CDIS Student Spotlight: David Viggiano

David Viggiano x’24 is a computer scientist who thinks like a philosopher.

The senior from Glen Rock, New Jersey came to the University of Wisconsin-Madison because of the vast array of strong programs. Unsure of what he wanted to study, he had the opportunity to take several courses offered by different departments.

“I would always recommend fully exploring what a school or department has to offer when it’s all at your disposal. An undergraduate degree is a great opportunity for self-discovery and learning about all your interests, and the flexibility and diversity of great programs here made that entirely possible for me,” says Viggiano.

Originally a Marketing student, Viggiano picked up Philosophy as a second major because he was interested in big questions. He discovered that philosophy was much more than the big questions, and was really about learning how to think and reason with logic.

“I instantly knew that no matter what I ended up doing for a career, I wanted to learn how to think like a philosopher,” says Viggiano.

Unlike philosophy, Viggiano came to UW-Madison a lot more familiar with computer science. He always loved working with computers and had childhood aspirations of developing video games. He tried to consider other interests, feeling like he would not be able to catch up to the countless aspiring software engineers around the world. After taking an introductory Computer Sciences course to learn the Python programming language, he realized that computer science was the place for him.

“Part of me likes to think analytically, part of me always wants to learn something new, part of me likes to get work done by being precise, conscientious, and efficient, and part of me is full of ideas that I want to bring to life. All of that is computer science,” says Viggiano.

While Philosophy and Computer Sciences seem like two opposite fields, Viggiano says they are actually more similar than one might think.

“Fundamentally they come down to similar building blocks, and learning the skills for one has strengthened my way of thinking for the other, and vice versa,” says Viggiano.

Viggiano says the philosophical mindset has played a larger role as he has advanced in Computer Sciences as courses have led him to consider design decisions, project management, and collaboration.

“The critical thinking and clarity of communication that a Philosophy major is trained in is so useful for CS careers. It’s also always essential to be thinking about the end user at every step of the way when building a software product; Philosophy by nature forces you to get comfortable thinking about others’ perspectives,” says Viggiano.

Viggiano has made an effort to gain as many experiences during his time at UW-Madison as possible. This includes being Deputy Director of the Wisconsin AI Safety Initiative (WAISI), a student organization at UW-Madison aimed at mitigating the risk of artificial intelligence.

“Now that AI is everywhere, even if 99 out of 100 people recognize that it should be used carefully, that remaining one person can do a lot of bad with it intentionally or by accident,” says Viggiano. “I have gotten behind WAISI because I understand how amazing for society AI will be if used responsibly and advanced carefully and would like to facilitate its growth with diligence and encourage others to do the same.”

Image generated by Viggiano during MadPrompts competition

Viggiano also participated, and won, MadPrompts, UW-Madison’s inaugural generative AI battle. Hosted by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and the UW-Madison Data Science Institute, five competitors battled to create the most captivating image based on a prompt. Judges’ votes combined with audience votes to determine the winner.

“I’m mindblown with how powerful large language models are already and think it’s essential for computer scientists to be experts in how to best leverage their potential to enhance productivity,” says Viggiano. “But what’s important to consider in practice is the fact that these models are trained on the creative works of others. There’s a lot to think about regarding producing and sharing anything one might make it produce.”

Viggiano also participated in several internships during his time at UW-Madison, including internships at Dell Technologies and UW-Madison.

“I’ve gotten the opportunity to observe how others work and learn lessons I couldn’t have possibly learned yet on my own. I’m proud to say that I took a lot of initiative dedicating open time at work to reaching out to people in all different sorts of roles (engineers, managers, designers, etc.) for 1 on 1s to talk about their experiences and career journeys and have built some really solid relationships in doing so,” says Viggiano.

Viggiano’s advice to students looking for internships? Take advantage of the Badger network.

“The Badger network is alive and extensive—take advantage! Try to make real connections by reaching out to people in careers you’re interested on LinkedIn to try to learn about their experiences, but always be respectful,” says Viggiano. “UW also puts on plenty of career fairs and networking events. Take advantage of these as well. Have confidence in yourself—and when you’re meeting new people, don’t be afraid to show your true self! How else are you supposed to stand out.”

After he graduates in May, Viggiano will begin his career as a Software Engineer at Dell Technologies and is excited to continue learning.

“Computer Science is a field for people who are adaptable and always willing to stay up to date on what’s happening with theory and technology. You should always stay excited about learning,” says Viggiano.