The College of Engineering & Computing (CEC) is proud of its students’ commitment to research, study, and accomplishments in the classroom and beyond. Meet Mustafa Esoofally.
Hometown: Pune, India
Degree/major: M.S. in Computer Science
Why did you choose FIU CEC?
I chose to pursue my graduate degree at Florida International University’s College of Engineering and Computing (CEC) because of its strong research focus and high research activity. FIU is classified by the Carnegie Foundation as an R1 research university, indicating the highest level of research activity. CEC stood out to me as a place where I could develop my research skills and collaborate with faculty on impactful projects. Many of the professors are engaged in cutting-edge research in fields like computer science, electrical engineering, and more. There are ample opportunities for graduate students like me to get involved in research groups and labs, publish papers, and really build up a strong research background. Ultimately, I felt the research-intensive environment at FIU’s CEC aligned well with my own goals of conducting research and contributing to the advancement of knowledge in my field.
Beyond the research, I was attracted to CEC’s emphasis on real-world application and technology commercialization. Many of the faculty have experience translating their research into technologies, products, and solutions that benefit society. The college has strong industry connections as well, providing consulting opportunities and pathways to turn innovations into viable businesses. This applied nature was important to me as someone interested in seeing my work make a tangible impact.
Why did you choose your major?
When it came time to decide on a college major, computer science (CS) was the natural choice for me. I realized I could combine my strong analytical abilities with my love of technology in a rewarding career. What draws me to computer science is the endless possibilities – there are always new frontiers to explore and innovations to drive progress. I am constantly stimulated by the quick pace of change in the field. There are always new languages to learn, new paradigms to understand, and new problems to solve.
I also appreciate that computer science provides a platform to make a positive impact. Applications of CS can be used to solve major global challenges in health, environmental sustainability, education, and more. The solutions that computer scientists develop today will shape the future for generations to come. I find that very inspiring.
Did you always want to be an engineer?
I didn’t set out to become a computer engineer from a young age, but over time I realized it’s an ideal field for me.
As a kid, I was always fascinated with technology and loved tinkering with computers, electronics, and video games. I have vivid memories of taking apart my Nintendo console to try to understand how it worked. However, my parents weren’t thrilled when I didn’t put it back together properly! 😊
In school, my interest in STEM classes like math, science, and computer programming grew. I enjoyed the logical nature of coding and the challenge of getting my programs to run correctly. An aptitude for and interest in these subjects pointed me toward engineering.
Specifically, I became curious about the hardware and software underpinning technological systems. Learning about computer organization, processors, and embedded systems in high school cemented my interest in computer engineering. I realized I wanted to work hands-on in developing the next generation of computing innovations.
While I didn’t grow up knowing I’d become an engineer, my long-time curiosity about technology and propensity for math and science steered me toward this rewarding career path. Computer engineering allows me to apply my diverse technical skills to build innovative products and solutions.
What are your plans after graduation?
After completing my Master’s degree, I plan to leverage my advanced computer science skills and knowledge to obtain a software engineering role at a technology company. My goal is to work for an industry leader known for innovation, such as Google, Amazon, or Microsoft.
With a Master’s on my resume, I will be qualified for more advanced engineering roles with greater responsibility and compensation. Within 5 years of graduating, my objective is to be leading complex development projects and managing teams of engineers to deliver innovative solutions. I plan to continue learning the latest techniques and technologies to excel as a software engineer focusing on architecture, system design and scaling.
What clubs, student organizations or extracurricular activities do you recommend, are you part of or have been part of?
Getting involved with student organizations and clubs has been one of the most rewarding parts of my time at FIU. I highly recommend new students take advantage of the diverse extracurricular options available. For example, I have been an active member of INIT @ FIU. This student-led organization provides excellent opportunities to gain hands-on skills in areas like web development, cybersecurity, data science, and more through workshops and projects. As part of INIT, I participated in hackathons where my team designed an app prototype to help students schedule courses. Working collaboratively and intensively during these events taught me valuable lessons in project scoping, rapid prototyping, and teamwork under tight deadlines.
The right club or organization provides a sense of community, chances to develop new skills, and professional development – all while exploring shared interests and meeting new people. I encourage new students to attend organization fairs and get involved from day one. You’ll make friendships and connections that will enrich your FIU experience.
What has been the most challenging thing you’ve experienced as an engineering student (so far)?
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my Master’s program is the significantly advanced mathematics required for graduate-level engineering coursework. Many of my classes involve mathematical concepts like differential equations, linear algebra, discrete math, and probability and statistics.
As an undergraduate, I built a solid foundation in math. However, the graduate-level math applied to engineering research and analysis has been on another level of complexity and abstraction. For example, my machine learning and pattern recognition course involved higher-level linear algebra and calculus which was difficult for me initially.
I’ve had to spend a lot of extra time outside of class really trying to wrap my head around the advanced mathematical frameworks and theorems presented in textbooks and lectures. I’ve found it incredibly helpful to form study groups with peers to discuss and work through the intricate concepts together. We’ve challenged each other to find real-world applications and reinforce understanding.
Moving forward, I know I need to continue devoting significant time to practicing and internalizing the graduate-level math skills that are so fundamental to mastering the theory and cutting-edge technologies explored in my Computer Engineering program. Though challenging, pushing myself to excel at higher math will pay dividends in developing expertise in my field. And the rigorous curriculum is grooming me to be ready to take on similarly complex challenges in my engineering career.
What has been the most rewarding thing you’ve experienced as an engineering student (so far)?
The most rewarding part of my Master’s program so far has been interning at an artificial intelligence (AI) research lab focused on advancing text summarization through machine learning.
Getting real-world experience applying my computer engineering and AI coursework has been invaluable. My role involved leveraging deep neural networks to develop a model that can condense text documents down to key salient points. I’ve enjoyed tailoring natural language processing architectures like BERT to perform summarization.
Seeing my model architecture and training techniques lead to improved performance on benchmark datasets has been really exciting. I’m proud to have measurable results that contribute in a small way to progress in this subfield of NLP. Presenting my work at the lab’s research review to get feedback from senior scientists was a great learning experience too.
The internship has reinforced my passion for using artificial intelligence to solve impactful problems. Working at the cutting edge of research in an area with so much potential feels very rewarding. I look forward to applying everything I’ve learned in my Master’s studies and future work improving AI algorithms and applications. The experience has prepared me well for conducting impactful work at the intersection of machine learning and natural language processing.
Any advice to prospective students thinking of majoring or concentrating in engineering?
- Get exposure to engineering early on through classes, clubs, competitions, or maker spaces to confirm your interest. Projects and experiences like Formula SAE racing teams or robotics contests can be great ways to test your passion.
- Develop strong math, science, analysis, and problem-solving skills. Having a solid technical foundation in areas like calculus, physics, statistics, and computer programming will prepare you for the rigor of engineering curriculums.
- Seek internships, research opportunities, and/or co-ops during your studies to gain hands-on skills and experience that will help tremendously in launching your career.
- Build strong technical communication and teamwork abilities in addition to your core engineering competencies. Being able to collaborate effectively is crucial.
- Get involved with professional associations like SWE, ASME, IEEE to build your network and keep an eye on emerging technologies and trends.
- Talk to professors, teaching assistants, and academic advisors frequently to ensure you’re on the right track and taking courses in the best sequence. Don’t hesitate to ask questions!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a student?
The best advice I’ve gotten so far as a student is to actively use the resources available rather than struggle alone. Early in college, I often didn’t seek help because I thought I could figure everything out on my own. I’d spend late nights stressing over assignments I didn’t fully grasp.
A professor noticed I was struggling in her algorithms course and encouraged me to come to office hours and get help from teaching assistants. At first, I felt self-conscious, like it meant I was behind. However, after going over concepts I didn’t understand, getting additional practice problems, and asking many questions, I did much better on the next exam.
This made me realize utilizing resources like professor office hours, tutoring centers, study groups, and TAs is critical to performing your best. There’s no shame in needing assistance – the subjects are hard! Now when I’m stuck on a concept or assignment, I immediately reach out to get the help I need rather than let frustration build.
The advice drove home that we can nearly always augment our own abilities by partnering with others. Whether it’s study partners, lab mates, or professors, never hesitate to turn to those around you. It has not only helped me excel academically by improving my mastery of material. It has taught me how mutually relying on and uplifting one another breeds success – an invaluable lesson I’ll carry through my education and career.
If you could have lunch/dinner with a famous engineering pioneer, who would it be? Why?
I would choose to have lunch or dinner with Elon Musk because he is a renowned engineering pioneer with a track record of groundbreaking innovations. Musk’s work with companies like Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, and The Boring Company has reshaped industries and our vision for the future. His dedication to sustainability, space exploration, and technological advancements aligns with my interests, and I’m eager to hear his insights on problem-solving, innovation, and his vision for the future.
When you’re not being a computer science graduate student, what do you like to do?
When I’m not immersed in my engineering studies, I enjoy pursuing a variety of interests. I’m passionate about staying active, so you’ll often find me at the gym or out for a run. I’m also an avid reader, and I love getting lost in a good book, especially science fiction and non-fiction books related to technology and innovation.
Beyond that, I have a creative side and enjoy dabbling in photography and graphic design. It’s a great way for me to unwind and express myself artistically. Additionally, I’m a bit of a foodie, so trying out new recipes and exploring different cuisines is another hobby I relish. Lastly, I value spending quality time with friends and family, whether it’s through game nights, hiking trips, or simply sharing a meal together. Balancing these interests helps me stay motivated and refreshed in both my academic and personal life.