Alumni talk computer science, careers and changing technology

Name: Margot Adelle Orr

Major(s): Dual Degree (Architecture and Studio Art)

Year: 2002

Hometown: Appleton, WI

Home today: London, UK

Favorite dorm: Turck

Jamba Juice or Dunn Bros: Both! But Dunn Bros if pushed.

Job title: Principal at Atkins

In 100 words or fewer, what do you do?

I specialize in large-scale masterplanning. My typical projects are roughly the size of lower Manhattan (1,500 hectares). After establishing the project vision with a team of economists, environmentalists and engineers, we design urban grid patterns, environmental protection areas, strategic scale flood control, public transportation and specify things like land uses and building heights. Following the masterplan, we often provide developer packages outlining design codes for architects and manage projects through the final stages of construction.

Do you code, or do you work directly with someone who does?

I work with people that code and understand how to apply it to masterplans and architectural designs.

How do you use coding?

An enormous amount of money goes into developing a masterplan from design to delivery. At Atkins, we need to calculate information beyond the capabilities of standard architectural software in order to understand a development’s full impact. My team works with software engineers to customise programs to provide instant data that previously took days to calculate. For example, our revised software provides the amount of leasable square footage in a masterplan instantly. This information is essential when our cost consultants estimate overall construction costs and our economists estimate the number of jobs a development could provide.

How is technology changing your industry?

It helps us move much more quickly. That means we can save time on projects and save money for our clients.

How can liberal arts students excel in the new environment?

Know enough about technology to be able to ask the right questions and push beyond traditional work and delivery methods.

Would you recommend that Mac students interested in your profession learn to code?

Yes, an essential part of innovation is understanding how things work well enough to be able to understand how they can work better. We were only able to develop the unique software mentioned above because the team had a basic understanding of what was possible. They asked the right questions.

As a child I used to play a computer game that mimicked coding called “Animals.” This experience gave me a basic understanding of how technology could work. Now I am able to ask meaningful questions and push the boundaries when working with team members that are defining new software parameters.

Name: Kevin Whinnery

Major(s): Political science (major) / computer science (minor)

Year: 2004

Hometown: Saint Paul, MN

Home today: Saint Paul, MN

Favorite dorm: Wallace basement

Jamba Juice or Dunn Bros.: Jamba Juice

Job title: Developer Education Manager at Twilio

In 100 words or fewer, what do you do?

I lead a team that creates documentation and learning experiences for the developers who use Twilio. Because Twilio is an API company (software developers are our customers), the documentation is a key factor in whether or not a developer becomes a Twilio user. Our job is to make it as easy as possible for developers to be successful using our APIs.

Do you code, or do you work directly with someone who does?

I write code and lead a team of developers who do the same.

How do you use coding?

Code is what we do. We are responsible for creating the web application that serves, and for writing technical documentation that shows other developers how to use Twilio across nine-plus programming languages. While we write and maintain a lot of code ourselves, our primary mission is to help other people write code for their applications using Twilio.

How is technology changing your industry?

Software is changing every industry. Eating the world, as Marc Andreessen says.
Today, your car, your phone, your refrigerator, and anything else connected to the Internet can get better every day by updating their software. Writing software is the fastest way to advance the state of the art in whatever field you’re in, from farming to aerospace. Twilio and other developer API providers are making it simpler for developers to do things that were previously very hard, from sending a text message to processing credit card payments. By making software easier to write and more powerful, we can help those developers writing the code to move every industry forward.

How can liberal arts students excel in the new environment?

In retrospect, the liberal arts education I received was a major source of strength for me. The higher level computer science courses I took have had much less impact on my work as a developer than the foreign language, writing, research and social science studies I undertook in school. The technical part of being a developer is something you’ll have to learn and re-learn as technologies change and evolve. Being an effective writer, conducting research, learning about the world and building empathy for others are skills you’ll always be able to use.

The best thing you can do in school as a developer is learn how to learn new technologies, whether they are programming languages, text editors or anything else.

Would you recommend that Mac students interested in your profession learn to code?

Absolutely – I would recommend that everyone strongly consider learning to write at least a bit of code. The tools are getting better and more accessible every day, and the barrier to entry for deploying and running your apps is constantly going lower. The individual developer in 2016 is capable of having a huge impact with nothing more than a laptop and a wifi connection.

It doesn’t really matter what you do or why you do it, being able to write code, or understand how to work with a team that does, will help you do it better and more efficiently.