24th Anniversary of The Daily Star (Part 1)

Computer science education and research

Our brilliant girls at Grace Hopper celebration with the first female Turing award winner Dr. Frances Allen. Photo courtesy: Mohammad Kaykobad

This part of the world, particularly Bangladesh, has always been fortunate in making great starts. The first computer of Pakistan was diverted to Chittagong port thanks to initiatives of our scientists at the Atomic Energy Centre, Dhaka as early as 1964. This created an opportunity for our scientists and engineers to use this versatile technology in those days. Not only that, banks also started to get benefit of this technology. Formal degree course in computers started at Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 1982 through the opening of the Department of Computer Engineering. Initially postgraduate degrees and later on programs for undergraduate degrees were offered. It was not known how the graduates will be received in the society, and in fact it was extremely difficult for our graduates to get programming jobs since employers were not sure whether a CSE graduate would be able to write programs. There was a dearth of teachers as with books and laboratory facilities. Even then, the most meritorious students of the country opted for this department. Deficiency of teachers and libraries were compensated by enormous interest of students in the initial days in learning this latest technology and earning enviable skill. Each of them has been established as good professionals in advanced countries. Now the department is 32 years old. Other public and private universities have also opened computer science related departments. So it is impossible to enumerate all the success stories in computer education and research. I shall try to highlight those I know, possibly unknowingly skipping some more important achievements. 
BUET graduate Areef Reza won a Java competition in the early days from the University of Waterloo. This gave us a lot of confidence, that in spite of many shortcomings, our students are learning and earning commendable computer skill. In the meantime Manzur, Mostofa, Shaikat, Suman, Zia and many others published their research findings in journals of international repute even when they were still undergraduates. In 1997, for the first time in the soil of Bangladesh, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) International Collegiate Programming Contest(ICPC) Asia Regional contest was held where the team of Suman, Shaikat and Shushom  qualified for participation in the prestigious World Finals of ACM ICPC.  They shared the 24th position with Stanford University in a contest of 54 teams from round the world.  This has definitely contributed to the confidence of our students.  After this success with the initiative of enthusiast Zakaria Swapan, the first national Computer Programming Contest (NCPC) was organised jointly by the Daily Star and Proshkia at the then Hotel Sheraton where the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was the chief guest along with many important ministers. That event inspires our students. Since then, especially students of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology participated in all the world finals. Meantime our students were performing very well in internet based programming contests organised by the University of Valladolid, Spain. Sheikh Hasina awarded a cash prize of Taka one lakh to each of the nine students of whom eight were from the CSE department of BUET and the other from DU.  In 2000, the BUET team occupied the 11th position in a 60-team contest leaving behind teams of world famous universities like MIT, Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley in the 24th world finals of ACM ICPC. Meanwhile our students participated in the Asia region Kanpur site contest. In 1999 BUET became the champions and DU runner up. In the same year the BUET team repeated the feat. While universities of the 8th most populous country that is ours fail to be in any respectable shortlist of best universities, our students of the most advanced technology make their way into these lists. Many of our graduates have been working as coaches of different US universities and that too with commendable success.
Our graduate Suman Kumar Nath got admitted into the top ranked CSE school of Carnegie Mellon University, and is now an employee of the prestigious institution of Microsoft Research. By now he is a very celebrated researcher under whose leadership we could successfully complete the first ever international conference on Networking, Systems and Security at CSE department, BUET. The celebrated brilliant student and colleague Mohammad Manzur Murshed started PhD education under the supervision of a very famous professor in Richard Brent at ANU. He has created an opportunity for some 60/70 Bangladeshi students to pursue their higher education in a single school of Monash University. Dr Murshed's excellence is so well-known, that he became the occasional Convocation Speaker of Monash University when he was in his mid-thirties. We felt enormously honoured with this success of one of our brightest graduates. By now our graduates have gotten admitted into the finest schools including MIT, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, Waterloo, Toronto and Oxford. Professor Md Saidur Rahman of our department wrote a book in co-authorship with his supervisor Professor Takao Nishizeki, as has done Professor MMA Hashem of KUET and Professor Ashikur Rahman of BUET. Dr Ekram Hossain has become a professor at a young age in Canada along with being the editor of several IEEE Transactions. Now he is one of the youngest IEEE Fellows with a very praiseworthy list of publications and books. Dr Zulkernine of Queens University has become Canada Chair, while Professor Latifur Rahman Khan of UT Dallas has become distinguished a scientist of ACM. By now more than 50 undergraduate students have published their research findings in international journals of repute while they were still undergraduates. Such feats are very uncommon for any department not only in Bangladesh but also in advanced countries. Professor Md Saidur Rahman has also initiated a workshop named Walcom in the soil of Bangladesh. This is being organised in tandem in Bangladesh and India, and is possibly the first workshop whose proceedings are being published by Springer. This year the celebrated young professor Erik Demaine of MIT has submitted his paper and thus Walcom touched an enviable height. We started the first international conference ICCIT series in Bangladesh with massive participation of our undergraduate students. This conference is flourishing day by day with Conference Chair, Professor MA Karim, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost of University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.  Already 8 graduates of the CSE department, BUET have been awarded the prestigious Fulbright scholarship since 2007-8, and we feel deeply honoured at this achievement of our graduates. DU graduate Dr Julius Hossain has been working in the prestigious flagship institution of European Molecular Biology Laboratory. Back at home Professor Md Saidur Rahman got International Funai Information Technology award, Bangladesh Academy of Sciences Gold Medal. Dr Md Sohel Rahman and Dr Masud Hasan also got recognition for their research excellence. Dr Md Sohel Rahman appears to be the youngest researcher whose number of journal publications outnumbers his age. Our brilliant computer girls  Dr Nova Ahmed,  Dr Taniya Siddiqua,  Dr Tanzima Zerin Islam,  Dr Zalia Shams, Awalin Sopan, Nabila Rahman, Shantonu Hossain, Dr Sonia Jahid, Dr Farhana Dewan, Dr Shamsi Tamara Iqbal, Dr Samira Manabi Khan, Dr Sadia Afroz, Dr Fariba Khan among others joined Grace Hopper celebration and proved that they are not behind. Himel Dev, currently serving as a lecturer in the Department of CSE, BUET, has become the international winner of The Undergraduate Awards in the Computer Sciences & Information Technology category.  He was also invited to the prestigious Heidelberg Laureate Forum participated by Turing award winners and Fields medallists. 
Students and teachers of computer science are good not only in studies, they are also playing pioneering roles in organising Mathematics and Informatics Olympiads throughout the country under the great leadership of the celebrated author and educationist Professor Md Zafar Iqbal. This has resulted in Md Abirul Islam of Dhaka City College winning the first ever Silver Medal from the International Olympiad in Informatics held in 2009 in Bulgaria and that too ahead of all eight contestants from the sub-continent of which four were from India and three from Sri Lanka. In 2012 in Italy, Dhananjoy Biswas and Bristy Sikder won Bronze medals for us compared to a single Bronze from India. Moreover, Bristy was awarded for being the best among female contestants. Bangladesh has the best girl computer wizard of the world who is now studying at MIT.
Students of advanced technology have always placed us in the list of the top 100 universities or less. Not only BUET, other universities like NSU, AIUB, DU, EWU and SUST have also placed themselves in this super league.  This year, Jahangirnagar University has placed themselves into this prestigious list and SUST for the thirds year in a row.  In year 2009 there were 5 teams in ICPC World Finals from this sub-continent of which 3 were from Bangladesh. Not only that, the two teams that were ranked are also from the soil of Bangladesh- BUET and DU. BUET also became runner up in Java Challenge by beating teams of many famous universities. In addition to these our students have earned reputation by participating in competitions arranged by Topcoder, Codejam, Codechef and other online contests. In 2006, 100 topmost programmers of the world were selected for a contest in New York. There was one from Bangladesh named Istiaque Ahmed of BUET and he was adjudged 79th in the world. In recognition of this programming skill of our students, companies like Microsoft and Google are offering coveted jobs to our students who are yet to graduate. In the list of offers it is not only BUET students but also students from Jahangirnagar, DU, NSU, AIUB and NSU are getting these jobs. In recent years Mashuq, Manzurur Rahman Khan, Sanny, Nafi, Riyad, Mahbub, Enjam, Aumy, Pratyoi, Hafiz, Linkin, Sadia, Sakib Safayat of BUET, Protik Mohammad Hossain, Jane Alam Jan and Aninda Majumder of DU, Sabur Zaheed of AIUB, Arifuzzaman of JU, Muntasir Azam Khan of NSU among others have been offered these jobs.  Our students are good not only in programming. Electronic Voting Machine designed by Imranul Hoque and Sonia Jahid occupied the third position among thousands of projects in World Engineers' convention held at Shanghai in 2004. MIST team showed commendable performance at NASA Lunabotics Mining contest. These are recognitions of the fact that our students have earned programming skill and that quality of CSE education in Bangladesh is commendable.
30-doctoral-degree-holder strong IIT CSE department has an intake of 45 UG students. At BUET our intake is 120, our faculty strength is around 36/37 of which only half are doctorate degree holders. Situation in other universities may not be as good. Our laboratories are not enriched either. In that sense our achievements cannot be neglected. Moreover, we also involve ourselves in inspiring our students to organise CSE days, project Shows, programming contests to increase ICT skill of our students. 
If we want to construct big bridges we need civil engineers, for setting up chemical industries we need chemical engineers, for setting up hospitals we need doctors and for making the country 'digital' we need computer educated experts. Quacks will not make a good hospital. In the same way unless somebody has formal computer education the chances of success in building a large computer system is slim. Foreign experts will not be creating Digital Bangladesh. Had it been possible then Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would have turned digital long back. So in creating Digital Bangladesh our young people bestowed with commendable computer expertise should be the forerunners, universities should play the pioneering role. Success in this work will largely depend upon how much we have been able to induce this world class computer educated young people to this megaproject. 

The writer is a Professor, CSE Department, BUET


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