Computer Science Master’s Student User Stories: A Coding Companion for University

In his previous career, Andrew Quintana was a test systems engineer for robotic systems. After learning more about the automation systems his software engineering teammates were developing, he decided to jump into software development. Now, he’s pursuing a computer science master’s degree focusing on robotics. 

“Initially, it was quite a challenge to lean into software development,” says Andrew. “I knew I was going to have to study how to code alongside my classes at Georgia Tech, which is a really competitive, challenging university,” he says. Luckily, he found a helping hand soon into his second semester, just as he began to feel confident while learning to code. “It was definitely hard,” he says, “but once I started using Pieces, things started flowing for me.”

Benefits Highlights:

  • Accelerated Learning Curve: Andrew found that using Pieces as a companion significantly sped up his learning process while tackling the complexities of learning C++. It helped him grasp harder concepts like memory management more efficiently, ultimately enhancing his learning curve.
  • Tailored Assistance: Pieces Copilot's ability to use local context to tailor its answers to specific code situations proved invaluable for Andrew. This feature was particularly helpful when working with new technologies lacking community support or documentation, allowing him to get instant, relevant guidance without extensive digging.
  • Increased Independence: While TAs and mentors are valuable resources, Andrew preferred to maintain a sense of independence in his learning process. Pieces empowered him to troubleshoot and understand code independently, reducing reliance on external assistance except in last-resort situations.
  • Documentation Assistance: Pieces not only helps understand existing codebases but also assists in documenting them. Andrew appreciated how Pieces automatically added robust comments to code, filling in gaps in documentation and influencing his own commenting style, ultimately streamlining the understanding of complex codebases.
  • Productivity Boost: Andrew noticed a significant increase in productivity since using Pieces. Whether learning new languages or gaining context from codebases, Pieces Copilot saved him time by generating code, adding comments, and answering questions not covered in textbooks, ultimately supporting his transition into software development.
  • Team Efficiency: Andrew believes Pieces could benefit engineers in various sectors and even less technical team members. By enabling team members to quickly grasp code and reducing unnecessary communication, Pieces has the potential to enhance overall team efficiency and productivity.

Andrew’s Tech Stack:

  • Languages: Python, C#, C, C++
  • IDEs: VS Code, CLion, Eclipse
  • Other Tools: Pieces, Jupyter Notebooks

Learning New Concepts with Pieces

Andrew discovered Pieces in June 2022, just as he finished his first graduate-level coding classes. After successfully learning Python, he decided to tackle C++ to use in side projects. “That was when I brought in Pieces,” he says. “C++ is a bit of a harder language to grasp—there's memory management and things like that involved,” explains Andrew. “I've used Pieces to essentially be my companion.” While he pursued learning C++ in the traditional way, he could ask Pieces Copilot questions about his specific situation, which “sped up my learning curve,” he says.

Pieces Copilot functioned as a companion for Andrew on a project where he implemented the path-finding algorithm. “I had to implement it with some significant changes,” he explains. “Being able to highlight certain sections and then put them in the copilot and ask it questions was really helpful. I had a textbook that would talk about certain sections, but sometimes that would still leave some questions.” 

Questions are part of every learning process. As a student, Andrew approaches them similarly to how he handled questions as a test systems engineer. “Like a workplace, I don't want to distract my coworker who's working on something very important,” he says. “TAs are really responsive, but I like to try to be as independent as possible and use TAs or mentors in last-ditch situations. Pieces has helped me establish a sense of independence while being able to learn the content itself in a way that's faster and a way that sticks.”

Turning Pieces Copilot into Pieces Companion

Pieces Copilot is the first copilot that can use local context to tailor its answers to your specific code. In his cutting-edge master’s program, Andrew has found this feature incredibly helpful when working with new technologies that might not have any communities or documentation on the web. “One example is using specifically the cloud-based copilot and having local files from a course,” Andrew describes. “I can have conversations based on what's provided on the libraries from the internet and based on the framework created by the TAs. Having Pieces Copilot as a companion to help describe things prevents some digging. That has been invaluable to me. I mean, finding source code can take five minutes or so, but sometimes that five minutes is critical.”

When asked to describe working with Pieces Copilot, Andrew says, “It's been like a mentor, like a senior engineer I'm working for. I can ask questions that are pertinent and they have the passive knowledge of the frameworks, libraries, or the types of algorithms or work that we're doing.” That’s not to say that Pieces Copilot solves all of his problems; he still puts in the work to understand the code and his projects, just like he would with a real mentor. “It’s like going to office hours; professors wouldn't just give you the answer. They'll ask you better questions or point you in the right direction. It feels like one of those situations when I work with Pieces Copilot.”

Document Your Code Base

As any developer knows, everyone wants to read documentation but no one wants to write it. When Andrew finds gaps in the documentation, “It's really nice to have Pieces fill in those gaps.” Pieces Copilot will add robust comments to any code you point it to, which makes it easier for Andrew to understand a code base without digging through disparate documentation sites. It’s also influenced the way he writes comments in his own code. 

“I like how structured Pieces’ comments are,” he remarks. “Sometimes I like to create utility functions through the copilot. I like how it structures its comments on those— it inspired how I write some of my comments.” 

Final Thoughts

Andrew sees potential for Pieces to help engineers in all sectors, not just students. He’d recommend Pieces to “software engineers who need to learn about other code in their code base quickly and also less technical team members.” While reflecting on his previous workplace, Andrew thinks Pieces could make a big difference. “We had mechanical engineers and test engineers trying to get a better understanding of how different systems worked to be able to perform product manager roles. They’d have to go to a software engineer, and we all know how distractions can cause you to get off track and lose productivity when you’re really in the zone. Pieces can both enable team members and reduce unnecessary communication.” 

In his first year with Pieces, Andrew noticed “a really big increase in my productivity, both in learning new languages and in getting context from code bases while developing.” Pieces Copilot saves him time by generating code, adding comments to code bases, and answering questions his textbook didn’t cover. “It's been a great support for this transition to software development,” he says. “Having a companion like Pieces is a significantly better resource than any others I've found. Luckily, I just haven't had to look for anything else. It's set me up for success with the new languages I've had to attack and the different classes and disciplines. I never thought that taking on learning computer science as a master's student was going to be easy, but Pieces has made me a lot more productive.”

If you’re looking for a companion in your coding projects, try out Pieces for Developers for free today.

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