AI for schools

Greetings from Dublin!

We are two students from NTNU studying Industrial Engineering and Technology Management with specialization in artificial intelligence (AI), empirical finance and optimization. We are both genuinely interested in solving optimization problems through approaches from AI, and this summer we are using our knowledge in this field by working for VSware located in Dublin.

One year ago, Visma acquired VSware. VSware is a cloud based provider of student information management and timetabling systems to Irish and international markets. Today, 75% of Irish schools depend on VSware daily. What separates VSware from its competitors is their timetabling optimization software. Timetabling for schools is a well-known problem, however, there is no known efficient way to achieve an optimal solution. Hence, VSware has used techniques from AI and optimization and managed to develop one of the most efficient and optimal timetable solvers for schools in the world.

Our job as summer interns is to improve VSware’s already existing timetabling solver. This is no doubt a hard assignment on the basis that the company have used years to develop this timetabling scheduler, and they are already world leading in the market. We find this assignment extremely interesting because we are working on implementing real AI algorithms, and not only working with AI as a buzzword. Besides that working with AI is super cool, it engages us a lot that this product is utilized in 75% of the schools in Ireland, and most likely schools in Norway will start using the software from the beginning of 2019.

At time of writing this post we have been working in VSware for three weeks. We spent the first three days on getting an overview of the timetabling problem and all the restrictions that follows. Two of the employees in VSware that have been working with this problem for the past two years has spent a lot of time explaining us how they are solving it today and what the main concerns are. In the end of the first week we did a lot of brainstorming on how to actually solve this better. By using our experience from similar problems we formulated a new approach we believed in, which we presented for the two employees by the end of the first week. They gave us green light, and the weeks following has been dedicated to implement the new approach. We are highly impressed about the close collaboration with our co-programmers and the time they are dedicating in facilitating the development of our implementation. Hopefully we will have some good results to show in the next two weeks. We are excited to see.

Working in Dublin has been an amusing experience. Being Europe’s capital of startups and larger tech companies, it is easy to sense the entrepreneurial spirit in the city. Especially when VSware has offices in Dublin’s Digital Hub which is a cluster of technology, digital media and internet companies from all over the world. What makes our time in Dublin even better is that we are located right next to the brewing factory of Guinness. Evidently, we have taken part of the bar culture in Ireland where the threshold for taking a cold one, even during working hours, is low. Visma has also given us the opportunity to either travel ourselves or to have some friends visiting. Hence, we have been occupied in the weekends pretending to be Dubliners with our friends.

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