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CSpotlight: Computer Science and Technical Writing

Why did you choose to pursue a degree in computer science specifically at the University of Minnesota?

I chose the University of Minnesota because it was close to home and the best option for me financially. Originally I was accepted to the School of Nursing and thought I wanted to be a nurse, but realized quickly that it was not right for me. I switched to the College of Libral Arts to pursue literature and technical writing. In my first technical writing course we learned a bit more about programming, HTML and CSS, and I really fell in love with it. That led me to my first computer science class. 

How did you become interested in computer science? What are your specific interests within the field?

After my first computer science class, I was hooked. I had never coded before college. Currently my interests lie in web development, software engineering and machine learning. One great thing about computer science is that the field is so vast. If you get bored of one area, you can learn something new. I am always open to learning new sub-fields. 

Why did you decide to pursue a B.A. degree? How did you become interested in technical writing?

I decided to keep the technical writing minor since that is what led me to computer science. I think it is very interesting. Sometimes the documentation for the software you are working with is just as important as the program itself. It’s a very good skill to have and I would encourage any software engineer to take a technical writing class. It is a huge advantage to have those writing skills so other software engineers can understand your code.  

Congratulations on earning an industry affiliates scholarship! How will this scholarship impact your academic and extracurricular work?

It will definitely help me alleviate some of the financial burden of attending a four-year university and the stress that comes with that. I am super grateful to have parts of my education paid for. 

Tell us more about your internship experience with Wells Fargo.

Last summer I had an internship with Wells Fargo in software engineering. I learned a lot about the software development process and some new tools of the trade for web programming. One of my main tasks was to migrate the application that I was working on - authentication and authorization - to a new system using the OAuth protocol. It was interesting to see how the system authenticates users and how the OAuth protocol works. 

Additionally, I learned a lot about the agile development process. When you are doing software development, you have daily stand-ups, weekly sprint meetings, and meetings to refine your sprint. It can be overwhelming when you are first starting but I had a great team to walk me through it. 

There were also a lot of opportunities to learn about the company and listen to different speakers. The CEO of the company spoke to the interns and we also learned from people in the top technology positions. It was great to get the experience and to network with other people who are in tech. 

Are you involved in any student groups? What inspired you to get involved? What do you hope to contribute to the computer science community at the University?

I was an officer for ACM-W last year. I led some events like a react workshop. I also held a workshop for the App Developers Club on the basics of a tool called Postman for working with  APIs. I enjoy getting involved with student groups because it’s fun to meet new people with similar interests.

Have you been involved with any research on campus? Can you tell us about your work with SkyPortal?

I was involved with a group of astronomy researchers to help with the development of SkyPortal, which is an open source astronomical data platform. Majority of my work with that group has focused on the front-end of the application. I also helped with some of the data visualization. It has been interesting to use different tools to visualize data. It has been really fun and challenging. It is so cool to work on an application that scientists actually use daily. I had never contributed to open source software before so it was cool to see my work being used by different people. It can definitely be challenging because I don’t know much about astronomy myself, so I had to make sure I got clear requirements for the code. It has been a great place to learn as you go.    

I also did some research with the ProDUCT Lab where I built a tool to audit predictions made by a Wikipedia machine learning model. I plan to write my honors thesis on the work I did during that experience.

What advice do you have for incoming computer science students?

Get involved in research! We attend a huge research university so you should take advantage of that. It can be a really cool experience and a chance to learn about something you would have otherwise known nothing about. 

Along with that, my advice is to always be learning. We are in a field that is quickly changing so it can be easy to get left behind if you don’t keep your skills sharp. Technology is all around us and there are plenty of resources online to continue learning and growing.   

It can be intimidating when some of your peers have been coding since middle school. Something I like to think about is that everyone is on their own path. You can’t compare yourself to others and you need to focus on improving yourself each day. 

What are your plans after graduation?

I am hoping to apply to the Integrated Program and get my master’s degree. After that I want to work in the industry. I’m not sure exactly which field I want to go into, but I hope to do a few more internships to narrow in on what is the best fit for me.