My conversation with Thomas Keunebroek, May 2014

Thomas Keunebroek is a student at the Université de Technologie de Compiègne in France and spent the fall semester at the University of Rhode Island as an international exchange student. He expects to receive his Master’s degree in computer science this year. Currently, he is a software engineering intern for Apple, Inc. in Cupertino, CA.

FMC: Welcome to the United States, Thomas! You studied in France. Tell us about your educational system and your academic background.

TK: Thank you Frank! The educational system in France feels very different compared to the American one. My university—UTC—is, however, kind of based on the famous “American college” model in the sense that we get to choose our classes, which is usually not possible. I joined UTC right after high school to start its 5-year engineering program, corresponding to a Master’s degree. During the first two years, I studied math, physics, economics, languages, etc. and then I chose Computer Science as my major. During those last three years, we are required to perform two 6-month long internships. I did my first one at a startup in Paris and am now interning at Apple before graduating. We are also strongly encouraged to study abroad, which I had the chance to do twice.
I have a pretty common academic background in CS: I studied algorithms and data structures, object-oriented programming, and software engineering. I am now more interested in higher-level topics, such as client-side development, user experience, and above all mobile.

FMC: Tell us about your experience in the second exchange program before coming to URI and what you studied.

TK: I was a second-year student (sophomore) and studied in Germany. I hadn’t picked my major at this point. I, however, already knew that I was passionate about computers and so I took a couple of programming courses alongside with mathematics and German. That experience was absolutely incredible; I got to discover an entirely new culture and meet a lot of great people while building my first CS projects. 

FMC: What did you study while at URI?

TK: I was a Computer Science major while studying at URI, and I chose very different classes. Coming from France, I was pretty much free to choose whatever I wanted, and so I decided to take Data Structures and Abstractions (CSC 212), Software Engineering (CSC 305), and CSC 492 (Special Topics in Computer Science)—which was about the making of User Interfaces using a bunch of different frameworks. I absolutely loved the friendly and practical way those courses were taught, and I learned a lot from that.

FMC: Based on your experience, would you recommend that students in this country study abroad for a semester?

TK: I would absolutely recommend that American students study abroad for at least a semester. It is indeed extremely important to do so, because it allows people to go out of their comfort zone and to have a more complete overview of how things are done in other places. But be careful, time abroad flies way too fast…

FMC: Based on your experience, would you recommend that students in your country study in the USA for a semester?

TK: Oh yeah, definitely! Studying in the USA is a life-changing experience, and everyone should try to do so whenever possible. Besides improving our English, the American way of thinking is different from the French one, and I think it is extremely important to understand those differences to be able to benefit from them. Our classes are way more theoretical with a top-down approach, and our grading system is different as well: We have very few grades and pretty much no homework. We are more prompted to work by ourselves, and we don’t have the kind of privileged student-teacher relationship that American students have. Plus, CS students have tons of opportunities in the USA that would be much harder to find anywhere else! 

FMC: You currently are a software engineering intern at Apple in California. What do you do in a typical day?

TK: I work as an engineer in the Cloud Services Localization team. Part of my job is to work on Siri and make sure it behaves properly in French, while developing new features. I am also responsible for the development of tools used by the Maps team. 

FMC: How beneficial have your experiences at URI and your internships been to your education?

TK: My experiences at URI, as well as my previous internship at a startup in Paris, have been invaluable, both for different reasons. During the six months of my (Paris) internship, I was kind of responsible for the redesign of their mobile app, and I was therefore able to really have an impact on the future of the company. Having responsibilities definitely made me learn a lot.
I’ve already talked about my time at URI, but I really think that this semester was a game changer for me. I was looking for an internship in the US, and I found everyone to be so helpful. I really loved the informal, friendly atmosphere at URI, and I am convinced that putting this on my resume definitely helped me to get this internship at Apple.

FMC: When will you receive your degree?

TK: I will graduate right after my internship at Apple in September 2014.

FMC: What are your career plans?

TK: That’s a good question, one that I am often being asked. I don’t know my career plans, but I am really enjoying working at Apple. The Silicon Valley is an incredible area for tech people like me. I guess I’ll figure it out relatively soon. I find it also a bit exciting not knowing where I will be and what I will be doing in a couple months from now.

FMC: Do you have some advice for current students in computer science?

TK: I would say, be passionate. Don’t just do your homework; find some good friends and work on side projects! You can also participate in startup weekends or other similar events. These are really great to get motivated and to get things done in my opinion. The tech world is moving really fast and a lot of exciting things are happening. If you can find something that really drives you, jump into it. 

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