Kenny's Blog

14 Jan 2016

Radgrad I: Introduction

Good news!

I’m rolling out a new type of blog post… not that I had many types of posts to begin with anyways. I’ve joined Dr. Johnson’s development team for a degree development application called RadGrad. Formally, my involvement with the team is part of a class but I’ll approach this post as well as the subsequent posts with a little less formality - I don’t think anyone wants me to drone on about a university course anyways.

RadGrad - Degree Development

I’m mentioned RadGrad is meant to be a degree development application. Degree development in this case refers to a university degree - ultimately RadGrad is meant to assist computer science students through their academic careers.

You can read a little more about RadGrad on the website, but the gist is this: advising students on the ever changing requirements of a degree program in computer science or computer engineering is extremely difficult and time consuming. RadGrad is supposed to be an application that helps both sides handle this.

Here is an interesting fact that Dr. Johnson was kind enough to share with me: at some point the computer science at UH Manoa at one point realized that it was too difficult for full time faculty to effectively advise students and hired a dedicated staff member to tackle this. If it was too much for faculty members to keep track of, it’s even worse for students.

Existing solutions?

So our University has this academic system called “STAR”, which is meant to be somewhat of a degree application. STAR shows you your classes and gives you your unofficial transcripts and grades. There are a few other somewhat interesting tools, but in my experience most students don’t bother. STAR at this point remains as a data portal where students can check their grades.

I’m not sure what STAR is trying to be in the future, but I’ve heard some rumors that students will be able to more interactively schedule their classes through STAR.

In any case, it’s stated explicitly on the RadGrad website that it is not meant to replace STAR. My understanding is that we’ll be aiming for something that is a little more specialized and meant to tackle the unique pace of computer-related degree programs.

Traditional Thinking

Students often think that computer-related degree programs will train and prepare them for everything they will need to know on the job. Unfortunately this is not quite the correct thinking. I’ve heard the following statements from faculty and staff: a degree program isn’t designed to prepare you for one job, it is meant to give you a deep understanding of the fundamentals and a wide enough breadth for you to be able to choose what you want do.

In my opinion that statement can be very liberating for the students who understand that; for the rest it can be a struggle.

My hope is that RadGrad will eventually become something that can help students explore their interests on their own so they can eventually make the choices that will fall onto their laps. Do I like software? Do I like firmware? What the heck are those things actually? I have no idea.

Technical Interests

Dr. Johnson has cleverly enlisted the help of a bunch of undergraduate students to help out with this project - at this point we’re essentially a startup. Granted there is no financial motivation for now but we’re working towards achieving a goal - to help out computer science and computer engineering students. We’re filling a need and attempting to come up with a solution.

One of the things I’m particularly interested in seeing is how this project ramps up and how we all manage to split up the work with each other. I’ve had some background experience seeing some real world engineering teams work, but never so many people with a similar skill and age level before. It’s a very unique opportunity to be able to watch the interactions between so many programmers - I wonder what problems we’ll face and how we’ll solve them. I hope to improve my overall ability to work as a software engineer in a team.

My technical interests somewhat fall into line with my interests with teamwork. How can we better improve our workflow? How do we approach our testing? Are there any tools we can develop that will help us iterate faster on the main application? How will we eventually handle deployment?

Background Relevance

Although I started school as a traditional student my path got a little twisted along the way. I’ve switched majors, taken semesters off, become a part time student, led student groups and explored a bunch of opportunities along the way. Somewhere along the way, I realized that many of the students around me were not reaching their potential - my observation is that local students (born or raised in Hawaii) tend to put themselves down when compared to their mainland counterparts.

Thus, a large part of my intrinsic motivation has been towards helping students and others realize that students in Hawaii are just as qualified to work towards those opportunities.

I see RadGrad as another one of those things that can help students get to the point where they’re more comfortable with themselves. Honestly, I’m not completely sure if a degree development application like RadGrad will help students at all. Maybe it’s not the best thing for students, and maybe it is. But experience has taught me that action is better than inaction and there is always something to learn.

Hopefully we’ll learn a thing or two here that will improve things for everyone.