A chat with Jeromy Johnson and Rae Marks

By Victoria Sandmeyer, School of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science

When you talk with Rae Marks and Jeromy Johnson, you feel like you are in the presence of an unstoppable force. They are going somewhere, and they are going fast. Yet you don’t feel like you are going to get run over; there is an inclusiveness in the way they speak. At the time of the interview Jeromy is the president of the Association for Computing Machinery Student Chapter (ACM), Rae is the vice president. The duo took time to sit down with me in the ACM clubhouse in the middle of finals week last spring. We covered a number of topics related to their experiences as computer science students at WSU. Rae and Jeromy are excited about what they are doing. They have insight and experience, and they are willing to share it.

About EECS

 

About ACM and the Hackathon

 

About interviewing for jobs

 

About programming and the future

 

Advice for new students

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We talked about their time here at EECS—favorite professors and recommended classes. Jeromy mentions Computational Genomics taught by Ananth Kalyanaraman. Rae explains, “We are using algorithms to do genome sequencing–solving problems with DNA.” Jeromy adds,

The fun thing about the class is that although the algorithms you learn in that class are taught from the perspective of genome sequencing, that’s not all that they can be used for. I was talking to someone a little while back who was using those same algorithms to find commercials in TV segments.

Rae nods her head and remarks,

That highlights something cool about our program here. We teach a lot of fundamental things. We teach these really cool algorithms. As you leave the University and do things in your job or talk to other people, you realize that you can apply these things to all sorts of different problems.

We talked about the ACM and the successful hackathon that they organized. Rae explains the importance of joining student clubs and how it relates to successfully interviewing for jobs. Jeromy tells me about his Github account and how it has opened up job opportunities for him. He also talks about what he is excited about doing in the future: changing the internet. In his words, “I want to make things better that people didn’t think could be better in a tangible way.”

At the time of the interview Rae is getting ready to head out for her internship with EMC Isilon in Seattle, Washington. This is her second summer working for them. We talk about the interview process and then I ask her if being a woman in a male-dominated field brings specific challenges. Rae says that in her experience so far she does not feel like she is treated any differently just because she is a woman. She goes on to say,

If you are a woman and you feel hesitant to join this field just because you are female, you should come talk to me and other women in computer science. It is not as bleak as it is sometimes painted out to be.

At the end of our chat, I ask Rae and Jeromy what advice they have for people interested in pursuing computer science. Jeromy answers, “Definitely get involved. Community is the biggest aspect of computer science. Sure you don’t need other people to ‘program,’ but if you talk with others about your ideas, it is easier to come up with something novel.”

Rae and Jeromy speak in an encouraging tone to those just starting out. Rae says,

I would say if somebody is just coming into this field in college that they should not be alarmed by students who have been doing it for a long time. It’s okay to start from whatever background; you are still going to make it. Some students think, “There are people who have been doing this for five, ten years. How can I possibly compete?” And the great thing is you don’t have to. You don’t have to compete. There is room for everybody.

Jeromy agrees, adding,

Don’t be discouraged. There is so much work to be done. Companies need every programmer they can get their hands on right now. And I don’t foresee that slowing down. The field is growing massively.

Rae and Jeromy hand over their leadership of ACM this fall. They both have one semester to graduate, and jobs after that. Rae is going to work for EMC Isilon in Seattle, Washington as a Software Development Engineer. Jeromy is going to be a Distributed Systems Engineer at Protocol Labs wherever he wants, working remotely.