August 26, 2015

First Big Data Students to Finish Co-op Work Term

SFU’s first group of Big Data Master’s students is completing Co-op work terms in August. Do you remember Honto, Linda, Margaret, and Yongyi, the students we introduced in the Meet Our Students feature? We visited them during their Co-op semester to learn more about the kind of work they do with big data. Here’s what we have learned.


Honto is employed as a Data Science Co-op Student at Simba Technologies, a software company specializing in data connectivity products. Located in the heart of Vancouver, Simba Technologies is led by CEO and SFU alumnus Amyn Rajan as well as George Chow, who manages the company’s technological needs as CTO. George notes that he was “very pleased with the calibre of the Big Data students that applied for this Co-op position.” With his prior experience in data analysis, Honto was a particularly attractive candidate.

What does Honto do at Simba? He is currently analysing the performance of Bamboo, the automated build and test application used by the company. “Specifically, I source, combine, clean, and analyze any data that the system produces to understand how it is performing. We have anecdotal evidence of issues with the system, but my job is to get to the bottom of the problem with the goal of providing actionable recommendations based on the data,” Honto explains.

Honto is also involved in a data warehousing initiative, where he moves the data collected by Bamboo onto Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing platform. “We are extracting data daily onto Simple Storage Service, where we then use Amazon’s Data Pipeline service with Hive scripts to transform the data and load it into AWS Redshift, Amazon’s data warehousing service,” he elaborates.

Honto enjoys working with the engineering team at Simba remarking that “team members are very hard-working and collaborative, which makes for a great work environment.”

Linda & Margaret

Linda and Margaret work as Software Developers at D2L (previously: Desire2Learn), an online teaching and learning company. D2L has headquarters in Ontario and a satellite location in Vancouver, among others. The company is most well-known for its cloud-based learning platform, Brightspace. Used by the K-12 and higher education markets, as well as corporate and government customers, Brightspace offers online and blended learning, curriculum and content management, analytics, and more. One of the products offered by the platform is a course recommendation tool called Brightspace Degree Compass.

Brightspace Degree Compass uses data mining algorithms to make course recommendations to post-secondary students based on previous students’ performance in these courses. Linda and Margaret are responsible for developing a test harness to ensure the product works the way it is intended. “We run a sample data set of student grades in various courses from the last 10 years through the program and visualize the results. Then, we examine the statistical properties of the grade distributions and determine how accurate the algorithm is for data sets with those characteristics,” says Margaret.

The two students also contribute to the product’s deployment. Deployment involves several stages through which the program progresses until it is ready for use on different machines. Since Brightspace Degree Compass is a web-based application, it has to be versatile and be ready to work with various data sets in different virtual environments.

What do Linda and Margaret think about Co-op? “I love it. I think the Co-op experience allows you to become a more confident professional. In the ‘real world,’ you don’t get a marking rubric, and assignments are often more open-ended. Through Co-op, you learn how to ask the right questions and, by completing a task, you show yourself that you can do it,” Margaret says. Linda agrees and adds: “Co-op can really help you diversify your skills portfolio. For example, I have learned many skills related to product deployment that I wouldn’t have gained otherwise.”


Yongyi is a Predictive Big Data Analytics intern at Ericsson, the Swedish multinational provider of communication technology and services. Working with the system design group within Ericsson’s research & development department, Yongyi is responsible for analyzing data from the mobile network, making recommendations based on his findings, and developing applications for internal use as needed.

An example of Yongyi’s work involves time series forecasting, a statistical technique used to predict future values based on previously observed values. Yongyi applies time series forecasting models, such as Holt-Winters and ARIMA, to data gathered from the live network and evaluates the models’ ability to detect abnormalities in the network’s performance. He then uses his findings to recommend the most accurate model for forecasting the data.

Time series forecasting is important to the company because it allows data analysts like Yongyi to predict the network’s performance and address potential problems. “When we monitor real-time data, such as the number of connected users at a cellular base station, and we notice that the data differs significantly from our predictions for that base station, we know that there may be a problem, and we investigate the anomaly,” Yongyi explains.

Apart from data science techniques like time series forecasting, smoothing, and regression, Yongyi also has the opportunity to develop applications when needed. Using his programming expertise, he developed a python web application capable of querying large postgreSQL databases, when the existing web interface was not able to produce the same result.

“Working at Ericsson is great!” Yongyi says, “There are lots of activities for both employees and interns. I was recently part of Ericsson’s dragon boat team, and we competed at the inaugural West Carleton dragon boat races here in Ottawa. We finished second in the A Division! It was a lot of fun.”

Woohoo! Congratulations, Yongyi and Ericsson!

The first group of Big Data Master’s students finishing the Co-op semester will be returning to campus this fall. It is an exciting time of reunion and new beginnings as we also welcome the second cohort to its first semester in this professional master’s program.