2 Filipinos finishes among top in Stanford’s Artificial Intelligence course
An online 11-week Artificial Intelligence course by Stanford University recently concluded and two Filipinos were among the top graduates of the class estimated to have 160,000 students from all over the world.
Tommy Lim Jr. and Jesu Petar “Pepe” Maglutac, both software engineers from Orange & Bronze, have successfully completed and passed with flying colors the Artificial Intelligence (AI) course taught by former Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, the Director of Research at Google. Lim graduated with a grade of 98% and finished at the top 10% of the class, while Maglutac received 87%.
Thrun and Norvig offered the class online as an impulse decision, after talking to colleagues about reinventing education. The 11-week course kicked off in October 2011 and attracted enrollees ranging from high school students, engineers, scientists, technology enthusiasts, and established software developers.
A class in Stanford University can cost up to $8,000 (approx. PHP 338,400). Joining the online class at no cost was a no-brainer for Lim and Maglutac. Both signed up immediately when the class was announced on various online forums. “There are many interesting technologies that I was interested in looking into but didn’t have the time or the right starting points,” Lim explains. “I felt that the Stanford classes were an opportunity to break the ice, so to speak. The ice definitely got broken.”
The course included online lectures and discussions with the professors who offered similar materials, assignments, and exams as the Stanford class. The grading system was also done Stanford-style — students were graded on a curve. Attendees received a certificate of completion with their grade at the end of the course.
“I decided to enroll because I consider learning, especially topics in my field, to be very enjoyable,” says Maglutac. “Also, most of the topics covered by all the classes were all topics that I did not have the fortune to learn during my college years. As such, I was motivated to learn these.”
Lim is a Senior Software Engineer, Trainer, and Project Manager who has been with O&B for almost 5 years. Previously a professor at the De La Salle, Lim left the university after more than a decade of teaching because he remained unfulfilled. “I taught for 11 years, teaching various subjects, and I got tired. Afterwards, I was extremely unhappy working at the family business. I just wanted to be happy and productive. A former O&B employee suggested I apply here.”
Maglutac on the other hand, pursued software engineering because he discovered that it was where he excelled. He was part of the O&B internship program in 2009, which is known for its rigid selection process. “I have always had a fascination with computer programming and, since during my college days, it had been my forte. I decided to stick with it.”
The course description for the online class describes AI as “the science of making computer software that reasons about the world around it. Humanoid robots, Google Goggles, self-driving cars, even software that suggests music you might like to hear are all examples of AI.” Both professors are respected engineers who are connected with technology behemoth, Google.
Sebastian Thrun is a robotics and machine learning specialist who is known for leading the development of Google’s self-driving car. Peter Norvig is Director of Research at Google and co-authored an important and popular book on AI, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach.
The response for the class was overwhelming and opened the duo’s eyes to democratizing education by making resources more accessible and cost-sensitive. It impacted Thrun tremendously that he resigned from Stanford early this year to launch Udacity, an online education venture that currently offers free computing classes, including “Building a Search Engine” and “Programming a Robotic Car”.
Lim describes the class as “not like most classroom courses where you’re flooded with lengthy explanations that don’t help or with info most of which cannot be used immediately. The Stanford online courses focused on the practical aspects and left any heavy theory as extra reading. It was also nice that you can watch the videos and do the assignments at any time prior to the deadline, no rigid scheduling.”
Aside from AI, two other online engineering classes were offered for free – Machine Learning and Database classes – which the two also enrolled in and completed.
After taking the classes, Maglutac has come to realize where he stands skills-wise. “I realized that there is so much that I have not yet learned in Computer Science. I learned that one should never stop learning, whether it be for new technologies that appear every month, or if you want to go to the fundamentals like I have. The IT industry is one industry where the amount of knowledge is so vast that you will never tire of the things you can discover.”
The classes validated Lim’s decision of shifting jobs and pursuing a career in the IT industry. “I don’t know how long I’ll stay in this career but I am extremely happy as of now and part of that is that I’m constantly challenged mentally, whether it be learning a new technology, finding a way to make two technologies play nice with each other, planning out how a part of a project should be built, or even taking the online courses. It’s a welcome change from teaching at the university because the challenges change each day.”
Asked what he plans to do with his new knowledge on AI, Tommy answers, “…combining AI, Machine Learning, with the new courses Game Theory and Model Thinking, I’d like to be able to model the behavior of the Filipino driver and perhaps find some unorthodox but effective solution to the serious traffic discipline problem of Metro Manila.”