Jesse Read

Professor in the Computer Science department at École Polytechnique - Paris, France

Key Info

  • Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences with Honours
  • Doctor of Philosophy
  • Software Engineering (Honours Programme)
  • Computer Science

Landing a job at an engineering school in France comes with its own challenges, even for a recent graduate with a fire in his belly.

Jesse Read graduated from the University of Waikato with a Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences with Honours (BCMS(Hons)) in 2005 and a PhD in Computer Science in 2010.

He went on to become a Professor in the Computer Science department at École Polytechnique in France but getting there wasn’t easy.

To secure the position, Jesse not only needed to learn the language but needed an additional ‘habilitation degree’ - the highest university degree on offer in Europe and not available in English-speaking countries that allows recipients to supervise PhD students and apply for academic positions the equivalent of Professor.

It also required a PhD from a reputable research group and additional experience in the form of postdoctoral studies - both of which Jesse achieved thanks to his studies at the University of Waikato and five years travelling Madrid, Spain and Helsinki, Finland following his PhD.

“Having got my PhD in an excellent research group as the Machine Learning Group at Waikato helped enormously,” Jesse says.

Born in Auckland, Jesse moved to Waikato at the age of 13 where he attended Fraser High School. His interest in biology and desire to become a zoologist followed Jesse through school. His passion for computers didn’t develop until later.

After high school, Jesse took a gap year where he started working at KFC to save enough money so he didn’t need a student loan. He kept the job for a few more years, working up to four evenings in the week and longer hours on the weekend to pay for rent, food and gas while he studied.

“Managing time between work, studies and free time was by far the biggest challenge. The years of PhD study were definitely easier as I had a scholarship, but by this time there was a lot of overseas travel. I stayed in Slovenia, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Spain at different times, for around eight months in total, during my 3 and a half year PhD.”

Having already taken up computer programming as a hobby during his year off, enrolling at the University seemed like an obvious option for Jesse.

“Waikato was local and it had a good reputation, particularly in computer science.”

At first, Jesse wanted a degree that would serve as an indication to a future employer that he was an adequate computer programmer.

But there was much more than that.

“Getting a good degree is fundamental, but the so-called ‘soft-skills’ become increasingly important beyond that. Following on to a PhD or other advanced studies, self-motivation and time management are just as key as the core subject matter learned in undergraduate studies.”

He also encouraged other students to learn to write well in natural language (English), saying it’s just as important as writing good computer code when it comes to publishing research.

Don’t neglect maths either, he added.

“If anything, mathematics is a great abstraction that allows you to communicate technical ideas with people from other fields, like statistics and engineering, that are not necessarily great at computer programming.”

Obtaining a habilitation degree, Jesse has now reached the end of his formal studies, but life as a university lecturer, especially in a rapidly evolving field like computer science and interdisciplinary area such as Artificial Intelligence, Jesse is continuously studying and learning.

“My first year of teaching as a junior lecturer was a third-year course in the Signal Processing Department at the University Carlos III in Madrid. I had relatively little knowledge of signal processing and had to study the course textbook frantically each week before teaching the material back to students.

“Even today it’s necessary to keep on top of recent research.”

Read more about Computing & Mathematical Sciences at the University.

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