For LSU graduate student Ryan Maggio, the primary allure of his field of computer science is that it offers the opportunity to investigate and solve complex problems that don’t have readily available solutions.
“A problem is like a mystery,” he says. “The reason that it’s a mystery is that it doesn’t have an obvious solution. When you find whatever satisfactory solution you have to the problem, then it gives you an entirely new way of thinking about the world.
Maggio, who is in his first year working toward a Ph.D. in computer science, is focusing on the growing field of cybersecurity, which regularly presents some of the most unusual challenges in computer science. It’s precisely the sort of thing Maggio says he enjoys.
“The problems in the field are hard but very interesting, and in particular lend themselves to having non-obvious and sometimes a little weird solutions,” he says. “So you have to think about things that are really out of the box, which I find very interesting and want to get better at.”
Maggio says arriving at a solution to one of those unusual problems is “a complete rush.” “It gives me energy and I’m excited and want to tell people about it,” he says.
A Background in Math
Maggio found his way into computer science via math. He says he developed an interest in the subject in high school while attending the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts in Natchitoches.
He took a programming class at LSMSA and learned the basics of Python, but when it came time to choose a college major, he still opted to study math. The abstract nature of the field played directly into his propensity to solve problems, he says. And many LSU Computer Science students opt to double major or minor in Math due to the problem solving nature of both fields.
“I’ve always really liked problem-solving, and math to me takes away a lot of the ugly nonsense from the problem so you can only focus on the problem in a very nice, abstract way,” he says.
Putting His Focus on Cybersecurity
Maggio graduated from LSU with a degree in math and set his sights on graduate school, landing in a Ph.D. program that prepares students for research careers in universities or industrial laboratories to help meet the demand for computer scientists to work at the frontiers of knowledge in theoretical and applied specialties.
The curriculum covers several areas related to theoretical foundations, systems and architecture, databases and data analytics, software, computational science and digital media.
“Cybersecurity is becoming more and more important,” Maggio says. “Just pay attention to the news headlines on any given day.”
Maggio says so far his favorite course has been a reverse-engineering class in which students deconstruct software programs to investigate how they are built. He says the students were given freedom to tackle the challenges of breaking down the programs on their own.
“I thought it was a very interesting experience,” he says. “I’ve been having a great time with all of my classes.”