Campus / News / Student Research / March 2, 2011

Programming new solutions

Senior and computer science major Chris Johnson wasn’t quite satisfied with the programming languages he was using day-to-day in his field of study—so he took matters into his own hands and wrote his own. The Knox Student sat down with Johnson, who was recently accepted into a graduate program at MIT, about his project and love of computer science.

The Knox Student (TKS): What is your project?

Chris Johnson (CJ): My honors project is to design a programming language to improve programmer productivity—an entirely new program language.

TKS: Why did you choose this particular project?

CJ: This is something that I personally want to use. I’m looking for a language…a lot easier to program in and a lot faster. It’s something I want to use and I think that other people would find useful.

TKS: How did you get into computer science in the first place?

CJ: I’ve always known that I wanted to create things. When I was a teenager we got a nice new computer and I started learning programming. That was an opportunity to be able to create and invent new things from an early age. It was more than just building stuff—there was a science to it. It led me to become interested in math—I’m a math major, too. It lets me create whole new systems.

It’s really interesting, being able to invent things like that and being able to do that right from the beginning. In other majors like chemistry it can take a while to start creating things, but with computer science, you start right at the beginning, like an actual engineer.

TKS: What is the most exciting part of your project? What is the most challenging?

CJ: The most exciting, and probably easier part, is designing what I want the language to do. The most difficult part is actually implementing it. It’s extremely difficult and I won’t have time to implement all the features I want. It takes a lot of time. I have nearly 9,000 lines written so far. For the full language, I’d be barely half done for all the features I wanted. For the minimal…I’m about 85 or 90 percent done.

TKS: Before starting this project, how have you been involved with the computer science field?

CJ: I’ve been doing research since I was a freshman here, actually. Last summer I worked at the U[niversity] of Illinois. I got that paper published at a workshop in St. Louis…because of that I got invited to give a talk at the National Security Agency. In January, I flew out there and gave a talk. There were well over 100 people in the audience. It was really fun, especially going to their headquarters where there’s very high security. I had to have an escort at all times, a special security badge … it was a great experience.

TKS: How do you balance Honors with other academics and extracurricular activities?

CJ: Very carefully. It’s not easy to find a balance—I work a lot on these projects to meet the deadline. I keep setting objectives for myself every week that I need to meet to keep moving. This term, I took a pretty easy course load so I’d be able to stay focused on the Honors project most of the time. I could justify spending 40+ hours a week on it.

TKS: Where do you plan to go from here?

CJ: I plan on continuing [this project] in grad school. I definitely want to go and get a Ph.D in computer science and then go in a research position in the industry for a while and then go into academia.

Katy Sutcliffe


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