5 Questions with Ajay Shrestha

Headshot of Dr. Ajay Shrestha

March 19, 2024 - 10:45am

Dr. Ajay Shrestha’s interest in computer science began at an early age as he saw firsthand the impact technology had on individuals and communities. Shrestha, a VIU Computer Science Professor, joined VIU in 2022 as a sessional instructor and became a full-time professor within the year. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

“I strive to inspire and guide students, sharing my passion for technology and fostering their growth in the ever-evolving field of computer science,” he said.

Shrestha, originally from Kathmandu, Nepal, began engineering studies in his hometown before completing his Master of Sciences in Ethical Hacking and Computer Security in Scotland, which was supported by the prestigious Erasmus Mundus Scholarship. He pursued his PhD in Computer Science at the University of Saskatchewan, under the guidance of Computer Science Professor Julita Vassileva.

During his PhD studies, he was featured in the StarPhoenix’s Young Innovators series. Shrestha and Vassileva discussed their innovative web application that helps users store their data and set conditions on how others can access that data.

We caught up with Shrestha to talk about being featured in the StarPhoenix series, his research and the VIU Computer Science program.

What sparked your interest in computer science?

My interest in computer science sparked from a young age. Growing up in a vibrant city, I saw how technology played a pivotal role in shaping people and societies. I was drawn to the intricate workings of computers and software, recognizing their potential to solve complex problems. This curiosity led me to pursue an engineering degree, where I immersed myself in the fundamentals of computer science. The more I learned, the more I was captivated by its endless possibilities. With each line of code I wrote, I felt a sense of fulfillment, as if I were piecing together a complex puzzle. 

My pursuit of graduate-level education only fueled my passion further. Learning about computer security and ethical hacking fascinated me deeply. It felt like peering into a world where technology intersects with protecting people’s digital lives. For me, computer science is not merely about writing programs; it’s about harnessing technology to solve real-world problems and foster a safer, more secure world. This passion continues to drive my work, pushing me to explore new frontiers and make meaningful contributions to the field.

While completing your PhD, you were featured in the StarPhoenix’s Young Innovators series. How did it feel to be recognized at that stage of your career?

Being featured in this series was truly humbling and rewarding. It was a validation of the hard work and dedication I had put into my research endeavours. Seeing my work recognized in a public forum was not only inspiring but also reinforced the importance of staying true to my vision, even in the face of challenges. 

At the core of this acknowledgment was the development of a groundbreaking framework and platform using distributed ledger technologies. This platform aimed to address critical challenges in the research community, such as data ownership and attribution, fostering trust among researchers and facilitating seamless collaboration. The recognition underscored the significance of our work, transcending age or experience, and marked a pivotal moment in our journey. It was a testament to perseverance, collaboration and the belief in technology's potential to shape a better future.

Your expertise focuses on blockchain technologies, user modelling and machine learning. Tell us more about your expertise and your current research.

My expertise revolves around three key areas: blockchain, user modelling and machine learning. These fields may sound complex, but at their core, they’re all about using technology to solve real-world problems in simple yet innovative ways. Blockchain technology is likened to digital ledgers that securely record transactions across multiple computers. It forms the foundation for trust in decentralized systems, ensuring the integrity and immutability of data. User modelling involves understanding user behaviour and preferences to personalize experiences, making technology more intuitive and user-friendly. Finally, machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence where computers learn from data to make decisions or predictions. 

Currently, my research centers on integrating blockchain and machine learning to ensure user-controlled privacy through data trust. This means exploring ways to empower users to have control over their personal data while still benefiting from services. For example, I'm collaborating with an esteemed industry partner on investigating how blockchain can be used to create transparent and secure systems for sharing data, and how machine learning techniques can be applied to analyze user behaviour while preserving anonymity. Our vision is to make data-driven insights accessible while respecting privacy. Through industry collaboration and innovation, we strive for a future where technology serves everyone’s needs.

What do you want people to know about VIU’s Computer Science program?

VIU’s Computer Science program is committed to providing students with a comprehensive education that prepares them for success in the rapidly evolving field of technology. Our program emphasizes hands-on learning, collaboration and real-world applications. From foundational courses in programming and algorithms to advanced topics such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and cybersecurity, students gain the skills and knowledge needed to thrive in diverse roles within the tech industry. 

Additionally, our dedicated faculty members are passionate about mentoring and supporting students, guiding them toward achieving their academic and professional goals. With a focus on experiential learning, an optional co-op program and practical projects, students have ample opportunities to apply their knowledge in real-world settings, further enhancing their skills and readiness for the job market. Whether pursuing a career in software development, data analytics or cybersecurity, graduates of VIU’s Computer Science program are well-equipped to make meaningful contributions to the world of technology.

When you’re not working, where can you be found? 

You can often find me enjoying some downtime with a mix of activities that keep me entertained and relaxed. Exploring the outdoors with my friends and family is one of my greatest joys, whether it involves hiking through lush forests, camping under the stars or trekking mountain trails. 

As a new parent, family time takes on a whole new meaning, filled with laughter, discovery and endless love. Watching my first child explore the world with wide-eyed wonder brings me immense joy and reminds me of the simple pleasures in life. 

Additionally, I love delving into books on a wide range of topics. Whether it's fiction, non-fiction or academic research, I love learning new things and expanding my horizons. Movies are another passion of mine, providing a welcome escape into different realities and cultures. I particularly enjoy watching acclaimed films, like those nominated for Oscars, as they often offer insights into the human experience and spark meaningful conversations. I also have a passion for travel and experiencing different cultures, which has allowed me to broaden my perspectives and gain new insights. Balancing work and leisure is crucial for my well-being, as I believe in nurturing both personal and professional growth. Overall, I find joy in the simple pleasures of life and strive to create meaningful memories that will last a lifetime.

Tags: 5 Questions | Computer Science | Research

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