Class of 2015: Apple's Doors Open for UA Grad

May 12, 2015

Photo: Paul Tumarkin, Tech Launch Arizona

Like many millennials, Nikolas Gelo has always been fascinated with computers. But for Gelo, who graduates this month with his bachelor's degree in computer science from the University of Arizona's College of Science, everything has lined up.

After Commencement, he’ll be moving to Cupertino, California, to start a new career with Apple Inc.

Q: So computers are just everywhere and part of daily life. What’s the fascination?

A: As a kid growing up in Phoenix, I've been messing around with computers for as long as I can remember. My dad is a graduate of the UA, with a degree in electrical engineering, and his ability to design and build electronics fascinated me with computers early on.

When I had my own, I’d usually break them trying to get them to do something they weren't designed to do. Then I’d have to figure out how to fix them myself. I remember having my first cellphone — a Motorola Razr — and bricked the phone while trying to modify the phone’s firmware so I could put custom ringtones on it or change the layout of the menus. I was unsuccessful in my first few attempts but eventually got it working again.

As I got more and more comfortable messing around with my electronics, I moved on to hacking my Playstation 2 so that I could play modified Guitar Hero games that I burned onto DVDs that contained custom songs that I wanted to play. Because I loved modifying electronics to make them do what I wanted, it was inevitable that I would study computer science.

Q: What has your experience been like doing research and being an inventor at the UA?

A: I've been working and doing research in civil engineering with Hongki Jo and Jae-Hong Min in the Smart Structure Systems Laboratory. Our work has focused on developing an iPhone app that tracks the dynamic displacement of objects by observing their movement with the smartphone's camera. It's not an app for general consumers. It's mainly for engineers to use as they monitor structures or develop new products, helping them to evaluate the strength and integrity of designs and materials.

With Dr. Jo and Dr. Min, I've been working as an iOS developer and undergraduate researcher learning how computer vision techniques can be applied to civil engineering problems like monitoring the movement of structures. Along with developing this technology, we’ve been working with Tech Launch Arizona on the possibilities of patenting and commercializing it. Because our solution to monitoring dynamic structural movement is much less expensive than other techniques, like using high-precision lasers, we reached out to Tech Launch Arizona to introduce our innovative technology to the market and learn how we can solve engineering problems. It's been really interesting learning the practical and business sides of how we can bring research out to the world. 

Q: What will you be doing in Cupertino?

A: I found out I got the job this past March, which was really exciting. I'm going to be working with Apple's Audio Visual API team, also known as the Camera Software Group. We’re the team that makes the APIs — the application programming interfaces — that allow programmers to develop camera apps for Apple products. 

Q: What are you most excited about in taking the Apple job?

A: I just want to make a difference with what I do, and do what I love. In this case, I'm excited to develop products that millions of people will use. To know that a piece of code that I wrote is running on iPhones that people use every day is awesome. Ultimately, I want to build something great.

Q: Outside of computer-related opportunities, what else have you participated in at the UA?

A: Since my freshman year here, I have been active with both my fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi, and a rock band I play in called Something Like Seduction. Being elected fraternity president of over 100 members my junior year, playing dozens of shows all throughout Arizona and California, and programming iPhone apps has kept me busy enough as an undergrad here at the UA.

The UA's 151st Commencement ceremony will be held Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Arizona Stadium. More information about the ceremony is available online for 2015 graduates and also family members and other guests.