Engaged Learning

Meet Your Professor: David Guy Brizan

Part of a summer series on getting to know teachers at USF

by Evan Elliot, USF News

He talks about Siri, small classes, and how computer science is not about programming.

Tell us about your work.

I started my research by looking into building better speech systems, like Amazon Alexa, Siri, or OK Google. These systems are pretty horrible at understanding people who have non-American accents. That led me to using machine learning as a tool for solving more general problems, like what kinds of bias exist in news coverage from news sites like Fox News or the New York Times.

Your first job as a teenager?

I was an usher at the Public Theater in New York City.

Why USF?

The teachers I remember the best are the ones who spent time with me, either individually or in small groups. I wanted to have that kind of experience when I started as a teacher. So when I found out that USF stresses small class sizes, I was eager to join the faculty. It also helps that I lived in San Francisco about 10 years before I came to USF and loved it.

What’s something that surprises people about the computer science major?

Computer science is not about programming or hardware. It’s a really interdisciplinary field that borders on art, linguistics, psychology, sociology, and statistics, among others.

What are the “aha” moments for computer science majors?

Some of us never have those moments, but there are many for those who do. One is the need to insert reminder comments in algorithms and code, which some people learn by postponing a project for more than a couple weeks. Another is the famous “pick any two” among time, money, and quality of a project.

Your favorite place in San Francisco?

I enjoy the picturesque parts of San Francisco where I can be alone in a crowd, like Sutro Baths or the top of Twin Peaks.

Favorite app on your phone?

Podcast Addict, because I listen to waaay too many podcasts.

Any advice to incoming students?

Work hard. Have fun. Online or in person, build connections with others — students, faculty, random San Franciscans in meetup groups — because they will help you in the future. And most importantly, at USF, we’re all pulling for you to succeed, so take advantage of every opportunity.

Connect with Professor Brizan at dgbrizan@usfca.edu