GDSC Zürich Leads Build Community Around Cutting-Edge Tech Topics
Jeff Giliberti, a Master’s student in computer science at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich (ETH Zürich), wanted to get more involved in the university’s tech community and decided to lead his university’s Google Developer Student Club (GDSC). Jeff, who is from Italy and has a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Genoa and got internships at Amazon and Meta, is focusing on theoretical computer science in his master’s. He and his core team began their efforts by planning events that showcase the technologies and research topics in which they’re most interested. As Jeff says, “I’ve learned that if I’m passionate about a topic, so are many other students on campus,” and GDSC Zürich has found that centering their events around specific technology topics is a great way to draw students to the club.
Pushing through and overcoming challenges
When Jeff first became the GDSC Zürich leader, he was on his own, but then a team member from the previous cohort decided to rejoin the chapter. They started recruiting for and advertising core team positions. They brought together a diverse core team of twelve students representing nine nationalities and seven different study courses, each sharing a common desire to give back to their communities. The team coordinates and communicates closely about resources for their club, creating structured plans, guidelines, and best practices that they learn along the way. They use several agile tools, including a task board for all their event planning, which has unlocked their core team’s potential. “It’s like a company or startup, and our clients are students,” Jeff says.
“We try to keep everyone motivated and to foster knowledge sharing, which requires effort and coordination,” says Jeff. “Our goal is to reach 50 events and 1,000 members by the end of the year. Our chapter is heavily focused on research topics, so we invite speakers who are doing cutting-edge research and working on innovative technologies or at deep tech startups.”
Hosting events to introduce students to research and innovative technologies
To get started, the team organized a series of speaker sessions on research and career paths. Their first events included a panel on doing a Ph.D. in Computer Science with international panelists, research talks on Operations Research at Google and Robotics at NVIDIA, and a conversation with the CTO of Precisely, launching the GDSC’s Voice of Women in STEM series.
Because of Jeff’s interest in graph algorithms, he chose to plan one of the first GDSC events around that topic. He found a team at Google working in graph mining and reached out to Pati Jurek, Developer Relations, Regional Lead DACH & Women Techmakers Europe Lead, for help inviting research scientist Silvio Lattanzi of the algorithms & optimization group to speak at a GDSC event. GDSC at the ETH Zürich ultimately hosted Algorithms at Google: Graph Mining at Scale on January 19, 2022, and Silvio spoke to over 170 students about his group’s research.
Jeff describes his positive experience working with Pati on these events. “We are like coworkers on the same team, working together to foster connections with industry and students, to help them bridge the gap between theory and practice,” Jeff says.
Building on the success of their first events and the focus of ETH Zürich students on research, Jeff and his leadership team have worked on bringing speakers to students, focused on cutting-edge research topics and innovative technologies, like machine learning, robotics, computer vision, quantum computing, web technologies, and blockchain. From November through June 2022, the club hosted over 40 events, including regular workshops on Machine Learning and Flutter with Google Developer Experts and on Competitive Coding with international contestants. The GDSC currently counts 1120 members. “We appealed to a diverse range of students from computer science, electrical engineering, quantum engineering, mathematics, robotics, and data science,” Jeff says.
External cooperation — matching students with companies
In May 2022, GDSC ETH Zürich hosted an event with the machine learning company Weights and Biases, who have created a machine learning operations platform for research, with the goal of making machine learning research more reproducible, to address an important challenge in the field. “This product is quite popular, and they want more students to know about it,” says Jeff. “They proposed that we run an event with them, in which they showcase their reproducible machine learning research and host a competition on machine learning. There is so much interest in machine learning on our campus. These events will help to broaden our impact and grow the community further.” Everyone who participated found the talk and the competition a lot of fun and useful for their ML projects, and enjoyed connecting with the over seventy students present.
In the last week of the Spring semester, the GDSC hosted another successful event to strengthen the link between industry and academia that Jeff organized in collaboration with the Amazon Student Program. The event featured Research Science Director and Principal Research Scientist of the Amazon Transportation Service division who presented their research in the field of optimization for the middle-mile transportation network. “Gaining insights into the large-scale optimization algorithms behind one of the world’s largest transportation networks piqued the curiosity of the over 120 students who joined the event.” Jeff also states that the purpose of organizing events like these — bringing together students and tech companies — is a great opportunity to inspire young people to grow and choose innovative research topics and explore different career paths.
Valuable learnings, priceless experiences
Jeff tells us that he learnt that being selected GDSC Lead is rather a starting point than a destination: “Building and running a local community around science and technology like ours requires time (much more than I thought) and dedication, but it has been an extremely fun and enriching journey. I could organize events on topics I am passionate about while establishing valuable connections with professionals I look up to, and learning from talented co-organizers and other GDSC members globally. I am grateful for this fantastic opportunity to serve the community.” Jeff also indicates that being a GDSC lead helped him grow both personally and professionally, and he would recommend getting involved in the local GDSC Chapter, or start a new one, to each and every STEM student!
Read more about Google Developer Student Clubs — groups of college and university students who want to boost their skills and gain valuable experience cooperating with local community and business professionals. To join, find a chapter near you or start your own group and become a lead!