As a researcher at the University of Washington’s Center for Data Science and a student pursuing her Master’s degree in Computer Science and Systems, Stacey Newman is no stranger to code. As the newest DMA Made by Girls instructor, we were excited to catch up with Stacey before she begins teaching with Digital Media Academy this summer.
How did you become interested in computer science?
My interest in computer science (CS) really stemmed from my love of math and problem solving. In college, I envisioned signing up for an advanced calculus class but my registration time had me looking for other classes, which led me to the Computer Science II class. I then altered my education path to pursue a double major in both Computer Science and Mathematics. After a couple years working as a software developer, I have returned to academia, where I can pursue research that really plays into that mathematical background.
You’re finishing up work on a Master’s. What’s been your primary research?
My primary research so far has been in machine learning. I have been investigating different machine learning algorithms to address the very real problem of healthcare costs. We develop predictive models that help individuals as well as accountable care organizations identify costs, and what is medically contributing to those costs, of both individuals and populations for a coming time period when given historical medical and claims information. I can develop new protocols to help keep private data secure in the new age of big data and data mining.
Computer science is a way of thinking and approaching problems as complex puzzles.
What’s something about computer science or tech that you think would be surprising to somebody just coming into it?
Those who are new to tech may be surprised how little the average person knows about how their computer or the software they’re using operate. With the expansion of personalized technology, average people are using software constantly. However, most people treat these technologies as magic boxes. I think technology has to be one of the only things that is used with such frequency that is not understood at all by its users.
What do you find most challenging and what do you find most fun and rewarding about CS?
The most challenging part of computer science is what is also most rewarding. Those problems where you seem to get stuck, and no matter the different avenues you try, you can’t seem to make progress are the most rewarding when you finally crack them.
Do you have any advice for girls who are interested in computer science but don’t know where to start?
If your school does not provide computer science schooling, there are so many resources online! Pick up basic tutorials in good teaching languages, such as learning programming with Java, and progress from there. The computer science community as a whole is very supportive of open source – which means exposing your code and thoughts and knowledge to others! There are online communities that are ready and willing to help you gain more knowledge and there are tutorials around on learning new tools and languages.
Who were some of your mentors along your journey? What encouragement did they give you that helped keep you engaged in your studies?
In high school, my first real experience with computer science, my mentor was my mathematics teacher, who also had a degree in computer science. He really helped spark my interest in CS and see programming as puzzle solving. In college, I had a female professor who really encouraged me to be involved in our department and was able to send me to conferences for women in computing and see myself as a trailblazer for women in computer science rather than an anomaly in my community. In graduate school, I have similarly been able to find female peers that have their Ph.Ds in areas of research I similarly find interesting and they have truly championed me in developing my interests and finding research opportunities.
Would you like to tell us anything else about computer science?
Computer science, in my opinion, is a way of thinking and approaching problems as complex puzzles. It should never be viewed as a geeky boys club, but instead as a group of professional puzzle solvers, which sounds pretty sweet to me.