Brett Gutstein (’13) wins Gates Cambridge Scholarship, helps with computer science class


Helen McDaniel

Gutstein (’13) is one of 35 American students to win the 2018 Gates Cambridge Scholarship.

Sinclair Mott and Matthew Giordano

As a sophomore in high school, Brett Gutstein (’13) noticed his friend Philip Taffet (’13) practicing his programming skills in the computer lab. Since then, the two alumni, along with Jake Nyquist (’14), have established their own company, Steward Technology, and Gutstein has received the Gates Cambridge Scholarship to further his studies in computer science.

The Gates Cambridge Scholarship was established in October 2000 by a donation from Bill and Melinda Gates. Winners of the scholarship are given the opportunity to attend the University of Cambridge for postgraduate study. The Gates Cambridge program focuses on work that has the potential to improve the lives of people around the world.

Gutstein’s personal goals align with the objectives of the program. Gutstein is interested in societal and humanitarian issues such as protecting the environment, improving global health, supporting a large global population and increasing access to government services.

“I work on computer architectures, operating systems and security,” Gutstein said. “My ultimate goal is to apply knowledge from those fields to work on societal and humanitarian issues.”

Gutstein’s passion for computer science began while he was a student at St. John’s. He, Taffet and Nyquist all met while working on the eco-marathon car. They all went on to study computer science at Rice University.

“I have really enjoyed working with Brett. We work together really well because we both work hard and are detail-oriented,” Taffet said. “Because we’ve worked together on so many projects, we trust each other a lot and aren’t scared to question each other’s ideas.”

Gutstein took Chief Information Officer Jeff Ritter’s computer science classes while in high school. To supplement his learning, Gutstein would compete in “capture the flag” competitions, which are online contests related to computer security.

“You are given puzzles and need to solve them using hacking and cyber security skills,” Gutstein said. “Philip and I would compete in these events for fun, but we didn’t do very well at first because many people who participate already have a lot of experience.”

Gutstein and Taffet have both returned to St. John’s as guest lecturers for Ritter’s Programming Data Structures class. Ritter commented that “their understanding and ability to do almost anything they want to code-wise — it’s off the charts.”

Gutsein (right) stands with Ritter (left), his former teacher. Gutstein is now a guest lecturer for Ritter’s Programming Data Structures class.

Helen McDaniel

Junior Sebastian Varma has enjoyed learning from both Taffet and Gutstein.

“We talk about things at a very abstract level,” Varma said. “Both of them were really great teachers, and I really enjoyed having them in class because I learned a lot.”

Gutstein has enjoyed seeing how St. John’s has changed and stayed the same over the past few years.

“For me and Philip, when we come back and sit in the classroom, we see that Ritter’s style and the classroom atmosphere are basically the same,” Gutstein said. “It is really great to come back and get the same sense that you did back in the day.”

Since Gutstein graduated from Rice University last year, he has gotten the opportunity to spend more time in Houston interacting with people in the St. John’s community. Gutstein received advice from fellow St. John’s alum Xavier Gonzalez (’14), who received the Rhodes Scholarship earlier this year.

“He gave me practice interviews and advice about his own personal experience,” Gutstein said.

Gutstein feels fortunate to have won such a prestigious scholarship. Having spent a year there while pursuing his undergraduate degree, Gutstein knew that he wanted to return to Cambridge for a doctorate.

“It is not something that you can expect to win going in because very few people are chosen,” Gutstein said.

Ritter enjoys seeing how his former students have grown throughout recent years.

“Ultimately, I’d say that they’re more comfortable with who they are,” Ritter said. “They know where they’re headed, they know where they’re going, and they are happy about that.”