AI-Supported Software Engineering: integrate GitHub Copilot and ChatGPT into your daily work for efficient development

Unlocking AI in Software Engineering — an Interview with a Co-author of the Course

An EngX AI-Supported Software Engineering course was recently launched. The course facilitates enhanced software development productivity by incorporating AI resources, GitHub Copilot, and ChatGPT. Tailored for novice and intermediate coders, this course provides an understanding of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and extensive language models.

We spoke with one of the authors of this course: EPAM Software Engineer Team Lead, Alexander Shvarz. Alexander has been in IT for over 20 years. He is passionate about AI creation and also enjoys Billy Eilish's work, and harbors a love for Kharkiv and Lviv.

Software Engineer Team Lead, Alexander Shvarz

About Alexander Shvarz

Tell us about yourself — where were you born, and what did you dream of becoming when you were a child?

I was born in a small town near Moscow, Russia. When I was 14, my family relocated to Israel. That’s where I completed high school and served three years in the army. After my service, I pursued a BA in Mathematics and Computer Science at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. This paved my path into the IT industry.

Twelve years ago, I met my wife. At the time, she was a diplomat at the Ukrainian embassy in Tel-Aviv. For the last ten years, we have been living with our son, Pablo (who is now 8 years old), in Kyiv.

Alexander Shvarz with son

I started my EPAM journey shortly after moving to Kyiv and have been with EPAM for ten years. Joining the company has been a fulfilling decision, and I am proud of my association with it.

From a young age, I aspired to be a software engineer. I was likely influenced by my parents, who both worked as developers.

Where did you study and how did you choose your educational institution? In which cities and countries have you lived?

One of the reasons I chose to study at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology is its reputation as one of the top universities in Israel. My decision to attend, however, was somewhat spontaneous and greatly influenced by my best friend. We both valued that its location, more than 100 km away from our hometown, offered significant discounts on student accommodation. This played a major role in our choice.

What was your first job, how did you earn your first money?

I earned my first money at the age of 14, during the summer holidays. In Israel, it's customary for children to work and earn pocket money. I held a variety of jobs in my early years - I cleaned floors at an electrical company, attached rivets to jeans, and delivered a local weekly magazine.

Who did you work for and where did you work? If you changed jobs, why?

My answer to this question is quite simple. For the last 20 years, I have been working in the IT industry as a software engineer. I genuinely enjoy my job and the work that I do, so I have no plans to change my professional direction.

Work experience

How did you get to EPAM?

I began working at EPAM two months after moving to Ukraine. My method for choosing EPAM might seem a bit unconventional, but I place great value on the atmosphere I encounter when entering a company's office and during in-person interviews (which were a common practice before the COVID era). Upon visiting EPAM, I was instantly drawn to the positive vibe. I really liked the general atmosphere and the people I met (Viktoriia Kopotii thank you for hiring me), which confirmed my desire to work there.

Alexander Shvarz at work

What are your current responsibilities?

I am a solution architect for one of our prominent accounts, a major finance company. My responsibilities include designing solutions that align with the client's requirements, actively participating in the implementation, and providing support during the post-production phase.

What inspires you in your work?

What inspires me most is the opportunity to create solutions that genuinely help people, making their everyday lives more convenient and comfortable.

When it comes to professional development, which areas do you focus on improving and why?

Right now, I am concentrating on three main areas. First, I am focused on solution architecture, striving to master this field and establish myself as a leading professional. Second, I am exploring artificial intelligence, since I believe that it holds exciting possibilities for the future. Lastly, I am delving into cloud technologies, which are becoming essential components of nearly every project. I am dedicated to gaining a deeper understanding of this area to enhance my expertise.

How do you stay on trend — what do you read, what kinds of events do you attend?

Honestly, I don't consume a vast amount of professional content. I am selective about what I do engage with. I regularly follow updates from the Medium newsletters to which I'm subscribed. Additionally, I keep an eye on conference agendas related to Java and architecture, making it a point to listen to the most intriguing presentations whenever possible. Engaging with my colleagues also provides valuable insights. Communities within EPAM, like the Java Line Up Community and Java CC, are excellent resources from which I gain a lot of interesting information through discussions with my colleagues.

Hobbies and fun facts

And what about hobbies — what do you do in your free time?

I am interested in contemporary art and I try to visit as many exhibitions as possible. I also enjoy the vibrant cocktail culture in Kyiv, which I consider to be one of the best cities for cocktail enthusiasts. Additionally, I am a fan of live music shows. Last year, I attended a Beyoncé concert in Warsaw, and I am looking forward to seeing Billie Eilish perform next year.

What brings you the greatest pleasure in your life?

The greatest pleasure in my life comes from watching my son grow and become increasingly intelligent.

Can you tell us 5 fun facts about yourself?

In my life, I've had the opportunity to live in three different countries.

I’ve known many of my best friends for nearly 30 years.

My two favorite cities in Ukraine are Kharkov and Lviv.

At one point, I considered pursuing a master's degree in Knowledge Management.

I used ChatGPT to help me formulate the responses to these questions.

Alexander Shvarz in the park

About the course

How did you come up with the idea of creating an educational course?

The idea of creating the course was not originally mine. During one of our Java CC sync-ups, Oleksandr Ponikarov invited me and a few others to join this initiative. At that time, I was exploring AI, trying to determine whether it was just a passing trend or a true game changer. They say that the best way to learn is to teach, and that is exactly what I decided to do. I’m proud and happy to have been involved in this initiative.

Alexander Shvarz in the office

How did you choose the topic/topics for the course? And the course has many co-authors, how did you find each other and how did you manage the work on the course?

We didn't formally divide the topics among ourselves. Instead, each co-author reviewed the existing content and contributed their own knowledge and experience to enhance the course. This organic approach allowed us to integrate a diverse range of insights and expertise seamlessly.

With regard to preparing the course, what did you find easy and what was difficult?

Preparing this course seemed to follow the Pareto principle. Initially, it was relatively easy to establish the basic framework of the training —structuring the course, gathering ideas for practical tasks, and populating it with the main content. This initial phase probably moved swiftly due to our collective enthusiasm to quickly create something new, interesting, and useful. The final 20% of the work — refining the details, adding subtle nuances, resolving ambiguities, and conducting thorough reviews — was more challenging. Our passion for the project propelled us through these demanding stages, however, allowing us to complete the work efficiently and achieve, in my view, a highly effective result.

Who will benefit from this course — can you provide a detailed description of the intended audience?

Our training is tailored for Java (as well as for JavaScript, Python, C#) engineers who spend a significant portion of their time coding. One of our key objectives is to help these engineers delegate routine and standard tasks to AI. We also see AI as a mentor-companion that aids engineers in navigating complex or unfamiliar topics.

While the course is designed primarily for beginners eager to integrate AI into their daily work, it may also appeal to advanced users of AI tools. Experienced users might find some of the content foundational, but they are likely to uncover aspects that are useful and compelliing. I also believe that our practical tasks will engage anyone using AI assistants.

Overall, our training acts as a practical guide for those new to AI, facilitating the integration of this technology into their workflows to boost their efficiency and effectiveness.

What problems or challenges can your course help address?

In discussing the effectiveness of our AI-focused training, it's useful to illustrate how AI can enhance work processes. The examples below are based on my own experience with AI communication in last couple of weeks.

Efficient Project Initiation: AI quickly and accurately identifies and outlines the scope of tasks and questions necessary for a project's discovery phase.

Training Task Creation: AI excels in generating practical tasks for various training programs, streamlining the development process.

Learning Assistance: AI is particularly useful for gaining a foothold in topics where your knowledge may be limited, acting as an immediate learning tool.

Rapid Code Generation: With technologies like Copilot, you don't need to wait for someone to draft code samples. AI can generate code in seconds, significantly speeding up the learning and development process.

Content Creation: AI assists in drafting articles and reports based on research and development findings, saving hours of manual work. It's important to review and refine the AI-generated content, however, since it may include errors.

These examples demonstrate the specific "pain points" our course can help address and the practical solutions it provides, making everyday tasks more manageable and efficient for professionals.

What is the expected duration of the course, what is its format, and what are the benefits to a person who takes it?

Our course is designed to be completed in approximately 6-7 hours. It comprises a theoretical section that explains the underlying mechanics of AI, illustrated with examples to show practical applications. There are also hands-on tasks that enable participants to practice the concepts and collaborate with AI on specific tasks.

Participants will gain a clear understanding of where AI can be applied effectively, how to optimize interactions with AI, and will feel confident incorporating AI into work-related tasks.

What are the advantages of your course compared to others in this field?

I believe that one of the standout features of our course is its practical nature, crafted by engineers who tackle real-world delivery challenges daily — coding, testing, and troubleshooting. We've designed the course to be as hands-on as possible, infusing it with our experiences and insights. This approach ensures that participants learn key theoretical aspects and also understand how AI can be applied effectively in real project settings.

Expert advice

What's your most important piece of advice for those just starting to study this area/topic?

Communicating with AI is akin to programming — it's not just about theory; it's about practice. Engage with AI as frequently as possible. Emphasize continuous practice, and focus on mastering how to prompt effectively. Prompting has its own rules and requires more than just intuition; understanding the underlying mechanics is crucial. So, practice regularly, and deepen your knowledge of how AI operates to enhance your interactions with it.

Alexander Shvarz in the office openspace

What would you like to tell our readers to inspire them to start studying from your course?

AI is a transformative technology that is increasingly becoming a part of our daily lives. I encourage you not to hesitate — complete the course to its entirety. I am confident that you will find it enjoyable and beneficial, and that it will help equip you with skills and knowledge that are becoming essential in many fields. Embrace this opportunity to get ahead in understanding and utilizing AI.

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