Thursday, November 10, 2011

2011-11-10: Day in the Life of a Computer Scientist

Old Dominion University has a freshmen computer science course that focuses on what it means to be a computer scientist. This course discusses career opportunities, current research being performed, and serves to debunk myths and misconceptions about the field of computer science. Such myths include: we never talk to humans, we code our entire lives away, and we are nocturnal. I was invited to be a guest lecturer for the class last night. Even though the last myth is sometimes true, I did my best to touch on each of these talking points during the presentation embedded below.

The first topics I spoke about in the presentation generated the majority of questions and discussion. I spoke first about the digital preservation work being performed in the WS-DL group at ODU. This, of course, included discussing the ArchiveFacebok, Warrick, and Memento projects at a cursory level. During our discussion, we hit on the issues of copyright and web crawling, and why, as computer scientists, we find these problems interesting. We briefly talked about revisitation policies and change-rate studies of web pages that are important for search engines and archival methods. (Interested readers should direct their attention to Cho and Garcia-Molina's work (1999) for a canonical study on recrawl and page change rates.) We also discussed why computing theory (not just development) is important in the current research being performed in the academic and industrial communities.

The remainder of my talk was a description of what I do on a daily basis as a professional computer scientist. I mentioned that I worked at The MITRE Corporation as a developer and researcher, and discussed what my job entails. For example, I practice Agile engineering, work with people on a daily basis, and probably only spend less than a quarter of my time in actual development. The remainder of my time is spent in testing cycles, working with customers to find direction for products, writing documentation, and other "non-coding" aspects of software development. Further, I discussed that MITRE is unique company in that it is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC), and supports the US government in an advisory roll. This point illustrated that there are variety of opportunities available to computer scientists, and not all of them are at traditional corporations.

My lecture was meant to illustrate that a professional developer doesn't sit in a dark cubicle all night hammering out code, and goes weeks without human interaction. More importantly, this presentation provided examples of work being done in industry and academia, and how the degree they are earning will benefit them in their career.

--Justin F. Brunelle

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