My conversation with Ben Roberts, November 2010

Ben Roberts earned both his B.S. and M.S. degrees in computer science from URI in 2006 and 2009, respectively. Between receiving these degrees, Ben spent a year in Japan at the Seinan Gakuin University. Currently, he is a Technical Engineer at The Digital Ark in Providence, RI. This is his first position after URI. 

FMC: Ben, tell us about your present position. What does The Digital Ark do, and what do you do?

BR: Currently I am Technical Engineer for The Digital Ark (TDA). The Digital Ark is a Providence based start up that specializes in high resolution imaging and archiving. We cater primarily to historical societies and museums that want archival photos of their works. One of our specialties is handling rare or fragile works that need custom rigs to photograph correctly. Since we have a small staff, everyone has plenty of work to accomplish, however. My job is to lead the technical aspects of company. Sometimes I will design databases to store images, track data about them, and even maintain inventory on the location of the physical equivalent. Later, I design a web interface to the database—assuming we are maintaining it—for the customer to access the images. Some days I will work on server administration, making sure our systems are secure and keeping back-up plans in case we have any technical problems. Still other days I will work on custom software for image processing, convert between data formats, or correctly tag and sort the resulting images. Finally, I provide a fresh pair of eyes to assess the efficiency of the company. I find that as a computer scientist, I am always looking for the optimal way to do everything, be it showing someone keyboard shortcuts to make data entry faster or completely rethinking how we handle a return of the customer's property. 

FMC: How did you get this position?

BR: My plan was to stay in school as long as I could, given the current economy. When that became impractical, I simply started searching through
websites like I finally found The Digital Ark through URI's own job-postings service. URI offers great resources to students looking for jobs and even helps them get an idea of what the current market should be paying for your time. Since TDA is a small company, I actually worked part-time for a few months before they hired me full-time. Once I had shown them the skills that I could bring to the company, I made it clear that I was worth every penny.

FMC: Tell us about your time at URI.

BR: URI was a really great experience for me. The classes gave me plenty of chance to learn but that was just the beginning. The community
is what really made my degree enjoyable. Once I started opening up and just talking to everyone I met in the computer lab, I found that there
were many people who had computers at home but stayed in the computer lab just to talk and work together. It was through one of these people
that I began learning Linux and found that there is so much more to learn about computing than Windows or Apple ever offered me. I found
that the more I learned the more I talked with others about it and the more I became part of the community.

FMC: What was studying in Japan like?

BR: I decided to study in Japan somewhat on a whim. URI will waive tuition on some study abroad programs, and I decided to jump at the
opportunity. There is some part of me that wishes I never left Japan. It really was one of the best experiences I have had in my life. The 
Japanese people have a very different mindset when it comes to learning, technology, and just life in general. Being able to get top-quality sushi
and many other delicious foods on many places was wonderful. The best thing of studying abroad is really seeing how living elsewhere is the
same, but different. While many things are the same, there are tons of minute details that throw you off balance. I remember being amazed at
how I almost thought the doors to the dining hall were locked because they would not open until you are almost touching them. Minor detail, I
know, but I realized it was to make heating more efficient, and it was something I would never have thought about until then.

FMC: How hard do you work? Does your career leave you with enough time to enjoy life?

BR: I tend to be something of a workaholic by nature. If some work needs to be done, and I have free time, I'm doing it. Thankfully I got one of those few jobs where I can work from home half of my week. Working from home seems great, but you really start to blur the line between work and home. I have to really try to keep my home office a separate area from the rest of my home. While I do work a full week, it does leave me plenty of time to enjoy myself. Living in the middle of Providence makes it so there is always somewhere to go or something to do, plus I can always take a train to Boston if I really want to take a break.

FMC: Can you give some advice to our current students?

BR: First thing I would say is cancel your WoW account. I had classmates who had to leave school because they stopped going to class for a month because they were caught up in video games. Don't get me wrong, video games are fun, and you can still play them, but make the decision to be a student first, gamer second. Secondly, class isn't the only place to learn. Classes are a great place to start, but they are certainly not the end of your learning. If you are not learning something new outside of classes, you aren't learning. Take a class about programming in Java, and you learn Java. Its a great place to start and Java is widely used, but then go learn C, Ruby, and PHP just so you know them. If you are taking a class on Compiler Design, do your project in a language you have never used before. You may take more time on your project, but until you have used these other languages, you don't know what they have to offer. There are hundreds of languages out there, and "They didn't offer a class in it" is never an excuse when you have access to the Internet. Next, don't get stuck in one operating system. Some jobs will make you use Windows, others Apple, some others Linux. Don't hinder yourself by not knowing how to get your work done in one of them. Linux users are usually willing to help people to learn and install Linux, plus there are tons of tutorials, documentation, and videos available for free online. Finally, never stop learning. You could know everything there is to know about one subject, but tomorrow there will be something new for you to learn. There is never any limit to the amount of things you can learn and play with on the Internet—it’s not just for YouTube and Facebook.

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