Reza Akhtar
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My Story

Born in the Virginian suburbs of Washington, D.C., Reza grew up in the political and historical environment of the capital. Until his senior year of high school, he saw himself pursuing a STEM field. That changed when he took Advanced Placement courses in literature and Latin, both of which helped him develop a greater appreciation for the humanities.

He began his studies at Northeastern planning on finishing with a BS in Linguistics. However, after taking a couple of inspiring classes — ‘CS 2510: Fundamentals of Computer Science and ECON 1116: Principles of Microeconomics’ — during his first two years, he reimagined his academic and professional paths and is now pursuing a Computer Science and Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) combined major with a concentration in Law and Justice, as well as a minor in Linguistics.

My Path
Why PPE and Computer Science?

“During my first two years, I found myself pursuing subjects according to my interests, and that landed me with a split between linguistics, computer science, and PPE. I decided to pursue a combined major in PPE and CS, as I wanted to learn more about the material in these fields and recognized the need for the intersection of these disciplines in modern society. With the rapid advancement of technology, the relationship between technology and regulation becomes more disparate and daunting.”

Reza plans to graduate in May 2021 with a B.S. in Computer Science and Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and a minor in Linguistics.
Transformative Coursework

Three courses were the true inspiration behind Reza’s shift to pursuing a BS in computer science and politics, philosophy, and economics:

“This class inspired me to become a computer science major. Professor Lerner’s judicious pedagogical approach and his passion for teaching hooked me into computer science. He constantly bridged the concepts that we were learning in class to the outside world and emphasized the importance of socially-conscious computer scientists; this is something that resonated with my PPE side.”

“Prof. Basl reinvigorated my love for philosophy. His moral philosophy class was the first higher-level philosophy course that I took, and it was both rigorous and captivating. I also enjoyed that he put aside time at the beginning of each lecture for students to raise points about ethics in current events. I remember one lecture after the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica data scandal, we had a forty-minute discussion on technology ethics and data rights, which was very relevant to my interests.”

“There is no substitute for the experience I had in Professor Dukakis’ class. We began working on our final project on the first day. The project was to write a policy memorandum for a decision-maker in the U.S. federal government or a state government. Professor Dukakis’ experience and expertise made him an outstanding mentor.”

The CORE Lab at their end-of-semester party.
CORE Lab

Since the Spring of 2016, Reza has worked on campus in the Conceptual Organization, Reasoning, and Education (CORE) Laboratory led by Dr. John Coley. In the CORE lab, students study cognition in a variety of domains, primarily education, and many of the studies involve analyzing language. In Reza’s sophomore year, he was able to apply what he learned about syntax from his linguistics coursework and independent research to develop a methodology for analyzing the lab’s natural language data.

“Dr. Coley and the CORE lab motivated me to solve problems and allowed me to develop creative solutions. This led to some of the most interesting interdisciplinary work that I have done, using linguistics and computer science in the context of cognition research.”

 

Global Co-op at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern in Kaiserslautern, Germany

In the Fall of 2017, Reza worked in the Psycholinguistics Group at the Technical University in Kaiserslautern, Germany. His primary duties were designing materials for reading studies and running participants in eye tracking experiments. Additionally, he used the computer skills that he had at the time to automate some of the tasks that he was given. On top of the work experience he gained, he learned a fair amount of German that he practiced with the people he met in Kaiserslautern.

“I never expected to live and work in Germany at any point in my life. Now, I would consider moving back, and I want to do another co-op abroad.”

Reza visiting the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Germany.
Generate, Fall 2018

In Fall of 2018, Reza joined Generate, Northeastern’s student-led product development studio, where tech-minded students build real-world products for Northeastern ventures. Reza worked as a Build Studio Engineer in his first semester on an iOS application for personal task management, and the next semester he was as a Project Lead working on an AI-powered stylist on iOS. As of Fall 2019, Reza became the Executive Director of the 68-member organization.

“Generate has given me experiences as an engineer and as a leader that I could not have gained anywhere else. And now, as Executive Director, I’m able to exercise the lessons I learned from my PPE coursework in a new context.”

Salsify Company in Boston, MA
Co-op at Salsify, Boston, MA

For Reza’s second co-op (Fall 2019), he is working as a Software Engineer at Salsify, which is a software company that enables brands to win on the digital shelf. He is working on the core platform solving problems for customers and working on new features. The work has taught him about database design, web applications, and the programming language Ruby.

“Working at Salsify has been a great experience, and my decision to switch to computer science has been validated by this co-op.”

Next Steps?

Reza plans to graduate in May 2021 with a BS degree in Computer Science and Politics, Philosophy, and Economics and a minor in Linguistics, and he hopes to complete one more co-op before graduation. After he graduates, Reza would like to work in the technology industry and start applying to law schools. Ultimately, he wants to bring law and computer science together to work on emerging problems at the intersection of the two fields.

This was Reza's Northeastern Pathway...Where will yours lead?
Adam Glanzman/ Northeastern University