Defying the odds: New MPCS alumnus finds the perfect career path after three degrees

June 07, 2023

By Deborah Acheampong

Recognizing the importance of a strong foundation in maths and statistics for his desired career in data science, Master of Professional Computer Science - Big Data graduate Rishabh Kaushal embraced the challenge of pursuing a second bachelor’s degree in Statistics at SFU.

“I discovered that SFU's professional master’s program in Big Data was a perfect fit for advancing my career as a data scientist and analyst,” Kaushal says. “However, the program demanded that I have a solid background in math and statistics, so I decided first to pursue a second bachelor's degree with a major in Statistics.”

Kaushal earned his first bachelor’s degree in computing science from Vancouver Island University. After this degree, Kaushal worked at a web development company, where he was assigned various full-time Data Feed Analysis projects. These projects ignited his deep interest in data science and analytics and subsequently influenced his decision to pursue graduate studies at SFU’s School of Computing Science.

Reflecting on his favorite classes throughout the program, Kaushal highlighted two courses as particularly memorable - CMPT 732 Big Data Lab 1 and CMPT 733 Big Data Lab 2. These courses equipped him with relevant data science and engineering tools and exposed him to hands-on exercises that had real-world applications.

“The courses' emphasis on practical skills and real-world relevance brought immense satisfaction and honed my ability to apply techniques and concepts in practical settings.”

As an advocate of collaborative learning, Kaushal loved to team up with his classmates where they could share their knowledge and tackle challenging concepts together. His involvement helped him learn from his peers and gain different perspectives on topics that he found difficult. He also recalls actively participating in study group discussions.

“I found that a combination of collaborative learning and self-motivated research helped me gain mastery over courses like Machine Learning which I initially found challenging.”

Kaushal further describes his involvement in group projects as integral to his time in the program. One standout project was the final assignment for the Big Data Lab 1 course. In this project, Kaushal analyzed the air quality in B.C. over time and its correlation with forest fires. Working with massive datasets collected from air monitoring stations, he harnessed his skills in PySpark and AWS technologies to preprocess the data, ultimately visualizing the air quality trends over the past four decades. Related code can be found here on GitHub.

“The experience undertaking this project deepened my understanding of data analysis and visualization and enhanced my teamwork and problem-solving skills.”

Kaushal believed that graduate school shouldn’t be done in isolation and was actively involved in the SFU community. He took up leadership roles where he served as a graduate teaching assistant for undergraduate and graduate courses.

“The opportunity to moderate class discussions and office hours helped me to learn how to communicate technical concepts to students with varying levels of understanding,” he says. “Overall, these experiences helped me develop a strong work ethic and a deep appreciation for the importance of effective leadership in the academic setting.”

He also actively contributed to SFU's Big Data Hub by delivering data literacy workshops.

Touching on his SFU School Computing Science experience, Kaushal highlights two memorable events that made his studies worthwhile. One was during his final group project in Big Data Lab 2. The project involved developing a computer vision pipeline, which was ultimately selected for the MPCS Innovation Project of the Year Award.

This experience taught Kaushal “how to develop complex technical solutions and helped hone my presentation and communication skills,” he says.

The other outstanding experience was the co-op component of the Master of Professional Computer Science - Big Data program. Describing his co-op as the “most valuable aspect of preparing me for my career goals,” Kaushal leveraged the opportunity to gain practical work experience in data engineering. He developed several distributed real-time streaming applications using Apache Flink and Kinesis Data Analytics in AWS Cloud. He used these skills to help his data platform team build a data warehouse in Snowflake.

“I am excited to graduate when SFU’s School of computing science turns 50 years, and I can’t wait to join the ranks of successful alumni”.

Kaushal advises incoming graduate students to embrace challenges and actively participate in the SFU community. “Graduate school can be isolating, but with a community where you can share ideas and learn from others, you can achieve your intended success," he says.