TA Spotlight: JR Smith


Every other week we spotlight an OMSCS TA, so you can get to know who's behind the screen. Here are four questions for JR Smith who TAs CSE 6220: Introduction to High-Performance Computing.

JR Smith

What do you do professionally? 
I work for the video networking team at Twitch, making sure all the good little bits and bytes make it reliably to where they're supposed to go. I've been programming professionally for over a decade and I have done a little of a lot — from front end web work, to systems programming, to what I do now at Twitch.

Why do you TA for OMSCS? 
It was readily apparent in my first semester that TAs make this program work at scale. I had such a wonderful and unexpected experience in High Performance Computing that I knew this was where I could give back to the program. I have found the balance between pushing students while giving them the tools to succeed quite fun and rewarding.

What's your advice for future students in OMSCS? 
I have fielded this question a few times while TA-ing at the end of the semester. Here's the three things I usually say:

1. Try to pick courses that will expand and push your current knowledge. I had no idea joining the program that I'd be excited about HPC — I'm in the Machine Learning concentration! — but here I am helping run and improve that course and couldn't be happier.

2. You technically can take two courses at work. I have done it successfully, even with hard courses such as Compilers and Computer Vision. That said, I would advise you to try taking one course at a time; you're just going to have more time to digest the material. Not to mention that if you take two courses, you will have time for literally nothing else ,and sometimes you won't even have time for both courses. But this may be a case of do what I say and not what I do.

3. Take notes on what you try during labs. You might think you'll just remember what you have tried, but that never works out.

What's your best study hack? 
Write exam and homework questions for the course you're taking. Trying to come up with an interesting question that you can't easily look up the answer to makes it abundantly clear what you do and do not know well. Also, hand write your notes. It's tedious, yes, but it works well for memory retention.