By Ethan Swain, May 2015 CS Graduate
Looking back at my time attending Freed-Hardeman University, I've observed that my experience, like so many others', was a battle of opposites. My first days on campus feel as though they were so long ago, and yet so recent. Many times I felt like a kid, but I was acutely aware of my becoming an adult. My computer science experience was no different, often a blend of stressful struggle and bountiful reward. Throughout my four years in the program, I collected numerous memories that impacted and furthered my development in the field.
Out of all my computer science academic experiences, my favorite assignment undoubtedly came from the Advanced Web Design class in my junior year - a personal web portfolio. Near the time this project was assigned, I realized that web design and development was the particular branch of computer science that most interested me. My newly found passion caused me to throw myself into my work, often for nights at a time. Often I caught myself after curfew sitting at my desk until the early hours of the morning waffling between details like icon placement or which animation to use for the landing page.
I focused my design on being as modern as possible, while also possessing a unique flavor that reflected my personality and style. The content included a biography, a list of skills, a resume, and a contact form. I used a variety of jQuery plugins for different aspects on the page, such as the navigation menu and slider, both of which scrolled to the correct content when clicked. The site, however, was far from flawless, and revealed numerous errors and potential improvements that served as a learning experience for a revamped version still in development. Although it was imperfect, this portfolio project allowed me to find my career path and was the most fun I had in a classroom setting.
Opportunities for learning spread beyond the boundaries of coursework, a fact which I began to fully understand during my time in the computer science research group. Our main task was to build a web application called “FreedHarmony,” which was a matchmaker for single students on campus. The idea was straightforward – students filled out a survey to determine their personality type, and their answers were compared against members of the opposite sex. The site would then reveal their personality matches and give them a chance to “crush” on those they were interested in and see if their crush showed mutual interest.
Working with other members of the development team on aspects like creating and analyzing the format of the survey was both challenging and invigorating. For weeks, we struggled to find an efficient way to answer the survey questions, our ideas vacillating between a range slider and our own modified version using boxes and eventually settled on the latter. Discovering the most effective way to accomplish various tasks in the project was enriching, since the project grew and improved as a whole at each of these milestones. The team discussions were also particularly vibrant, with extremely relevant consequences.
This project, unlike some of the homework, felt real; it truly mattered whether we included features such as how many matches to show or whether some matches should be matches at all, since these could easily hinder FreedHarmony's success. For example, people who could have been quality matches might have failed to see each other as matches based what we as developers decided to include in the matching algorithm . Opinions on these issues made a difference because the project's purpose was to actually create a few couples. The site was eventually taken down once the research period expired, but the experience offered a small glimpse into the broader world of computer science.
The magnitude of the project (a site with 10,000+ pages) was not without difficulties. Specifically, we ended up changing the site's grid system five times on top of inevitable positioning errors. The design of the site was based on looking both clean and stylish, with animations and angles arrayed throughout. Dozens of pages were created, each page taking roughly 3-5 days each due to the nature of responsiveness and the level of detail involved.
After completing the website, my directives were shifted to researching and implementing digital asset management and network management solutions. Learning how to quickly adapt to new areas of the field and troubleshoot the many errors that occurred during testing were important skills to for me to develop. This internship was possibly the most valuable academic experience I had at FHU, and I feel pleased when I consider what I achieved.
In retrospect, the experiences I've gained since stepping on campus four years ago have improved me as both a computer scientist and a person. The computer science program has left an indelible mark on my academic, professional, and personal development.