Amari: Cybersecurity Enthusiast, Fencer, and Ethical Hacker

Amari is a student from the United Kingdom who attended the Summer STEM Institute (SSI). In middle school, Amari moved from North London and received a scholarship at a school in Truro Cornwall where he developed a love for cyber security. He has previously competed in the National Cipher Challenge, and he loves learning new programming languages in his free time. Before SSI, Amari has taken several computer science and app development courses online, including Harvard CS50. During SSI, Amari became intrigued by machine learning, and he has continued to explore this newfound interest throughout the school year. In this interview, you can learn more about Amari’s cybersecurity projects, interests in quantum computing and astronomy, and plans for an ethical hacking project. 

How did you first become interested in programming and computer science? 

When I was in Year 9, I worked on a programming project where I made this interactive story using code. It was kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure story. My game was called “FBI Open Up,” and players would enter FBI headquarters which were filled with bad guys. You were supposed to protect the hostages while taking down the enemies. There were basically a bunch of if-statements, and you would press one, two, or three depending on where you want to go in the game. Even though it was pretty simple, the project got me really interested in programming. 

What areas within computer science are you most interested in? 

After working on FBI Open Up, I became really interested in cybersecurity. I started participating in these challenges by the University of Southampton called the National Cipher Challenge. Basically, in the challenge, you are like a spy or agent, and you are given these encrypted paragraphs to decrypt.

More recently, I’ve also been really excited about quantum computers. Even though they are mostly used in academia, I believe they will become quite big commercially in the future. Also, in the future, I hope to explore astronomy and apply machine learning to the field. I see astronomy research as the next step to exploring the universe. 

What extracurricular activities are you involved in? 

I am a fencing scholar at Truro School and train with British Fencing's Athlete Development Programme, which takes up a lot of time. I also like playing football (soccer) and basketball. Outside of sports, I work on programming and data science projects. I’m especially interested in machine learning and cybersecurity, and I’ve been planning a project in ethical hacking. More recently, I’ve been trying to learn more about neural networks and TensorFlow, and I checked out this book on visualizing neural networks. 

What was your favorite part about SSI? 

Over the summer, we had an ethics debate where we discussed the ethics behind machine learning. I really enjoyed the debate. People talked about racial biases in machine learning models, which I found especially interesting. 

Overall, I loved learning about machine learning and enjoyed the programming lectures. Even though I had programming experience before SSI, I never did any machine learning before, so it was really valuable to learn about machine learning and improve my programming skills. I learned about resources I can use when I learn new things, like how to read documentation and utilize Stack Overflow. 

Also, I really appreciated how organized SSI was. Whenever you thought of a question you had a resource you needed, it probably already existed. That was amazing. 

What was the most valuable lesson you learned from SSI? 

Broadly, I learned how research works, how much work goes into research, and the types of skills you need to conduct research. I also realized the breadth of fields within research, from chemistry to biology to data science. A lesson that stuck with me is that nothing is as “perfect” as we think it is. At school, everything we learn is very clean and clear-cut. For example, we learn that 2 + 2 = 4.  However, through the statistics portion of the SSI bootcamp, I learned that this isn’t always the case. When it comes to research and the real world, there’s never a clear answer. We have to interpret things. Data isn’t always as clean as we think it is, and sometimes there are gaps in the data. 

What have you been up to after SSI? Are there any projects or research you’ve been working on that you’re excited about?

Like I mentioned, I’ve been trying to learn more TensorFlow, and I’ve also been learning more about convolutional neural networks. I’ve been interested in image classification and recognition, and I hope to learn about recurrent neural networks next. I’m hoping to use my programming skills to work on a few data science and machine learning jobs so I can make a small bit of money. Then, I can buy a Raspberry Pi and download Linux to work on the ethical hacking project I mentioned earlier. Also, I have a business idea called the ChanceGamingHub. It’s a competition that tests users on their gaming knowledge. If someone receives a high enough score in a survey, they can win gift prizes. 

What are your long-term career goals? Where do you see yourself in 15-20 years? 

I’m hoping to get into a university in America. If not, I’m hoping to do an apprenticeship in cybersecurity to see how I can integrate cybersecurity and data science in the future. Then, a few years down the line, I hope to start a company at the intersection of cybersecurity, research, and data science. Afterward, I hope to fund research in quantum computing and astronomy, two fields I’m very excited about.