Shokhrukhbek: Cybersecurity Researcher, Debater, and Educational YouTuber

Shokhrukhbek Yursunjonov is a student from Uzbekistan who attended the Summer STEM Institute (SSI). Since SSI, Shokrukhbek has graduated from high school and is now attending university where he is continuing to study computer science. Shokrukhbek recently placed 12th in the republic stage of IT marathon among all universities in Uzbekistan and was selected as a republic competitive programming team member. Now, he is preparing for the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) and various other programming competitions. Additionally, Shokhrukhbek received a full scholarship to take the CS50X series at Harvard University. In his free time, he enjoys creating educational content on his YouTube channel with the focus of providing useful tools for Uzbek students to learn more about math, physics, programming, and English language. You can learn more about Shokhrukhbek and all the projects he’s been up to in the interview below. 

How did you first become interested in science or research?

Way back in seventh grade, I remember we had physics class one day, and my teacher explained to us what special relativity was and the science behind it. I was super interested in it, and the next day, I told my dad about it and got him to take me on a ride with him in his car. During the ride, I brought my camera and took pictures of people while traveling at a certain speed. After that, I told him to drive faster, and I continued to take pictures from the window. If the speed at which you travel is slow, then you can take higher quality and clearer pictures. But when you’re traveling at a fast speed, you can take pictures of only a few subjects, and the photos would have a much more blurred effect with less clarity. I was able to draw other fascinating conclusions from this small experiment, and I remember how exciting it was for me at the time. This is really where my love for physics, mathematics, and informatics all started. 

Could you elaborate a bit more on the areas within research or technology that you're interested in? Also, are there any particular scientific or technological innovations that you are following? 

Of course. Back in middle school, my favorite subjects were math and physics. But then I began to study computer science, and more specifically, cybersecurity. I guess I got into cybersecurity through watching movies about hackers and cybersecurity breaches. During SSI, I chose to study cybersecurity and the use of AI and data science in the field. This is currently where most of my interest lies. 

One technological innovation I’ve been following recently is self driving cars and Tesla. I frequently read blogs on Medium or Nature about autonomous vehicles and their areas of opportunity, their drawbacks, and their needs for cybersecurity. Another interest I have lies in virtual reality. Actually, I learned a bit about it through the Masterclass series during SSI and became more interested in it. Perhaps even one day, it would be really cool for us to be able to see the Masterclassees in 3D in a VR setting! 

What activities were you involved in during high school and now college? 

In high school, I was really involved in debate. I attended debates almost every two days, and what I loved most about it was having the opportunity to express my own arguments, develop counter arguments, and ultimately formulate my world view. Apart from debate, I played many sports like soccer and volleyball. I also played chess and participated in math and logic contests at school. One of my biggest achievements in high school was making it to the final round of the ICAO Competition, where I competed internationally. I ended up placing third in my country.

Now that I’m in college, I’m starting to learn C++ programming language, which I’m finding to be difficult to learn. Regardless, I’m very excited about it because you can build a lot of complex things in this language. I’m also taking more classes in mathematics. After SSI, I started attending a Nanodegree program for data science to further my data science skills. 

Outside of school, I also create content and manage my YouTube channel, where I post educational videos. I upload videos about mathematics, programming, or English language every two days. 

Did you have any programming or computer science experience before SSI? 

In the past, I was more into front-end development. For example, I would create websites for myself for fun. I would also learn Python and JavaScript on my own. I’d practice them by working on side projects and programming games. 

SSI definitely gave me a taste of the more complex ends of what I could do in data science, analytics, and machine learning. It inspired me to take those courses in university for sure! 

What was the most valuable lesson or skill you learned from SSI, and what was your favorite memory from the summer? 

I think one of the most important things I learned from the summer was how to actually undergo the entire research process from scratch. Before SSI, I thought that research was just about taking surveys and conducting experiments - something very intangible. However, after SSI, I was able to learn about the whole process and structure. I learned about which technologies to leverage, what the rules are, and overall how to properly conduct research. 

As for favorite memories, I have a lot of favorite memories to choose from! I think my favorite memory would have to be joining the SSI alumni community. I was over the moon when I found out that the community would always be, in a sense, an extension of the summer. The community gives me a really fantastic access to a social network, friends, and a community tied together by a common experience. There are so many opportunities and resources on there, and I think that it’s super valuable to me. 

Are there any new projects or research you've been working on recently that you're really excited about? 

Yes, definitely. First off, my cybersecurity research that I worked on during SSI earned me a full scholarship to study at my university. I want to thank SSI for the opportunity to attend and for teaching me so much about data science research. SSI was a great, great help to winning the scholarship at my university. 

In university, I’m doing a lot of side projects. For example, I sent out a small survey on social media for Uzbek students, and I discovered that many of them lack access to quality educational resources. I wanted to find ways to give back to my community by finding out my peers’ needs, so I created my own initiative on Youtube to post videos about math, programming, and English. Hopefully, they offer very useful and high quality lessons for students to learn online. 

Additionally, I recently placed 12th in the republic stage of IT marathon among all universities in Uzbekistan, and I was selected as a republic competitive programming team member. Now, I am preparing for the International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) and other international programming competitions. Also, I recently received a full scholarship to take the CS50X series at Harvard University! I actually talked about my experiences at SSI in my financial aid essay. Thank you again for the great opportunity. 

Lastly, what are your long term career goals? Where do you see yourself in 15 to 20 years?

After SSI, I began university, and as of now, I’m pursuing my bachelor’s degree in computer science. I’m seriously considering furthering my studies in cybersecurity. I think I’m also very open to pursuing a postgraduate degree, whether that is a Master’s or a Ph.D.

My biggest aspiration right now is to get an internship at Google. I applied for an internship at Google in Europe recently, and I was able to mention my research experiences from SSI, my projects, and my background in data science. I also hope to continue to attend academic conferences, conduct various research projects, and participate in hackathons at my university. 

In 15, or 20 years, I potentially see myself in Silicon Valley, working for a cybersecurity related company. My dream would be to work at Google as a cybersecurity engineer or specialist deployment. But most importantly, of course, I hope to have a happy family!