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Applied Computing Degree Perfect Fit for Aspiring Tech Entrepreneur

Photo of: Kiran Sachdev

Kiran Sachdev. Photo: Diana Tyszko.

When he first read about the University of Toronto’s Master of Science in Applied Computing (MScAC) program, aspiring tech entrepreneur Kiran Sachdev knew it was a perfect fit.

“I had experience as an arts entrepreneur and was looking to shift into the tech startup world,” says the straight-A+ student who graduated from the program in June. “The MScAC offered entrepreneurship training and immersion in leading edge computer science research. Moreover, U of T is ranked among the top ten computer science programs in the world, so it was a pretty amazing opportunity”.

Sachdev, 38, returned to school after more than a decade in the performance arts, working as a musician and composer, and for several years operating Bread & Circus, a theatre in Toronto’s Kensington Market.

As with the arts, Sachdev has long seen computer technology as an opportunity to bring people together and to achieve social goals. While an undergraduate in math and physics at McGill University, he created a website to disseminate new music via social networking. Later, he created Al’s Relativistic Adventures, an interactive online program that explains Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity that has achieved international recognition.

“Computers, the internet, and mobile phones are great tools that, when used well, can improve a product or service in any domain,” says Sachdev, who started programming at the age of 6. “Even while running the theatre, I did a lot of work creating software. For instance I developed my own point-of-sale system so that I could always see what our inventory was.”

The MScAC, which consists of eight months of classes and an eight-month internship, has prepared Sachdev to run a startup by deepening his technical skills while exposing him to the inner workings of the computer industry. As part of his coursework, Sachdev was coached by venture capitalists and led a team in developing a creative mobile application that uses virtual pets to help strangers connect socially. He enthuses about a patents course given by Professor Ravin Balakrishnan, who has served as an expert witness in Apple’s patent disputes with Samsung.

“For this course I created a suite of gestures for touchscreen devices which I hope to patent myself,” Sachdev says. “As someone who plans to obtain patents as part of a technology business, it gave me incredible insight into the process and pitfalls involved.”

Sachdev’s achievements have not gone unnoticed. “Kiran exemplifies the exceptional talent and diversity of the high achieving students in our professional master’s program,” says Professor Sven Dickinson, chair of the Department of Computer Science.

From theory to practice: Hands-on industry experience

After completing an internship at Riva Modeling Systems in Toronto, Sachdev became their head of research. Riva Modeling creates software that helps municipalities and utility companies to budget for and keep track of infrastructure by modeling the condition, and risk of failure, of millions of assets like pipes, buildings, and machinery.

During his internship, Sachdev created an application that enables clients to optimize project schedules under multiple resource constraints via a user-friendly interface.

“This system works in seconds, compared to minutes or days for other systems,” Sachdev says. “We have taken the prototype and turned it into a product, which has already brought in several large clients.”

Sachdev’s work at Riva also includes some joint projects with professors at the University of Toronto, which allows him to keep on top of new research and anticipate industry applications.

With his coursework, industry experience, and breadth of skills, Sachdev believes he will be well prepared for life as an innovator.

“Computer science is a lot deeper than just writing code,” Sachdev says. “It’s mathematical, there’s interaction with machines, there’s psychology involved there’s so much under one umbrella. For someone like me, who likes to combine different fields, it’s perfect.”