Computer Science alumni establishes new smartphone program



U of S Computer Science alumni Russ Muzzolini

SASKATOON – A University of Saskatchewan (U of S) alumnus is helping enhance his alma mater’s national reputation as a leader in education focused on smartphone programming, entrepreneurship and app development.

Russ Muzzolini—who has worked south of the border in Silicon Valley for nearly two decades since graduating from the U of S with a PhD in computer science in 1996—has provided a generous donation that allowed his former department to establish a new course focused on smartphone programming and entrepreneurship.

The course was designed to simulate real-world processes surrounding app development. Groups of students first come up with an idea and then have it vetted by professionals (including Muzzolini) using a format modeled after the Dragons’ Dentelevision series. Once the concept has been approved, students build the app using industry-standard software and hardware before publishing it online as a finished product.

“It’s a wonderful thing to see an alumnus, who has since gone out into the world and achieved significant success, decide to give back and mentor the current generation of students,” said Eric Neufeld, head for the Department of Computer Science in the College of Arts & Science at the U of S. “This course is not only teaching students how to program apps for smartphones. It’s teaching them to work in teams, to effectively pitch their ideas, and to ultimately create a commercial product using cutting-edge technology. So essentially, the course is like a microcosm of the experiences they would have in the real world of software development.”

Muzzolini established the Entrepreneurial Learning Fund in Computer Science at the U of S, which made possible the smartphone programming course, Software Development for Mobile Devices. The course had an original enrolment cap of 30 students, but demand was so high that it was soon increased to 60. That filled almost immediately and there was also a healthy waiting list.

Muzzolini grew up in Saskatoon and worked for Shutterfly in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly a decade before joining Spire Global Inc., in 2014, as their Chief Technology Officer (CTO). He said that working with the current generation of students, and giving back to his former department, has been a rewarding experience.

“I’m thankful for the education I received from the Department of Computer Science at the U of S, which really provided me with the fundamental knowledge required to succeed in this industry,” said Muzzolini. “I want students to value the practical aspects of software development and be prepared to hit the ground running in their first job upon graduation. We have excellent talent in Saskatchewan that, with the quality of training provided at the U of S, can perform at the highest level in Silicon Valley.”

The U of S made national headlines back in 2009 when it became the first university in Canada to have a smartphone programming course and a campus mobile app developed by its researchers. Muzzolini’s donation has allowed the course to be expanded and significantly restructured in response to the rapid changes in mobile technology.

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