TA Spotlight: Alastair Paragas

Every other week we spotlight an OMSCS TA, so you can get to know who's behind the screen. Here are four questions for Alistair Paragas who TAs CS 7641: Machine Learning.

Paragas

What do you do professionally?
I work at Apple as an AI/ML engineer in Seattle, Washington, under the machine learning platform and technology team on building a data infrastructure for machine learning across Apple. Prior to that, I also worked at Apple as a Software Engineer at Apple Media Products in Cupertino where I started my journey into the OMSCS program.

Why do you TA for OMSCS?
CS7641 is a whirlwind of a graduate course in terms of machine learning, jumping from supervised learning to unsupervised learning, reinforcement learning and even optimization methods — it is a truly fun course. I also get to sharpen what I have learned from my time at the course, both in terms of reinforcement (teaching students and giving feedback) to learning from students. I see being an instructional associate as a new perspective but also as an extension of my graduate studies here, and it's great to be surrounded by the energy and be inspired by other students.

What's your advice for future students in OMSCS?
Stick through the process — no matter how long tomorrow or even graduation seems — taking one breath and one step at a time. There may be events that are out of your sphere of control that can cause a temporary but substantial deviation to your goals, whether that be the pandemic, health conditions, or the death of a relative. However, for all of those outside your sphere of control and competence, you also have an area you are solely in control of — how you can reconcile and emotionally catalog and process downturns and events. Getting over today's pressures and humps provides a future version of yourself compounding interest in terms of resiliency and self-belief, which are essential tools to knocking down future goals and challenges in life.

In those moments of pressure, I have also found it useful to introspect and assess, drawing from past experience of how I've unstuck myself or cues that help me deal with the mix of irrationality that comes rolling down with my own emotions. I personally found a routine of running right after a workday but before my commute home helpful in this regard; the physical exercise reinvigorated me mentally and also provided some much needed dopamine, while the bus commute thereafter provided a nice symbolic disjunction between my professional workday and my academic workday (or in this case, work night). These cues differ from person to person, but it helps to experiment and to reflect

What's your favorite memory from your time in or working with OMSCS so far?
There were moments — particularly moments of procrastination — when for fear of grade outcomes and pile of work that has to be done, the fight-or-flight response kicks in. This ranges from one's heartbeat racing and stomach churning right before an exam to staying up right before the submission deadline to finish a research paper due 8AM EST/5AM PST on a Monday morning — right before the workday. In those moments, I also got to meet fellow students in the process (albeit juggling their jobs and graduate studies with their spouses and children) and seeing that we were all in the same boat and that this boat can only go downstream or upstream. It was very inspiring.

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