Alum inspires growth in computer science and engineering

Shawn McCarthy learned a lot during his time at CU Denver. A two-time graduate from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), he is excelling in his career and motivating current students through involvement at both the department and college level. In addition to serving as a repeat judge for the semiannual Senior Design Competition, he is a member of the computer science and engineering advisory board, he designed (and teaches) a Web API course and he supports the CU Denver student chapters of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). He hopes to inspire success in current students so they get as much out of their education as he did.  Engineering_021_D3_3991

“I find it rewarding to be able to give back to the college that has provided me opportunities and experiences that I cherish and I am grateful for,” says McCarthy. “The students’ thought leadership, passion and energy are an infectious and ongoing experience that cannot be articulated well with words. For me, they ignite an internal passion and desire to be part of something that is larger than I am.”

McCarthy is a director in IT at Vantiv, a provider of innovative payment processing solutions, and manages between 75 and 85 people across multiple cities. Working for Vantiv, he says, is exciting, challenging and full of new experiences. One such experience, the one that makes him most proud, was the opportunity to pilot an IT internship program with CU Denver’s CSE department. Through the internship program, the CSE department has five guaranteed internships with Vantiv each year, three undergraduate and two graduate.

“I believe the IT interns are our future,” he says. “Through the program, we build a healthy organization model that is beneficial to everyone involved. My favorite part of hosting the interns is the weekly one-on-one discussions we have covering the highlights of the week. Their passion, excitement and velocity of learning infuse a wonderful energy in our organization.”

The successful internship program is now officially sponsored at Vantiv’s corporate level. For McCarthy, the student interns from CU Denver are among the most knowledgeable and experienced, and are able to take on any challenge. This has allowed for continued expansion of the program.

“We have hosted more than eight interns over the last year, and I would hire every one of the students from CU Denver,” he says. “They all had strong data-modeling skills, problem-solving skills and good object-oriented design skills, and they all worked exceptionally well within a team environment.”

McCarthy attributes this to the CSE curriculum and faculty. He says the program exposes students to the foundations of computer science but also allows students to explore their personal passions through unique, relevant programs, including computer graphics, artificial intelligence, and mainstream and leading-edge technologies across mobile and big data. He noted specific faculty, most of whom are still with the department, who made a lasting impression.

Will Trobaugh was his undergraduate advisor and teacher of data structures and advanced C++, and McCarthy is forever grateful for Trobaugh’s personal attention and the development of his programming style. Boris Stilman, professor of CSE, provided deep and lasting learning. Stilman’s style of developing thought leaders in the classroom left a lasting impression on McCarthy, who believes he would not be where he is today without the classes he took from Stilman.

Min-Hyung Choi taught McCarthy the importance of computer graphics and game design. He says some of his most enjoyable and passionate programs were the creation of a 3-D modeling program and an end-to-end game. These fully working applications provided deep understanding of the software development process and large application design. Ilkyeun Ra taught a master’s-level operating system class where the class researched leading-edge technologies and presented their understanding. McCarthy says this course forced him to grow in the area of technical understanding and presentations, which has served him wonderfully in his career. Finally, Ellen Gethner taught graduate algorithms in a course that covered greedy and graph algorithms at a level to which McCarthy had not been exposed. Gethner’s passion for the subject matter made this course stand out, and the opportunity to code algorithms into a visualization provided deep introspection into how they work.

“You are given a strong engineering basis in computer science that allows you to think more critically in the large-scale enterprise platforms,” he says. “The curriculum provided me the confidence and practical knowledge to explore many different platforms and technologies within the enterprise.”

CSE department chair Gita Alaghband, who taught McCarthy, appreciates his passion and widespread involvement. “Shawn is an enthusiastic partner to us, a great teacher for our students and a fantastic mentor to our internship students,” she says. “It is wonderful to know that I can always count on him for help and participation.”

Alaghband’s appreciation is reciprocated.

“It has been a privilege to work with Gita on a number of program enhancements,” says McCarthy. “It is through her passion and drive that I decided to teach a class in the spring, and although I know I have a lot to learn, this has provided a new channel of growth in me personally and professionally.

“The future is bright for the computer science department, and I am honored and privileged to continue to be a part of the experience.”