Sep 13 2017

Why Computer Science?

Published by under student

(This post was authored by Mr. John Simmons.)

My past summer was spent in deep thought of things to come. It did not feel like vacation time due to the worries I had for the future. I was college-bound, set to leave from home for a brand new frontier at Tennessee Tech. Before the fall, however, I was unsure as to how I wanted to mentally grow myself – whether that was through college or some other means entirely. I did know that I wanted to step into the software development scene though and that a college degree could help me do that. No other study quite compared with the possibilities and excitement comprising today’s information technologies.

I was first introduced to programming mid-way through high school. I undertook two courses on object oriented programming with Java. My initial impression, while utterly frustrated at the start, was pleasantly fulfilling after coding my first algorithm. The rest of the year went by in a blur of sweat, blood, and tears. I did break away from coding for a year to explore other career fields. I wanted to give physics, mathematics, and english a fair go before I made my final career choice. Personally, nothing quite compared to the thrill I experienced upon project completion in programming class, so I decided to commit to coding as a career at the onset of my high school graduation.

I was entertaining the idea of teaching myself how to code professionally for a while. I finally began doing so by the end of high school, and I still keep up with it albeit not at full capacity anymore. I do have to prioritize my studies after all, but I digress. I admit the thought of teaching myself was complete hubris given I did not even know where to start. I spent my entire life up until now in a school setting with the teachers spoon-feeding me bits of knowledge day after day. Their guidance kept me on track. There was no way I could just up and say “Hey, I am going to teach myself for a change,” and expect that to go anywhere. I did not have the necessary experience to say that I knew what I was doing at home to teach myself, which usually meant googling stuff madly to figure what I was missing for the next step.

I soon realized I was sorely dependent on those around me, teachers especially, when it came to my education. While I was in no way prepared to teach myself, I at least knew that something had to change. I had to learn how to independently learn over the summer. And when I say ‘independently learn’, that means I had to define my own curriculum and set a reasonable pace for working through said curriculum.

In order to tackle these challenges, I needed the soft skills to set goals, schedule my time, focus, be confident, and self-motivate myself. Of the bunch, I felt scheduling and goal-setting were the most crucial. I was decent at scheduling, but I never set that many goals for myself considering my teachers did most of that for me. They were the ones who set the guidelines on how to get things done and the corresponding deadlines for finishing those things in a timely manner. I was helpless in this regard, but I was not without options.


Thankfully at the beginning of the summer, I discovered This website, as its name implies, teaches people how to code for free. Granted, it is not easy nor as simple as it sounds. They do not provide traditional teaching for the subject-matter taught. Campers (the name given to a FreeCodeCamp user) must scour the web and live forums to fill in the knowledge mandatory for the challenging projects offered on the website. I have had weeks of failure before breaking through on a few of these challenges. Failing is pretty normal at the start of every project; the frustration I felt each and every time serves the FreeCodeCamp methodology of being taught the bare minimum so as to struggle through the rest. I was on my own for the most part with a sliver of aide here and there from the website’s community. The goal FreeCodeCamp was not to be taught, but to teach oneself on sheer self-initiative.

What FreeCodeCamp lacks in raw teaching it makes up for in goal-setting; this is what I was lacking in the first place, the capacity to set goals towards a concrete objective. FreeCodeCamp was extremely useful in this regard. The website has a “map” of projects to do, 10 for each of its initially available certifications that all eventually build up into the coveted Full Stack certification.

FreeCodeCamp constantly harps on the read-search-ask process so whenever I got stuck, which happened often, there was still hope for a real answer. I did not mind, though. The goals are what I came and stayed for. I had to teach myself almost everything so I could complete the projects available. Thank goodness for the information era! Although there were moments where unlimited knowledge was not translating into pragmatic understanding.

It was then that I would seek whoever would humor me in the online help chat rooms. Stackoverflow and all the various other coding blogs had great advice for what I needed, but oftentimes the answers were cryptically presented. I knew with each cryptic struggle I had a long way to go in learning how to learn. Past teaching myself, I also had to remind myself how to finish a project rather than giving up halfway due to the stress and uncertainty of it all. It was time to buckle down for a change!

And so, the summer went along excruciatingly as I continued to code during much of my free time. I managed to earn one of the website’s certifications and scratch the surface with the other two certifications that are earnable from the start (completing all three are the prerequisites for earning the Full Stack certification).

I was making leeway, but it was not very expedient. I started to realize that, even as I doing decently well with getting myself to sit down and code for extended periods of time, I was not getting the results I wanted. I then realized that my haphazardly gained knowledge had many holes. There were no real teachers to steer me in the right direction beyond the goals that FreeCodeCamp set for me, so it was hardly surprising that my progress was stunted.

Even so, I knew I needed to fill in these educational holes and understand how to code cleanly, efficiently, and creatively. Looking back at some of my projects, the source code for some of them is horrendous. I had the knowledge, but I did not understand the thinking that went into it. Basically, I was treating programming as a hit-or-miss, get er’ done to-do list instead of a professional work of art.

That is why I am finally here at Tennessee Tech: to adopt the mindset necessary for the Full Stack job I want to land by the time I graduate with my Bachelors in Computer Science. I am still pursuing FreeCodeCamp on the side, but I hope to apply the computer science department mindset to the way I should be coding and thinking about my FreeCodeCamp projects.Capture

As to why I may have chosen somewhere else besides Tennessee Tech to achieve these ends, I cannot give an awe-inspiring answer. Simply put, it was close to home, had a fair reputation, and the price tag for what it has to offer is fair. The size of the campus is perfect as well; I do not have to run around everywhere given how compact everything is. The people here are great too. I hope to build lasting relationships here on campus and in the town of Cookeville.

With so many people around, there are infinitely many ways to network with others! Making friends, attending events, joining a fraternity or sorority, participating in club activities, and competing with peers day-to-day all define the competitive, nurturing atmosphere at Tech. I did not attend Tennessee Tech for these reasons of networking, but they are rapidly becoming part of the best decision I made in choosing to enroll at Tennessee Tech.

All that said, going to college ultimately depends on the person. College is expensive and timely, but foundational and enlightening. Coding bootcamps are quick and pragmatic, but arduous and makeshift. Self-teaching is rewarding and possible, but full of holes and directionless. I personally decided to attend college at Tennessee Technological University. Tech has a proven track record and a multitude of opportunities for contributing to and learning from others. Earning my Bachelor’s from Tennessee Tech may just prove to be one of the best educational decisions I have ever made right behind my commitments to computer programming.


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Apr 03 2017

Welcome to SAIC

Published by under chair and tagged: ,

As you have perhaps heard, an announcement was made regarding the opening of a site in Cookeville, TN by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a company headquartered in McLean, VA. When at steady state, their operations will number approximately 300 computing positions. When combined with the 40 to 80 positions brought to Cookeville by Digital Dream Forge in February, the growth in the IT sector in the area has grown immensely with the Lion’s share of these positions being targeted towards Computer Science and other associated degrees such as Business Information Technology. For several months, the Department of Computer Science (CSC) has been part of an effort by the State of Tennessee, City of Cookeville, and Tennessee Tech University (TTU) to bring SAIC to the region. The effort has included the development of a partnership between SAIC and CSC to create a pipeline of graduates that are ready to meet the workforce needs for SAIC in Computer Science, Cybersecurity, and Data Science.


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Mar 07 2017

Persevering When It Seems Impossible

Published by under student

(This post was authored by Ms. Chelsey Long.)

I have always had a love for technology. I knew how to use a computer before I even started kindergarten, but I never thought that it would become my life. Throughout high school, I had no idea what my career plan was. I had many interests, technology being one of them, but nothing stood out to me as being the one. One day, my math teacher, Ms. Herring, suggested that I apply for the Aspirations in Computing award presented by the National Center for Women and Information Technology, or NCWIT for short. I knew I hadn’t done anything remarkable enough to win an award, so I was hesitant at first. She informed me that it’s not about what you have done, but what you aspire to do. Knowing that I did have an interest in this field and wanting to explore the career possibility, I finally applied and was chosen as a runner-up for Tennessee two years in a row.

Keep Calm and Don't Give Up

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Feb 02 2017

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water. – Rabindranath Tagore

Published by under faculty

(This post was authored by Dr. Ambareen Siraj)

For me, the sea to cross has been changing at various stages of my life – but my determination has not.

When I came to this great country which has been my home for 20 years, the sea was graduate school at Mississippi State. I came from a different country (Bangladesh), different language (Bengali), different undergraduate degree (Applied Physics and Electronics), and with a family (husband Sheikh Ghafoor and a 2 year old son). Why did I move to CS from Physics? Well, I worked with computers during my undergraduate thesis; I guess my “bossy” personality loved the fact that you can tell a machine exactly what to do, and it will do it! Well, as we all know now, computers of today can think ahead of men!fulltextlogo[2]

Back to my story of growing up. My first semester at graduate school, I worked for an insect researcher in Agricultural Research and analyzed insects with software after my classes. My husband would keep our toddler busy with trees and flags flying high in the park while I did my study chores. Later, I started working as a Teaching Assistant and graded C++ data structures programs to pay for grad school.  After sometime, I took the first class ever offered in Computer Security in Mississippi State (it was the same case with many schools back then) by one of the pioneers in CyberSecurity Education, Dr. Rayford Vaughn. I was hooked!  There was no looking back. I found what I loved, and I started working in the field as a Research Assistant for Dr. Vaughn. The best lesson that I learned from him was the power of a “pat on the back”.

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Jan 25 2017

Computer Science in Agriculture

Published by under class of 2020,student and tagged: ,

When most people think of farming, they envision the quaint, harmonic lifestyle of ages past, complete with verdant, rolling hills and roosters crowing in the distance. The advent of computer science, however, has revolutionized almost every facet of society – from entertainment to business to medicine – and farming is no exception. In fact, the changes made to this field are perhaps some of the most apparent in all of civilization, and this creates a rather unique juxtaposition; farming, one of the oldest disciplines in human history, has transformed into a massive, automation-driven industry, capable of achieving efficiency that, a few decades ago, could have only been dreamt of. Today, we are going to look at some of the agricultural overhauls wrought by computer science (specifically in the field of crop-based agriculture), as well as how they have impacted society as a whole.

Link to Farmbot Video

It is important to recognize that farming is a complex process, relying on many external variables that must be determined before any progress can be made. One of the first tasks that a farmer must complete is a soil survey – the gathering of soil samples from across his or her field, and the analysis of the nutrient content (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium levels) thereof. Afterward, the farmer must procure a mixture of fertilizer that best accommodates the needs of his or her field, so that the crops will grow to their full potential. Before the advent of computer science, soil samples were collected arbitrarily; the farmer would walk to one section of the field, gather a handful of soil, and then proceed to the next section. Then, he or she would concoct a single mixture of fertilizer and apply it indiscriminately to the entire section. Now, thanks to computerized spreading machines (called Variable Rate Equipment), the farmer can input the soil surveys for each part of the field into the machine itself, and the spreader will then apply different fertilizer to each section based on its own individual needs. Rather than Section A and Section B receiving the same generalized fertilizer, the computer remembers the needs of each section, applying different mixtures of nutrients based on the information provided. Furthermore, the physical act of fertilizing is now accomplished automatically by the use of GPS (Global Positioning System) technology, with the operator overseeing the machine simply as a

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Dec 07 2016

Setbacks into Setups: What It’s Like Being a Woman in Technology

Published by under alumnus

[This is a post by Tennessee Tech Computer Science Alumna Mary Prince.]

I didn’t know what being a woman in technology really meant until I entered college. I knew Computer Science was considered nontraditional for a girl to pursue and it’s part of the reason why I received a scholarship, but to be honest I didn’t think much about it. I grew up with many computers in my house and all I knew was that I liked how I could be creative with technology and I wanted to have a career that involved technology in some way.

Fast forward to my first week of college and I have to admit, I was a little shocked. Sitting in 60-person class with all guys and 5 or less girls is intimidating. I went to a small high school in a rural town and just merely sitting in a class with this many people was strange to me. As that Intro to Programming class got into gear, I started to wonder if I was cut out for this major. I felt so behind compared to everyone else in class and I struggled. Not only was I struggling with the material but I was struggling with my confidence too. I felt like I needed to prove myself and show I was capable of the same skills to this class full of guys. Somehow, I passed that Intro to Programming class but I was in for an even harder course: Dr. Boshart’s Data Structures class (this is where the setbacks truly begin).


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