Apple of their eye

MSU Texas senior turned research victories into job with Apple Inc.

An eight-hour interview isn’t ordinary. Neither is getting a chance to land a job with a global leader before reaching graduation.

But Shady Boukhary didn’t leave Lebanon to find Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls to be ordinary. He was unique, and others could see that.

“Shady is not a normal student (or person to be honest),” said Dr. Terry Griffin, Associate Professor of Computer Science. “His intelligence allows him to do really great work, but it doesn’t push him to do what he has accomplished.”

Boukhary researched his options before choosing MSU Texas and then poured himself into research as a computer science major with three published papers as evidence of his ability to concentrate on his most important tasks.

Even accomplished scholars aren’t exempt from feeling overwhelmed in unfamiliar territory, and that was true for Boukhary when he had a chance to interview for a position at Apple Inc. It was a lot to process for anyone, a total of nine interviews in eight hours.

Boukhary was victorious at Apple as he earned and accepted an offer from the tech giant. He will be employed as a graphics software engineer after his graduation in May 2020.

“I think what sets Shady apart from the rest of the pack is his drive to solve problems,” Griffin said. “He really and truly enjoys solving problems, and instead of watching YouTube or being caught up on Snapchat or Instagram, he’s knocking out another solution to a cool problem.”

How did Boukhary survive the rigorous interview? By believing in himself, he said. “Going into the interview process with a high degree of confidence was critical for me,” Boukhary said. “People tend to doubt themselves quite often. I am also guilty of this.”

Belief in himself has been a trait that has helped Boukhary thrive at MSU Texas. At 18 years of age, he left his home in Beirut, Lebanon, to come to the United States. And he chose Wichita Falls and MSU as his new home. That was a big step, and it prepared him for his giant leap into the tech world.

Boukhary believes the opportunities for research and close work with his professors molded him into a qualified candidate for one of the world’s top companies.

“Working with professors on research projects outside of class was invaluable to my success in my interviews,” he said. “It is very difficult to emphasize this enough: there are many research opportunities for students at MSU. Taking advantage of programs, such as EURECA, substantially helped me prepare for this opportunity. Not only did engaging in research projects further my understanding of many topics in my field, but it also helped me develop a scientific mind and a passion for scientific rigor.”

EURECA stands for Enhancing Undergraduate Research Endeavors and Creative Activities. Boukhary is thankful for that program and other opportunities here at MSU Texas.

“In addition to EURECA, I’ve been working with Dr. Griffin and Dr. (Eduardo) Colmenares-Diaz on several projects throughout my college career,” Boukhary said. “These projects immensely helped prepare me for my interviews, as skills and knowledge gained through these projects proved beneficial during my interviews. I was able to recall information and give examples of situations I had encountered when I worked on these projects.”

Boukhary realizes he gave up some things in life to focus on his projects but said he still found time to enjoy time with friends.

“But the separation of the two was important,” he said. “My strategy was to allocate time for research projects that would have otherwise gone to non-academical plans. Working with my mentor and teammates ensured we had some results every week.”

For advice to fellow students on how to handle research projects, Boukhary said having a passion for the topic and a plan for time management are both critical.

 

Shady Bouhkary
Shady Bouhkary will graduate from MSU Texas in May 2020. 

“Perhaps the most important tip is to choose a topic that you are interested in. All my research projects involved topics I was very passionate about and actively wanted to learn more about,” Boukhary said.

He’s excited about his future and thankful for a wealth of memories he made at MSU Texas.

“I am also proud of consistently participating in the EURECA program, being an Honors student, completing research projects with professors, and maintaining a good GPA,” he said. “Dr. Colmenares-Diaz and Dr. Griffin have consistently pushed me to go above and beyond to produce good results in the projects we have worked on together. For that, I thank both of them.”

Griffin admits he might have been more nervous about Boukhary’s interview than the prized student himself.

“As professors we sometimes live vicariously through our students (like we do with our kids),” he said. “I was probably more nervous going through the Apple interview process than Shady was. All the text messages we sent back and forth along with the waiting was brutal. But to finally see this: ‘I GOT THE JOB’ was awesome!”

Boukhary was always working on his problem-solving skillset and it paid off.

“I think many successful people are (to some extent) this way,” Griffins aid. “They are always working on something productive. He would also set up impromptu seminars to show anyone who would listen about cool contemporary topics in our field of computer science. Why? Because he just loves the world of programming, algorithms, and problem-solving, and he enjoys talking about it as well. In fact, students starting asking him when his next ‘talk’ would be!”

Dr. Griffin, star student share tips on diving into research at MSU Texas

Dr. Terry Griffin, an Associate Professor of Computer Science, celebrated Shady Boukhary’s success, exchanging texts with him throughout his interview process. He witnessed firsthand the drive, determination, and focus that separated the MSU Texas senior from his peers.

Boukhary is thankful for the opportunities to research and to grow as a scholar at MSU Texas.  Griffin doesn’t take any credit for Boukhary’s success, including a job at Apple Inc., but he did share some advice for students pursuing research.

“I would love to take a little credit for Shady and some of his accomplishments, but the truth is that Shady would have flourished anywhere he went without help from me or anyone else,” Griffin said. “I’m simply thankful that we became friends, and I’m thankful that he helped me learn new things.”

His advice for students is to go beyond assignments and homework. In computer science, you need to write programs to solve problems beyond what your professors assign. If you’re an art major, then consistently produce art whether or not you have assignments telling you to do so. If you want to coach, volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club. Every major should find ways to improve their skills over and above course work, and not just doing what is assigned in the classroom.

And secondly, Griffin said, “DO RESEARCH. Research sounds scary, but it is not! Almost any professor will take on a student to help them research. You do not have to be an expert in some incomprehensible field. You just need to be willing to invest a little time and effort. Whoever you’re working with will help get you started! It’s the professor’s job, and in their best interest, to not overwhelm you with craziness.”

Boukhary agrees completely.

“Find a project to work on,” Boukhary said. “Many professors on campus are always looking for students to join them in a research project – whether it is STEM related or not. Students ought to look for these opportunities and ask around. There is always at least one topic that is of interest to both a professor and a student. Once such a project is found, consistently work on it until it is completed. Consistency is key. If time is an issue, then students might find it very helpful to dedicate a few hours a week to these projects, as they often lead to publications if the results are interesting. If you have a passion for your field of study, you will find a topic that interests you. It may sound simple, yet it is the most crucial step in the process: pursue this project and don’t let the opportunity slip. There are many resources on campus that can assist when writing a paper such as the Writing Center. MSU faculty will always be glad to assist in projects and even proofread your papers. Take advantage of those resources.”

“Working on research ties directly to ‘going beyond,’ which will always create a better and more capable graduate,” Griffin added.

Shady Bouhkary with MSU Texas President Suzanne Shipley
Shady Bouhkary with MSU Texas President Suzanne Shipley

For more information on the Undergraduate Research and Creative Activity Forum visit UGROW or contact director Magaly Rincon-Zachary.

Shady Bouhkary Q&A

A few selected questions and answers with MSU Texas senior Shady Boukhary, a projected May 2020 graduate who recently earned a job at Apple Inc.

 

Major: Computer Science

Hometown: Beirut, Lebanon

 

Q: You had a recent interview with Apple, how did you prepare yourself mentally and how did you feel about the experience?

A: The interview experience was both pleasant and overwhelming. I had to take some time to mentally process what was going on. It was crucial for me to remind myself that I made it past the screening phase due to my credentials and that I had both the capacity and the potential of being hired.  

 

Q: Some major accomplishments of yours were research papers. What are the little things a student can do consistently to give them a chance to accomplish big things?

A: Find a project to work on. Many professors on campus are always looking for students to join them in a research project – whether it is STEM-related or not. Students ought to look for these opportunities and ask around. There is always at least one topic that is of interest to both a professor and a student. Once such a project is found, consistently work on it until it is completed. Consistency is key. If time is an issue, then students might find it very helpful to dedicate a few hours a week to these projects as they often lead to publications if the results are interesting. If you have a passion for your field of study, you will find a topic that interests you. It may sound simple, yet it is the most crucial step in the process: pursue this project and don’t let the opportunity slip. There are many resources on campus for assistance when writing a paper, such as the Writing Center. MSU faculty will always be glad to assist in projects and even proofread your papers. Take advantage of those resources.

 Q: What specifically about your research papers caught the attention of Apple or other companies?

A: When it comes to research papers, two things will catch the eye of a recruiter. One of them is the fact that there exists a research paper published by the student, which in itself is viewed as an indication of a dedicated worker who is passionate about their field. Secondly, the relevance of the research to the position plays an important role as well. For me, two of my papers involved topics surrounding GPUs (Graphic Processing Unit), which was relevant to the position I was applying for. 

Q: What is your personal strategy for tackling research papers or projects? Any tips?

A: Perhaps the most important tip is to choose a topic that you are interested in. All my research projects involved topics I was very passionate about and actively wanted to learn more about. Time management is also very important. I had weekly meetings with my mentors and teammates, which ensured we had some results every week. 

Q: What exactly is the High Performance Computing and Deep Learning Lab? Your experience here with that?

A: These are research groups in the Computer Science department headed by Dr. (Eduardo) Colmenares-Diaz. I am also involved in Dr. (Terry) Griffin’s machine learning group. In these groups, we try to solve real-world problems through the use of High-Performance Computing, Deep Learning, and Machine Learning, respectively. For example, we have been working on a biometrics-based attendance tracker using artificial neural networks. We hope to deploy a system that can track attendance automatically, making the time-consuming manual attendance tracking obsolete. There are always research projects going on at MSU. I urge students to find one that sparks their interest.

 

Q: Going back, what brought you to Midwestern State University? 

A: MSU was one college among a long list of colleges I was looking into as an international student. MSU stood out as a great combination of opportunities, a good on-campus experience, and affordability. I found MSU while looking into lists of good universities in Texas.

 

Q: You helped with one of the biggest WF-area events, the Hotter’N Hell Hundred, with a mobile app. What can you share about that experience?

A: A team composed of myself, Brice Allard, and Jeremy Glebe developed a mobile application for the Hotter’N Hell Hundred event in town. We worked with an organizer of the event to develop features that were in demand. The mobile application is complete and we hope many people use it in the upcoming event. I work as a tutor in the Computer Science lab. I try to use what I have learned through my college courses and my experience during internships to help students with their assignments and understand the course material.