TA Spotlight: Barbara Vanaki

Barbara Vanaki

Barbara Vanaki is a TA for CS 7637: Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence. Keep reading to learn more about Barbara!

What do you do professionally?

I help build tech for companies that sell extremely regulated products, like cannabis and alcohol. Currently, I’m a Senior Product Manager at California’s largest cannabis distributor. Before that, I was a Product Manager leading a mobile development team at Anheuser-Busch.

Why do you TA for OMSCS?

I have been a TA for CS 7637: Knowledge-Based Artificial Intelligence since September 2021; this is my sixth semester in this role.

I come back every semester because it allows me to keep my skills sharp, and because being a grader is ironically an amazing learning opportunity itself.

Many of the students are seasoned professionals already working for companies known for tough technical interviews. Because of this, as a grader you’re exposed to a huge volume of responses from talented engineers. Imagine if every month you reviewed 100 answers from 100 people attempting to solve the exact same problem: although many of the approaches would be similar, you would learn to notice outliers, and from there, learn new problem-solving approaches that you can then share with other students. Additionally, being a TA has taught me to write infinitely better technical requirements and documentation in my professional roles compared to if I wasn’t a TA.

It is also a simply exciting experience. Professor Joyner is a truly fantastic professor, and his passion for the course is contagious. It has been really inspiring seeing how he is constantly looking for opportunities to make the course even more valuable for students.

What is your advice for future OMSCS students?

Everyone focuses on sharpening their coding skills before OMSCS classes, but you should also create an “anti-stress plan”. Try to put whatever you can on autopilot so you have a few extra hours for studying. Make a plan for going on walks, meditating, or visiting friends and family a few times per week to prevent burnout. Or at least commit to starting assignments early—that’ll help more than anything else! :)

What is your favorite memory from your time in or working with OMSCS so far?

My favorite memory was the CS 6601: Artificial Intelligence lecture series on Simulated Annealing and Genetic Algorithms. Up until that moment, I always heard the casual remarks that “computer science imitates biology and physical sciences” but had never heard anyone elaborate on that notion with real examples. Those lectures were the first time I had ever heard this concept explained in full, and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard.

Find Barbara on...

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/barbaravanaki/