That’s computer science?!

Many people I speak with don’t have a sufficiently broad view of what goes on in a computer science department, and what can be done with a computer science degree. A PhD defense that took place in our department recently is a great example of the kind of work people might not expect to find in CS. The title of the dissertation is ‘Patterns of Domestic Video Mediated Communication.’ The student explored the design and use of technology that allows families to communicate and remain connected across distance. I think most people would agree that this is fascinating and timely work. But who does this kind of work? What kinds of skills and insights and abilities does someone need in order to approach this topic? Well … certainly there are concepts from psychology and communications theory which feed into this work. But suppose some of the critical issues have to do with the design and use of the (computing) technology that makes this kind of communication possible. That’s where the CS background comes in — especially the area of CS known as human-computer interaction. In the real world, large problems and opportunities require contributions from many people, with all kinds of expertise. Increasingly, a pivotal member of these teams is someone with CS training, because they understand the technology that drives and enables so many of today’s most interesting systems and societal trends.

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