Why Undergrad Engineer Chooses Computer Science Grad School - Ben Hallen

In Chapter 5 of 21 in his 2011 Capture Your Flag interview with host Erik Michielsen, business school professor Ben Hallen answers "How Did Your Computer Science Masters Degree Build Upon Electrical Engineering Education?" As an electrical engineering major, Hallen starts taking undergraduate computer graphics classes at University of Virginia, doing a lot of programming and building processors. Hallen finds inspiration attending a computer graphics presentation and asks the speaker about potential research work, which leads to a project and, ultimately, graduate school. Hallen is an Assistant Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at London Business School. Previously, he was Assistant Professor of Management and Organization at University of Maryland. Hallen earned his PhD from Stanford University and its Stanford Technology Venture Program (STVP). He has been a startup CTO and graduated from the University of Virginia with a BS in Electrical Engineering and a Masters in Computer Science.


Erik Michielsen:  How did your computer science masters degree build upon your electrical engineering education?

Ben Hallen:  So as an undergraduate I got involved studying computer graphics.  And yes I take a lot of programming courses.  Electrical engineering is very close.  I take a lot of courses in building processors.  But I remember going to this talk and it was just the coolest thing of – I mean this is sort of before, you know, you have these modern video game machines or even my iPhone can do such great graphics, but I went to a talk given by the Computer Science Department and they were showing off these computer graphics machines.  I mean these were several hundred-thousand-dollar machines at that time, and it just seemed to be the coolest thing that you could create this virtual world at a level that then was just unbelievable. 

And then I realized that the guy giving the talk, he’s this young professor; he’s really passionate, really excited; I realized just reading about his stuff that he had come up with a lot of the algorithms that had gone into influencing a lot of video games at that time, so a lot of the 3D games had built on some of the insides that he had come up with in graduate school.  And so I approached him, just about helping out, I had a research idea, and that sort of evolved from there.  And so I got interested in computer graphics and worked with him, and then ultimately decided to go to graduate school in it.