Smart Information Flow Technologies, or SIFT, primarily works within the cybersecurity and human-automation interaction industry. Their government-funded efforts develop smart technology for a variety of purposes, from natural language processing and automated planning, to drone programming and adaptation.

Over the summer, SciTech interns Saji Champlin and Alexandra Hanson joined this small team of researchers to gain valuable cybersecurity experience while contributing to SIFT’s internal projects. Armed with the technical skillsets they developed at school, Hanson and Champlin were eager to take their talents to the next level.  

“You learn a lot of things in class and you can have a very good understanding of these topics, but getting the practical experience of how you would apply the things you’re learning is really important,” Hanson said.

Coding on an industry level
Champlin, a computer engineering major at the University of Minnesota, worked on developing an application designed to detect and exploit changes in a virtual environment. He used the sandbox videogame Minecraft to test the app’s response to irregularities and then adapted it to multiple agents.

“There’s a wild amount of code,” Champlin said. “Something I’ve learned here more than anywhere else is how to quickly get up to speed from a high level to then know what to do at low level operation.”

Hanson is pursuing her Master’s in computer science at the U of M. She was assigned a cybersecurity project built to reduce the areas of potential attack. By identifying ‘the neck’ point in a program, the spot from which new options form, she could freeze it and debloat its functionality. By narrowing her attention on this particular area of cybersecurity, she said, she was able to understand it better. “I’ve liked having a more specific focus and diving deeper into that aspect. I feel like that’s a useful model for learning.”

The comfort to develop confidence
For unique projects like these, SIFT adopts an open approach to their internship structure.

“I’ve had a lot of interns, and everyone is different,” said Software Research Engineer Steven Johnson. By taking the time to understand each engineer’s skillsets and areas of interest, Johnson was able to tailor their internship, making sure all parties got the most out of the experience. “It’s a very agile method for handling students but it usually works really well.”

Their time at SIFT allowed Champlin and Hanson to find and develop their personal approach within a professional setting. Given all they’ve learned, they now have a lot to reflect on and look forward to.

For fellow computer science students going into industry, Hanson had this to share, “Be prepared to not know everything yet. Because of the pandemic, I lost a lot of my confidence and my ability to ask questions. I feel that by working here, I’ve gained a lot of that back. I feel very comfortable here.”

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