Keeping one step ahead

Matthew Rixon, BSc Computer Science graduate 2011

My final year project could not have been more appropriate today than ever before. Working with the latest in CCTV surveillance its aim was to detect suspicious activity in urban areas and flag events that should be investigated as well as acting in support of CCTV operators. The project had a clear motive and application, which should be the aim of students joining their final year of studies. But my mind was set on this challenge before I even started the final year due to my time spent on a placement year.

My placement year was spent working for the defence industry. Contrary to popular belief, I took on real world problems and saw their immediate application. Very little tea making for colleagues, there just was not the time in between the range of projects I was working on! My passion is image processing and artificial intelligence and by working in the defence industry I had the chance to implement and learn even more. But it also meant that I could see the real uses for other parts of my degree. From my experience, it is important to see the reasons why you are studying the topics covered in the two early years of a degree. Programming for mobile device? What searching algorithm to choose? The correct way to test code? All seemed to me very focused at the time, but each module had information that could be combined and applied to a range of different situations.

For me, this is what makes a student employable, the breadth of knowledge and the ability to apply this knowledge to novel situations. It keeps you one step ahead of what the industry needs. The competition between other students is fierce and showing that you are adaptable and dependable is a key skill. It means that when a new challenge arrives you are ready with a skill set that can be applied to anything, even if it means you know the best way to find out more information on the topic.

A final year project is a chance to prove to industry and/or academia that you have what it takes to make a difference in the workplace and have fresh innovative ideas. The final year project is a real test of personal discipline, technical ability and communication skills with experts in the topic you are developing. I was working with a great supervisor who provided advice most of the time, but a supervisor cannot be there all the time and if a major problem appears, skills learnt during a placement year allow you to refocus, assess the situation and plan your next move.

Aided by my year in industry my project was to provide a system to detect suspicious activity in CCTV footage with the focus on vehicles and pedestrians. At Surrey, there is a heavy focus on industrial links and undertaking a placement made picking my final year project a lot easier. When undertaking a final year project three things must be taken into consideration, your own technical abilities, your personal development plan (what technical and soft skills do you want to explore) and a passion for the subject.