As a senior software engineer, husband and father of two children living in Upper Saddle River, NJ, Boris Kozak has limited free time. So, when he decides to volunteer some of it, he chooses based on where he can make the biggest impact.
That was the calculus he used in March 2020 as the Covid-19 pandemic first emerged, when he and two colleagues co-founded AllClear, a national database for Covid-19 test sites. The effort, which was featured in a June 2020 New York Times story, was perfectly timed as the fearful nation first sought testing for the novel and highly transmissible virus. It also was entirely volunteer-driven and ultimately included a team of more than 30 entrepreneurs, medical researchers, engineers and designers from across the country and the world.
Kozak used the same mindset in 2019 when first sat down with Teaching Professor Robert Puhak, Director of Undergraduate Studies for Rutgers University–Newark’s Mathematics & Computer Science department, to discuss volunteer opportunities. They homed in on one idea specifically: serving as an Industry Sponsor instructor for a Computer Science (CS) Senior Project Capstone course under development.
Kozak loved the idea and jumped in with both feet.
“For a few hours a week during each semester, I can give a bit of my time in return for making a big impact on the lives of a half-dozen students,” said Kozak. “The trade-off has been very rewarding.”
The CS Senior Project Capstone course, which began that year, is a semester-long class that represents a culmination of the students’ learning in the program, giving CS majors a chance to work with professionals from the field to conceptualize, develop and launch web applications or mobile apps that address real-world issues.
Kozak usually oversees one or two groups of students composed of three to six students each, meeting with them weekly early on to guide them through basic concepts like how to design a feature, how to estimate timeframes for building each section of the project, and how to create a wire-frame for an app. Students then brainstorm ideas, create mock-ups, and draft the high-level user journey they’re shooting for—and then start coding. They present a rough version of the app midpoint in the semester and a more polished prototype at the end.
Kozak brings decades of experience to his SASN volunteer work.
Early in his career Kozak co-founded a company called Arcane Studios, which focused on web applications development. He also worked as a Software Development Engineer for Fannie Mae in Virginia, and a Senior Software Engineer at Booz Allen Hamilton in Washington, D.C., where he led development of a web application used by the Army and National Guard to plan for and respond to domestic emergencies, which required a government security clearance.
For a few hours a week during each semester, I can give a bit of my time in return for making a big impact on the lives of a half-dozen students. The trade-off has been very rewarding.
From 2011 to 2019 Kosak worked in various capacities for the New York–based HR talent-acquisition software company Jibe, which was acquired by the larger HR hiring platform company iCIMS in 2019. At Jibe Kozak climbed the ranks, serving as Lead Developer, Director of Engineering, Senior Director of Engineering and VP of Engineering. He is currently part of the Engineering Leadership team at Instagram in New York City, working on privacy products.
Puhak, of SASN’s Math & Computer Science department, has appreciated Kozak’s expertise and enthusiasm from the beginning.
“Boris' contributions go further than weaving the courses from our four-year program into a cohesive and meaningful whole for the capstone class,” said Puhak. “His cutting-edge experience and fresh perspective provide valuable insight for his students, which they can parlay into opportunities that otherwise might not have been readily obvious or available to them. And his dedication and contributions have made the RU-N CS curriculum stronger and more beneficial for our students' learning and success.”
Kozak has relished advising students and helping them find employment after graduating. Some years have been easier than others. Last semester, after big tech companies had completed a massive round of layoffs, one of his standout seniors struggled to find a job, so Kozak paired him with a tech startup that he’s advising, and the student is still working with them.
The payoff for Kozak has been tremendous.
“Each semester I get a few notes of appreciation from students who tell me how I've impacted their college experience, and that's been incredibly rewarding,” said Kozak. “I'm inspired by having this kind of impact, and it’s what keeps me going.”
He appreciates the work that’s gone into developing and expanding CS offerings over the last four years he’s been at RU-N and values the collaborative spirit underlying the effort.
“I've seen the CS program at RU-N grow and mature in many ways these last four years, and I'm grateful to have been along for the ride,” said Kozak.