Combined major gives CCIS senior an interdisciplinary perspective

February 23, 2017

By Gwendolyn Schanker

This summer, fifth-year CCIS student Kyle Alpert (BS, Computer Science/Cognitive Psychology, ’17) will start work full-time at HubSpot, a Cambridge-based inbound marketing software company. At HubSpot, he’ll be working on large-scale data syncing between marketing platforms for companies that want to get customers’ attention on a more personal level than a traditional cold call or email blast would.

It’s a natural next step for Alpert, who was born and raised in Cambridge and completed his third co-op as a software engineer at HubSpot. He’ll graduate with a combined major in computer science (CS) and cognitive psychology, so he not only has the necessary skills to do the job, he also has an advanced understanding of how customers think.

“There are a lot of similarities between the way we work and the way machines work,” Alpert said. “Lots of computer algorithms are based on how the brain works.”

Northeastern’s computer science curriculum starts out with the fundamentals, a series of rigorous introductory courses that students affectionately refer to as “fundies.” Alpert found these initial classes challenging, and says he considered switching out of the CS major his first year. By the time he started taking upper-level electives, he was very glad he didn’t.

“The curriculum does a good job of showing applications for basic skills,” he said. “Right now I’m taking an artificial intelligence (AI) elective, and it’s amazing how much psychology is in it.”

Alpert’s success in the major is largely thanks to his three co-op experiences. His first co-op at Basis Technology, a natural language processing company, came out of a panel in one of his overview classes, where one of his future colleagues was speaking. “He seemed like he really understood students, and I got the vibe that this company understood first-time co-ops,” Alpert said.

The following year, Alpert did his second co-op at clypd, a Davis Square start-up that helps companies schedule TV advertisements based on when their target demographics will be watching. Clypd’s team has grown over time, but when Alpert was doing his co-op, he was one of only a few engineers.

“It was a blast,” he said. “Everyone would be so happy to see each other after the weekend.”

Alpert’s very excited to begin work full-time at HubSpot, but says he would have been happy working at any of his previous co-ops, each of which exposed him to different questions relevant to his field.

“One of the interesting things about being a CS major is you’re exposed to problems that are wildly different from one another,” he said. “It gives me freedom to follow different interests. I’m less likely to get bored and have a midlife crisis.”

He credits his co-op advisor, Aileen Kent Yates, for helping him prepare for interviews and choose between jobs.

“Aileen is the MVP of the CS department,” Alpert said. “You know that she’s looking over 300 resumes at a time, but she clearly makes the effort to help each and every student.”

Thanks partly to Kent-Yates, Alpert is ready to enter the real world. Even so, he’ll be sorry to say goodbye to Northeastern, where he helped break community service records as vice president of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, became a CCIS fellow, and spent a semester abroad at the University of Canterbury, which he cites as a “completely life-changing experience.”

“I lost every single structure and framework I had here and had to reinvent myself from scratch,” said Alpert of his experience in New Zealand, where he took up new interests like hiking and white-water rafting. “It’s the best thing I did [in] my whole life.”

Once unsure of whether he would even complete the CS major, Alpert now has a stellar resume and an interdisciplinary mind for computer science.

“I regret nothing,” he said.