An Interview with Nevrus Kaja

“I know that many people are motivated to go into computer engineering because they will earn high salaries, but in my opinion, it should be more about passion for the subject than a desire to make money.”

Nevrus Kaja is a third-year student in the Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering program at University of Michigan, Dearborn. He transferred to University of Michigan, Dearborn after taking computer engineering classes at Epoka University in Albania, as well as at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Nevrus chose to take some of his classes online because he is able to complete his coursework more efficiently from home. More than anything else, he thinks that students must be motivated by passion for the field to be successful in their computer engineering programs and future careers.

In your own words, what is computer engineering?

Computer engineering involves learning about the hardware and software part of the computers. As a degree, computer engineering focuses on drawing from both computer science and electrical engineering in order to develop, design and implement new computer systems. Though there is some overlap, the main difference between this field and computer science is that computer engineering focuses primarily on hardware design, whereas computer science deals mostly with software programming.

Why did you choose to get a bachelors degree in computer engineering online?

I decided to earn my bachelors degree in computer engineering at University of Michigan, Dearborn because I have always loved computers. I had a background in computers when I came into the program, and once I found out exactly what a computer engineering degree entailed, I realized that it would help me realize my future goals.

Right now, I take some of my classes online and some of them on campus. I chose to take some of my classes online because it takes me less time to get through the material if I am able to work at home, and for my easier classes, I am able to complete the coursework without a lot of guidance. Also, being able to access the material online anytime I need to is easier for me than paying attention to a 60-minute lecture

When you first considered studying computer engineering online what were your expectations?

When I first thought about taking some of my classes online, I assumed that there would be more interaction and guidance from the instructor. I thought that students would be online with the instructor at the same time and that class sessions would be live. But we aren’t required to log in at specific times, and we are able to access all of the material that we cover in the whole course from the very first day. I like this format, and I think it works well.

What kinds of classes have you taken in your computer engineering program?

I have taken general education classes, including sociology, philosophy and economics, and major-specific classes, like digital design, introduction to computer engineering, circuits, programming, computer organization, microprocessors, cloud computing and electronics. Most of my classes that are related to computer engineering have required quite a bit of math.

Which of these classes do you think will be most valuable for your future goals?

My course on digital logic design will definitely be the most useful for my future. I learned a lot in that class. After I earn my degree, I want to become a system engineer. More than any other class, I think digital design taught me specific skills that I will be able to use in my career.

What classes do you feel will be least useful?

Almost all of my classes have been useful, but an online class that I took on computer engineering technology was probably my least useful class. It focused on very basic computer skills, like how to use Microsoft Office. I had already taken an introductory course, so all of this was repetitive for me.

What resources do you use to help you succeed in your studies?

University of Michigan provides students with many valuable resources to help us study. The library is great, and I spend quite a bit of time there. There are also some helpful online resources for engineering students in particular.

But the most useful resources come through Eastern Michigan University, where I attended before transferring to University of Michigan, Dearborn. They have a website called SkillPort that keeps track of all of the classes that a student has taken, including the resources that were used in the class, and sometimes even professors’ notes. Students also have access to other online coursework. I still have access to Eastern Michigan as a former student, and I have used the online classes that they have to help support what I am learning at University of Michigan, Dearborn.

Have you done an internship in your field?

I haven’t done an internship yet, but I look forward to doing one in the future. Many of my friends have had great experiences interning at companies like Chrysler and Ford. I would like to intern at a company in Detroit that deals with IT or system design. I think internships are a great opportunity to get experience and start my career.

How do you interact with your professors?

There are 2 main ways that I interact with instructors in my online classes. The first is through e-mail, and this works very well. But what I prefer to do is use the online question board. Students can post their questions here and the instructor can respond, and the other students in the class can see the question and answer as well. Other students can also offer an opinion or idea about the question that you asked.

Are you able to interact with your peers while studying online?

For the most part, I don’t interact with other students in my online classes very much. Most of our interaction occurs on the question board. Students don’t send e-mails to each other very often, and I don’t feel like we were making many friendships in the online classes. You can really build a relationship with a instructor in an online class, but relationships with your peers are much less likely, since all you see is a person’s name, their e-mail address and the questions that they post. You don’t have a chance to learn about them.

What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in a computer engineering program and what traits would hinder success?

Computer engineering is first and foremost an engineering degree, so you need to be a thinker. You also need to be someone who enjoys brainstorming and thinking abstractly. Above all, though, you have to be passionate about the subject, focused and know what your future goals are so that you can stay focused.

I think that if someone decides to earn a computer engineering degree because they think that they will be able to earn a lot of money, they won’t be as successful in the field. That kind of motivation isn’t going to carry someone through the difficult classes, or make them an innovative thinker.

What is your weekly schedule?

This semester, I am taking 4 engineering classes. I attend classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Monday and Wednesday are lecture classes and Friday is the lab day. I like to group my classes together like this so that I have days during the week when I can focus on studying or doing things outside of class.

I have a part-time job on the weekends. I start work at 5:00 a.m., so I am able to have the afternoons to spend time with friends or, during finals week, to spend more time with my books.

How do you manage your course load? What study tips would you give to a prospective student?

The most important tip that I can give to another student is to sit in the front row of your classes. In my experience, it really improves my performance in the class. You should also always take notes, no matter how simple you think the material is or how much you think you already know.

And definitely listen to your professors and their advise. They have been through all of the education that you are working through, and much more. Recognize that they know more than you, and that is why you are there.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I am thinking about applying to graduate school for either a masters degree or a PhD in information assurance or information systems. I enjoy computer engineering a lot, but I also want to develop skills that are related to computers but not given a great deal of emphasis in computer engineering programs.

From the career side, people who earn advanced degrees in these fields can generally expect to earn a beginning salary of $90,000. Of course, money is important, but for me, it is much more about passion for the subject than a desire to make money.

Do you think the fact that you studied online will affect your graduate school prospects?

I don’t think the fact that I took some of my classes online will affect my ability to get into graduate school, since it won’t even state on my transcript that certain classes were taken online and certain classes were taken on campus. I also don’t think that there is a difference between knowledge gained in an online class and knowledge gained in an offline one.

Now that you have completed 3 years of your computer engineering program, if you could go back to high school, what would you do differently?

If I could go back to high school, I would probably study a little more about computers, because I had basically no classes on computers at all. I might also study a little bit more than I did in classes like calculus, because I have used calculus in many of my computer engineering programs.

But I also don’t regret having a good social life in high school, and I think it is important for high school students to enjoy their time while they can.

If you were to redo the past 3 years of college, what would you do differently?

If I could do anything differently about the last 3 years I have spent in college, I wish I could have taken fewer general education courses. Though I think general education is important, I would have preferred to spend my time in classes that dealt with my major rather than spending time in psychology or political science classes.

What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying computer engineering online?

If you want to get a degree in computer engineering, you have to love the field, be passionate about it, be focused and know why you are pursuing the degree. And, by the way, computer engineering is not programming, so if you are interested in programming, you should get a degree in computer science instead.

Do your research on various degree programs before you make a decision. It is really important to choose a good, accredited computer engineering program. You also need to enjoy math to do well as a computer engineering student. If you don’t enjoy math or aren’t good at it, this degree, and your future career, will be a much bigger challenge for you.