Insights from CDS Seniors

21 minute read


Table of contents

  1. Contributors and Their Next Steps
  2. Why CDS
  3. CDS Project Highlights
  4. Favorite Cornell Class
  5. Networking
  6. Finding Your Path
  7. Reflections :)

Contributors and Their Next Steps

Thank you to the graduating members of Cornell Data Science whose input made this article possible. Find their information below as well as their next steps after graduation.

Victor Butoi (CS ‘22) : PhD in Artificial Intelligence at MIT

Philip Si (CS & Math ‘22) : Masters in Machine Learning at Carnegie Mellon University

David Kim (CS & ECE ‘22) : Still has one more semester before graduating, but is considering pursuing a PhD or going into industry afterward

Ronin Sharma (ECE ‘22) : Finishing Masters of Engineering in Fall 2022

Oscar So (CS MEng ‘22) : Software Engineering at Facebook

William Bekerman (Stats ‘22) : PhD in Statistics at Wharton UPenn

Stephen Tse (ORIE ‘22) : Machine Learning Engineer at MunichRE

Bonnie Akhavan (CS & ORIE ‘22) : Graduate Studies in Operations Research at MIT

Cora Wu (Computer and Information Sciences ‘22) : Software Engineering at Microsoft

Magd Bayoumi (CS ‘22) : Machine Learning Engineer at MunichRE


A wide variety of answers were given for this question from “why not” to “here is a 20 minute lecture on all the reasons why”. In all seriousness, CDS was an avenue for everyone to explore and develop their interests outside of class. As is common with many project teams, people find their place and people that shape their college experience. It provided everyone with a space to meet people in their major and engage with individuals who share common interests.

A common theme with this group of graduating members is persistence. The application process was not kind to many of them on the first try (or the second…) but that’s okay. They all learned a valuable lesson of perseverance, and in the end, it all worked out because we are writing about them here!

Through CDS and the projects they were involved in, members were able to gain valuable experiences that helped them to define their future plans. From applying concepts learned in classes to a real-world situation to learning about an interesting topic on their own with the help of their teammates, all of them found being on the team a worthwhile experience.

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.

CDS Project Highlights

These members contributed to a wide variety of projects.

David, and Oscar contributed to MyCourseIndex (MCI). Working on MCI, being a large project with many moving parts, provided valuable experience in working on a piece of a whole and contributing to a functioning ecosystem.

Victor and Bonnie contributed to WordRL, where the objective was to build an agent to solve Wordle (the game that took hold of the internet in early 2022).

Stephen and Cora worked on the Stanford Medical Collaboration. This project conducted research under a Stanford professor on analyzing trends between county health data and mortality rates.

A popular project with contributions from Bonnie, Phillip, and Stephen was poker bot. The name is pretty self-explanatory, but the goal was to design a bot to play poker! Another project along the same lines of using project team resources to play games was SmashAI, which Phillip and Stephen worked on.

If you are interested in learning more about these projects, please refer to the Cornell Data Science website.

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.

Favorite Cornell Class

CDS members often end up taking very similar subsets of classes in their time at Cornell. There were a couple that stood out to this group of graduating members.

CS 4300: Language and Information was a favorite of Oscar’s. Half the semester is spent on information retrieval, and the other half on developing a full stack project. It helped him realize full stack development was a topic something he wanted to explore further.

William reflects back on AMST 2001: The First American University as the most fun, and higher level math and stats classes as the most useful (though mathematical statistics majors are a small audience so maybe not for everyone…).

ORIE 4740: Statistical Data Mining was mentioned as an underrated class by Stephen. It gives a lot of data science practical applications for people interested in going into industry. He also mentioned CS 6784: Advanced Machine Learning Topics as the most interesting due to the fast pace and breadth of topics. Taking this class earlier on in his college career may have had an impact on his future plans.

Cora mentions CS/INFO 3300 as being an enjoyable course. You get to learn d3, make cool visualizations, and the work isn’t too intense.

Bonnie gave insight into the most fun class, Wines, and the most useful, Algo. 2.5 hours of drinking on a Wednesday for credit is something you can’t miss out on. In terms of Algo, it changes your perspective on approaching problems and in her opinion, makes you a better coder; “It will change the way you see the world”.

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.

CDS Skills in the Real World

Getting into the nitty-gritty, CDS really does provide students with an avenue to develop industry necessary skills that you won’t get from classes alone. From working on a team to coding practices and leadership skills, the graduating members had a lot of advice on this topic.

CDS is a project ~team~ at the end of the day and the collaboration and communication skills gained here directly transfer into real-world situations. Phillip, Stephen, David and Victor all remarked on the teamwork skills they’ve gained from their time in the club. You don’t even know how much your teamwork ability has improved until you’re thrown into a new environment and realize just how instrumental CDS was in that process.

Another common theme was leadership skills. With most of the projects being full semester (or multi-semester) long, keeping them going and on track isn’t an easy task. Leadership in these areas translates well into taking initiatives in the professional world. CDS allows and encourages members to step out of their comfort zone to explore new projects/topics and even create projects of their own, something valued in the professional world.

Something that David mentioned that is particularly unique to a project team like CDS is learning how to approach and contribute to an existing codebase. In many school projects, you’re either given skeleton code or a blank slate. Engaging with something that has been in the works for a few semesters is a completely different experience, and what you’re most likely to encounter in industry.

The technical skills gained from working on projects in CDS are used in many different sectors. From data storage or the medical sector to research, ML and data science applications are everywhere. Talking with these seniors made that abundantly clear. You will never escape it. One common theme was that the fundamentals you learn in CDS set you up perfectly to be able to dive deeper into specific applications. Especially in a quick-growing environment such as the ML world, getting that foundational knowledge and the opportunity to explore some specific topics in a project environment can really help you in the future.

One point made by Stephen is the importance of being able to explain your results. In the consulting world, an end product is almost useless without that layer of interpretability.

Some other skills touched on by Bonnie are NLP and RL. These are areas not usually taught until upper-level courses at Cornell, so being exposed to them earlier through CDS projects is instrumental in giving you the leg up in interviews and such. This is similar to an aspect David mentioned which is being able to learn SQL, a database language highly valued in industry, through DE prior to being exposed to it in his coursework.

Skills Widely Valued

Speaking a bit more broadly, the graduating members were able to share some of their thoughts on skills that are widely valued in industry/research.

Cora remarked on the importance of getting experience working on projects in general. Whether it be personal projects, or collaborations, you learn a variety of skills and tools.

The ability to learn and adapt quickly was touched on by Stephen, Oscar, and Bonnie. Joining a new team as an intern or research assistant can be overwhelming but if you’re able to understand your role and quickly learn how to begin contributing, it will set you apart in the long run. Lots of companies don’t necessarily care what you already know to a certain extent, just how diligent you are when it comes to learning new things.

Being curious and learning to apply previous experience to new jobs are two skills Bonnie mentioned. Understanding which questions are important over time and things to be on the lookout for are commonalities that can carry between companies/industries. Staying engaged and curious about problems during your experiences is very important. You’ll stand out as an employee/student/researcher just by constantly paying attention and being willing to contribute.

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.


One of the most important areas for finding an internship or working on getting into grad school is networking. Sadly, this is something that Cornell as a university does not help with much. However, being on CDS and being surrounded by a bunch of smart and cool people provides a great starting point to develop these skills.

David, Victor, and Bonnie mentioned that networking has helped them either secure internships or guide them in their future endeavors. To list some paraphrased pieces of advice they shared:

“Get to know your team members, they’re all super smart and have incredible experiences” - Phillip

“Build relationships with your professors by asking questions after class or going to office hours, even in massive lectures it’s really important. First impressions matter. You have to fight for your best interests, there’s no more hand-holding in college. And be flexible to change - set your goals and aim for them but be responsive to opportunities along the way” - Victor

“Posting on LinkedIn saying you’re looking for work can be helpful. Kind of just luck at the end of the day” - David

“Just a numbers game, reach out to as many people as possible. Going to events and throwing yourself into less structured environments to see what happens can be helpful” - Ronin

“Especially in finance, networking is HUGE. Showing genuine interest in your teammates, making time to meet with everyone on your team, and having a positive attitude are all essential. Keeping your network alive as you move around is also a plus.” - Bonnie

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.

Finding Your Path

Finding What You Want To Do

This topic wasn’t one we were originally planning on asking the seniors about, but Victor brought it up at the end of his interview, and we thought it was a great topic to touch on that most people don’t talk about directly.

CS and data science / ML are such broad fields. You can end up getting your degree and still having no idea where to focus or what you want to do.

Victor’s advice on the subject was to explore topics via media that don’t consume a ton of your time. Fully diving into a subject and doing a project/taking a full class on it requires a lot of time and commitment. Instead, try to explore areas via papers, articles, books, youtube, podcasts, etc. It’s easy to find what you don’t like, but narrowing it down to what you do like is harder. Explore why things are cool and find what is meaningful. Your path will naturally follow. Working on projects that align with classes you have taken is a good way to explore the material further, Ronin added. He took the ECE CV course which is what drove him to work on the GAN art generation project and eventually made him realize CV was not for him. What you work on/learn in class doesn’t necessarily translate to industry so exploring the topics both in class and outside of class can really help give you the full picture. David’s advice on the matter was “you don’t know until you try”. There’s really no way to tell if you’re going to like something just based on other people’s experiences. Give everything a shot and see if it sticks. Phillip’s advice was along the same track: try joining different projects in different fields and see which ones resonate with you.

Interview Prep

The answers to how did you prepare for technical interviews fell into two categories: LEETCODE!!!! And I didn’t.

Starting with the “don’t prepare” crew, Victor mentioned that if it was meant to be and you’re qualified for the job, it’ll work out. Stephen backed this up by saying that in general, he does very little. Being comfortable enough with topics to give high-level overviews or demonstrate familiarity usually suffices. Explaining your thought process and general communication is more important than memorizing equations or minute details. Oscar also echoed this general sentiment. Not necessarily preparing for each interview specifically, but just through lots of interviews, he gained more experience.

On the other side of the spectrum is the Leetcode crew. David described it as a “necessary evil.” Dedicate time to grind it out without distractions and know how to solve the common problems interviews will throw at you. Cora felt the same way; it sucks but if you grind you can get so many good opportunities. Ronin didn’t necessarily devote his life to leetcode but focused on small projects/scripting tasks that reinforced the same skills. Bonnie also agreed that leetcode is your best friend for SWE positions. Research the company beforehand as they often reuse questions or ask things along the same lines. For quant positions brush up on probability, combinatorics, linear algebra, and calculus, no one will care if you know anything about finance.

Mock interviews can be extremely helpful for case interviews. Additionally, Bonnie added that the engineering career center always has appointments for technical mock interviews. These are a great way to practice in a lower-stress environment. Some other pieces of general advice Bonnie was able to give was to research the company beforehand and it’s all about how you approach the problem. You want to ask your interviewer questions, but none that show you didn’t do your homework or make you look confused. In terms of actually solving the questions, sometimes it’s enough to have a good attitude and talk through how you are approaching the problem. Even if you aren’t 100% correct, engaging with the interviewer by asking questions and talking out your thoughts/confusion can be really helpful. Another piece of advice Bonnie gave about quant/finance interviews is to read the newspaper the day of or the day before the interview. Some interviewers have asked about current events to gauge whether you stay engaged with the news.

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.

Reflections :)

Advice to Freshman Self

We asked the graduating members what advice they would give their freshman self looking back (bit of a corny question I know but we all have things we wished we’d done differently). Here are their responses (paraphrased).

“Get to know more people, loved being a part of CDS for the friend group. Talk to more people in general, especially within classes. Get into research earlier, don’t worry about lack of experience when emailing professors freshman year.” - Phillip

“Don’t stress too much about comparing yourself to everyone else. Everyone on CDS is super smart in their own way, and instead of being intimidated, use this opportunity to tap into their spheres of expertise and knowledge. Everyone is super friendly and open to help, and reaching out to them can help you learn more and form deep bonds with cool people.” - Cora

“I would tell myself that opportunities are made not handed out. You can’t just sit around and wait for the perfect offer. Also to not be afraid to take higher level classes and more math classes. Intro classes are great if you have no experience in a topic, but are by no means required to take grad classes in my opinion. I felt that with most intro ML classes I took, I ended up knowing more than half the material already from CDS and other work. Grad classes ended up being where I learned the most.” - Stephen

“Challenge yourself and enjoy all of your experiences! Everything (at least in college) really does have a way of working itself out, even if it doesn’t feel possible while it’s going on. It also goes by very quickly, so try to enjoy it!” - William

“Don’t focus on only one topic in CS as you might find yourself enjoying other topics more as time goes on.” - Oscar

“Have fun early on, later hyper-focus. Set your goals early and know why you set those goals. Focus on yourself. Be lucky. Read an hour before bed.” - Victor

“Don’t overload your first semester (DO NOT take an honors course until the second semester at the earliest). Take your first semester to explore campus and try out everything without worrying too much about school. It’s okay to not have a defined set of things you’re super involved with at any one time in college. There’s a ton of options here, don’t stress too much about having a ton of extracurriculars, just do the things you like. Showing up is 99% of the battle with academics. It’s very much worth not skipping class and doing homework, because you’ll be WAY better prepared than most people by even just doing everything that’s expected of you in the class. Don’t stress, because if you’ve consistently shown up in the semester, you usually won’t do badly in a course.” - Bonnie

“Enjoy life, don’t take the max number of credits. Make more social connections. Career is important but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t get the perfect job the first time around.” - David

“Work on different types of projects in CDS. Cross collabs are great to get involved with since you learn other teams’ structures” - Ronin

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.

Favorite Memory

“Insights socials at Eric’s apartment” - Oscar

“The people :)” - William

“A surprise birthday party that was thrown at my house. Even if it wasn’t totally a surprise, I had a lot of fun, and is still one of my favorite events. More recently, the cooking show social that I hosted was a blast. Philip and I put so much into making it happen and hearing that people enjoyed it was such a relief.” - Stephen

“Hanging out with my CDS friends before meetings. I’ve found that it can be super tough in college to maintain lasting friendships, but I always love hanging out with CDS folk and just talking about our days/ML/life. Wouldn’t wish for anything else.” - Bonnie

“My favorite memories are probably from IntSys subteam socials! I love just hanging out and catching up with everyone outside of our typical work. :)” - Cora

“Last semester, before October we had the weekly food group who went on a hike. Only three people went but it was a lot of fun. We went to Buttermilk falls and it had rained the previous day so navigating that was very fun since there were streams we had to go around or over.” - Ronin

“Secret Santa right before Covid shut everything down” - David

“Stewart park last year, jumping into the lake” - Victor

“The running joke leading up to the paintball social a few semesters ago, where I asked if I could friendly fire. I ended up getting friendly fired by Stephen” - Phillip

Departing Thoughts

All the graduating members expressed their gratefulness for CDS and the connections they’ve made in this club. I think this really speaks to the great culture we have at CDS where it’s a fundamental part of people’s college experience and they’re able to leave with lifetime friends.

“I love CDS and everyone that is a part of it! I wish you all the best in your future endeavors! I know you’re all going to accomplish great things. I’m thankful that I was able to contribute to and be a part of this organization. It’s truly been a life-changing experience.” - Stephen

“The social aspect is what ties CDS together. We are different from other project teams in that we don’t have one uniting main project, so we have to rely on social connections to keep us together. Don’t let that die. People who are friends make better projects so be friends.” - Victor

“How the turn tables - Michael Scott” - David Kim ‘22

Magd was unable to be reached for comment.