TA Spotlight: Tony Mason

Each week we spotlight an OMSCS TA, so you can get to know who's behind the screen. Here are five questions for Tony Mason, who TAs CS 6200: Graduate Introduction to Operating Systems.

Tony Mason

What do you do professionally?
Currently, I am a full-time Ph.D. student at the University of British Columbia. My broad research area is systems, and currently I have been doing research with persistent memory, investigating it’s behavior and how to best exploit it for solving interesting problems. In addition, I have been doing research in non-hierarchical file systems, in which I am looking for better ways of allowing applications to find related information. This combines HCI concerns (how do we make it easier for human users to find relevant content in their own personal data lake?) and systems concerns (what information do we need to capture, store, and provide to applications so they can make it easier to find relevant content in the user’s personal data lake?)  Part time, I also do consulting in the technology field, primarily acting as an expert witness for litigation.

Why do you TA for OMSCS?
I find working with students rewarding. I take pleasure in having students come back and tell me that I helped them better understand the material and how what they learned in the course is useful for them in their own work.

What's your advice for future students in OMSCS?
Use this as an opportunity to broaden your horizons. While focusing on a specific area is useful, having a broader understanding of other fields will enrich your appreciation and understanding of the CS field as a whole. Keep in mind that computer science isn’t about the training of programmers – learning languages and how to program really are not the primary consideration for the OMSCS courses or program – the focus is on building understanding of the concepts. OMSCS is not a “boot camp” for programming; it’s a rigorous program for computer science.

What hobby or activity did you get back to once you finished OMSCS?
Finishing OMSCS did not, for me, free up time because I moved into my Ph.D. program. So I continued my learning process, but I don’t expect that to change anytime soon, either!

What is something you learned in OMSCS that surprised you?
While the OMSCS program is primarily aimed at students who will treat it as a terminal degree, it is not. I learned that, while challenging to do, it is possible to complete a thesis as part of OMSCS, just like it is possible to do independent research. I was almost done by the time I learned about these possibilities. While I was able to continue on to a Ph.D. program, in some ways I think it would have been easier if I had tried harder to take advantage of these other options. Having said that, I will note that there seems to be a fairly common perception that people with a “course-only master’s degree” won’t find general acceptance into Ph.D. programs, and that is certainly not true, though it does require additional work because you want faculty recommendations. That is one of the personal advantages that I found from being a TA: I was able to interact with faculty at a level that isn’t generally possible as a student in those courses and obtain recommendations that spoke to my abilities to pursue my Ph.D.