursue a happy and fulfilled life.

Favourite musician? A Taiwanese singer called Jay Chou. He is so talented and has created many new musical styles. He is also brave, daring to raise awareness of issues including environmental protection, war and family violence.

Favourite food? Definitely Chinese food - I love Sichuan food!

Quote to live by? I always remind myself: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Introducing Dionysis Athanasopoulos to the ICT Graduate School

11 Aug 2016 - 15:19 in Achievement


Name? Dionysis Athanasopoulos.

Born in? Greece.

Education? I received my PhD from the Computer Science & Engineering department of the University of Ioannina in Greece in 2014.

Work? Previously, I worked as a Post-Doc researcher in the Department of Electronics, Information and Bioengineering at Politecnico di Milano in Italy. During my MSc and PhD studies, I worked as an R&D Software Engineer on several large-scale research projects (e.g., EU-funded FP7 ICT IP projects, ‘CHOReOS’ and 'SeaClouds'). I have also taught at several technological institutes and high schools.

Position at VUW? Lecturer in Software Engineering for the ICT Graduate School.

Key research interests?
  • Software engineering, esp., maintenance (software refactoring)
  • Service-oriented & object-oriented architectures
  • Data engineering, esp., service & schema matching
  • Green-aware engineering of service-oriented software
  • Software-as-a-Service architectural model on the cloud
  • Software design principles & patterns.
Why Wellington? Because it is one of the most lively capital cities in the world and Victoria University is among the top universities worldwide.

Favourite movie? Good Will Hunting.

Favourite musician? Andrea Bocelli.

Favourite food? Grand tortellini al tartufo – tortellini with truffles!