This is the second in our Student Spotlight series, where our students tell their stories in their own words.
"My name is Ali Akeldi and I’m from Al Mukalla, Yemen. I have a B.S. in both Physics and Computer from Purdue University and a further M.S. in Computer Science with a focus on Machine Learning and AI from Columbia University. I’m the first in my family to graduate with a college degree, and I came to be sponsored by the esteemed Hadhramout Foundation through the Al Mukalla Model Secondary School.
I think I’ve always found science fun and fulfilling, but different events influenced my choices regarding which sciences I decided to study. It all started in high school. I remember that all my peers wanted to be doctors or engineers, but for me, the future was very unclear. It was full of variables and unknowns; nonetheless, I was very optimistic about it.
The first major event in my Computer Science path was during a discussion with friends in the computer lab in high school. At the time, computers were relatively new to me, and software seemed like magic. I asked a friend, 'how does Microsoft make software? Isn’t it strange that a collection of plastic and metals can show the Microsoft Word program on the screen?' I wasn’t expecting an answer to my question, but to my surprise, I was told that Microsoft uses something called programming to make software. A year later, I was already writing code in C-sharp and Java. Although the code was poorly written, the coding process was very enjoyable.
Even though I had interests in Computer Science since high school, it never occurred to me at the time that I would be specializing in this field. I saw software as nothing more than a hobby that I could pursue in my free time. Maybe for lack of imagination or due to living in an environment that had minimal dependence on computers, I saw software as something that’s used mainly for entertainment, something not worth studying in college. I wanted my college degree to have some real value, so I decided to study Physics instead of Computer Science.
In my first year in college at Purdue University, I realized that the study plans for Computer Science and Physics have a lot of overlap. Many required classes are the same for both degrees. This allowed me to create a study plan to complete both degrees in exactly 4 years without delaying my graduation. Studying both Physics and Computer Science opened my eyes to how the modern world works. I realized that Computer Science is much more important than what I thought of it in high school. In the digital age, even modern Physics and Astronomy are heavily dependent on computer algorithms. So after graduation, I joined the Computer Science M.S program at Columbia University.
Yemen is in need of people with different expertise in different fields. My formal education, my interests, and my present employment are all at the cutting edge of science and technology. I believe that my education and experience will be helpful in building a modern post-war Yemen."
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