By Grace Chao
Come spring break, Dhruv Amin ’14 and four classmates will be flown — all expenses paid — to meet with executives from BMW at the company’s headquarters in Munich, Germany. And it’s all part of a class.
The group’s trip will mark the midway point of their project for CS 210: Software Project Experience with Corporate Partners, a two-quarter course developed by Jay Borenstein ’93 M.S. ’94, a computer science lecturer.
In CS 210, student teams work with corporations like BMW to develop software that solves a challenge the company faces. Eight corporations, including Facebook, Samsung and SAP, have sponsored a total of 16 teams this year. Teams will present their finished software product at the Stanford Software Faire in June.
Since the course was first introduced five years ago, enrollment has grown from 12 students to 77. Though Borenstein had capped CS 210 at 30 students in previous years, he decided to double the class size this year to meet skyrocketing interest and still had to turn away 15 to 20 students.
According to Borenstein, one of the reasons why so many students are attracted to the class is that it provides real-world experience in the various facets of entrepreneurship.
“It’s an exciting time for computer scientists to be able to do things entrepreneurially,” Borenstein said. “We want to equip them with the perspective of how they might use those skills to deliver in society.”
Evelyn Gillie ’10 M.S. ’12 — who enrolled in CS 210 in 2010 and who served as a course assistant in 2011 and 2012 — said that, although each corporation offers teams different challenges, the projects are similar in purpose.
“[It] can be thought of as a research product [the corporation] might not want to dedicate its own employees to work on, but belongs to a field that it’s interested in and wants to explore for the future,” Gillie said. “They want young, creative minds.”
Students spend the first three weeks of the course participating in team-building exercises and learning how to manage a large-scale project. They are then paired with companies based on ranking preferences that are run through a matching algorithm.
Borenstein said he aims for diversity when selecting partner corporations and expressed appreciation for previous partners that have provided helpful liaisons to the CS 210 teams.
Each company must provide an affiliate fee of $75,000 per team, which covers the costs of sending teams to corporate headquarters, team resource budgets and salaries for the teaching team, which consists of Borenstein and three course assistants.
SAP, a company that specializes in business management software, is currently collaborating with CS 210 for the second year. SAP’s 2012 student team created Boutique.ly, a Pinterest-like product with a commercial spin that received the “Best Overall Idea” award at the Stanford Software Faire.
Anthony Reynolds, chief operating officer of SAP’s Global Solutions and Mobility Division and SAP’s liaison with the CS 210 teams, called the project “remarkable” and said that SAP has benefitted from the collaboration in many ways.
“We [can] recruit some of the best students from the Bay Area, and we have a big focus on learning from the millennial generation,” Reynolds said. “We know that the workplace is changing, and we can learn more from how Stanford students work.”
Other partner companies, such as BMW, are matched with multiple CS 210 teams in one year. This year, BMW asked its three teams to create a valuable, wearable interface that utilizes both the BMW vehicle and the Pebble smartwatch<\p><\_><\p>a watch that connects to smartphones and offers a variety of applications and alerts.
Stephen Trusheim ’13 M.S. ’14, a member of one of the teams sponsored by BMW, said that the weeks spent brainstorming a product are the most challenging.
“We’ve got to create a product that we’re passionate about [that also] has marketing opportunity, data supporting our hunches, good user feedback,” Trusheim said. “Something we can come back to and say, ‘We did a good thing there.’”
Amin, who is on a separate team also sponsored by BMW, is working to code software that can quantify driving skills by collecting various metrics from the car. The team’s algorithm will translate these metrics, such as speed, acceleration, the lane the car is driving in and its distance from the car in front of it, into a “driving score” to allow the consumer to improve his or her driving ability over time.
Amin said that the course teaches a variety of entrepreneurial skills, including building a product from the ground up and managing a budget, that he sees as extremely valuable.
“This class gives you a real-world experience,” Amin said. “I’m blown away by the quality of the class.”