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Digital Pioneers Help Reed Design CS Program

Computing experts converge on Reed to help the college design a computer science program.

A formidable array of computing brainpower converged on campus yesterday to help Reed think through a long-awaited computer science program.

The digital elders represented a full spectrum of computing expertise: mathematicians, cryptographers, AI gurus, network wizards, codeslingers, and technology innovators, all focused on a fascinating problem—how Reed can build a computer science program that dovetails with its academic mission.

Reed has a long and proud tradition of computing, but has never had a CS department or a CS major. Courses in computing are currently offered through the math department, but students’ ravenous intellectual appetite for the subject is overtaxing the department’s resources. Since 2007, the number of students enrolled in the introductory CS course has soared from 34 to 102. The college has recently created a computer science concentration in the math department and launched a Software Design Studio to give students more hands-on coding experience.

“The demand for computer science among Reed students is immense,” said President John Kroger.

Reed is seeking to raise a total of $5 million to launch a CS program, expand the curriculum, establish a major, and hire two new professors.

Prof. Jim Fix [math 1999–] outlined Reed’s current curriculum and sketched out some possibilities for expansion, including courses on artificial intelligence, interface design, cryptography, and quantum computation.

“Reed has an embarrassment of riches,“ Prof. Fix said. “We have great students. They’ll be very dangerous given the breadth and rigor of Reed’s education.”

The digerati shared some striking insights about how to design a strong CS program.

Computer scientist Ivan Sutherland invented the pioneering CAD system Sketchpad, ran the Information Processing Techniques Office for DARPA, and founded the computer science program at Caltech. “When I started that program, I got some good advice,” he said. “They told me, ‘You’re too small to do everything.’ And I suggest that’s good advice for Reed.”

Nancy Groschwitz ’74 graduated from Reed with a BA in psychology and paid no attention to computers until she got to grad school, where she taught herself how to program the PDP-8s in the psychology department, and went on to become a software developer at Apple, working in the CoreOS group. She is passionate about boosting the number of women in computing. “I’m here to make a little noise, talk to people, and see if Reed can help change that,” she said.

Peter Norton ’65, the author of Norton Utilities and a self-described “Reed dropout,” emphasized the importance of aesthetics of computing. “Elegant coding is faster and more reliable,” he said. “And we know that aesthetics matter in interface design. So let’s stir art, art history, and graphic design into our computer science major."

The gathering included many other computing leaders:

Geoff Baldwin ’62, retired software engineer for Standard Oil Company of California.

David Goldschmidt ’65, research consultant, former VP for research for the quantitative hedge fund  Edgestream Partners LP.

Bob Morris ’65, biodiversity informatician, Harvard.

Alan Borning ’71, Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington.

Don Helfgott ’74, co-founder of Inspiration Software.

John Fine ’82, retired program manager, Microsoft.

Dayne Freitag ’86, program director, Artificial Intelligence Center, SRI International.

Lennon-Day Reynolds ’03, technologist-in-residence for Reed’s Software Design Studio and senior technical advisor at Urban Airship.

Jacqueline Freeman, co-founder, Hedgemetrix LLC.

Layton Freeman, co-founder, Hedgemetrix LLC.

Steve Romero, founder of Critical Path Software.

Rico Mariani, software engineer, Microsoft.

David Walter, co-founder of Aldus Corporation.

Kurt DelBene, who worked as a senior executive at Microsoft before being tapped by the Obama Administration to fix

Ed Lazowska, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Washington.

After the summit, more than two dozen Reed students signed up for one-on-one sessions on career advice and networking with the experts.

Interested in shaping computer science at Reed? Contact Gaynor Hills ’85 

Tags: computing, philanthropy