claudia-mini editClaudia Mini’s passion for technology was sparked by watching her aunt play Nintendo NES, although it was not until college that she decided to pursue it as a career. Now an Oregon State computer science student, Mini has found a way to combine her creative side with computer science.

Of those early days hanging out with her aunt, Mini said, “I just loved watching her play and would root for her, but when I would play I’d always lose.” Not deterred, she later became the computer expert of the household she shared with her grandmother, mother and aunt, who were originally from Nicaragua.

In third grade, Mini won a computer in a raffle which gave her the chance to start exploring all the possibilities that computers offered. But she didn’t try programming beyond learning enough html to improve her Myspace page. In a high school class on Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, Mini’s teacher noticed she liked to help others out and asked her to be a be a teaching assistant in a computer science class. So, although she never took a programming class in high school she had the opportunity to learn more about all the options computer science had to offer through the class she assisted with.

“I thought it was just really cool that there was so much versatility, and you could show your creativity through computer science,” she said.

But Mini had planned to follow in the footsteps of her mother and aunt who were both in medical professions. She applied to Oregon State as a pharmacy major, but switched her major before taking classes when she realized that she fit better into computer science.

“I feel like when you’re in the right major you definitely know it because you’re surrounded by people that have the same common interests as you, and you get along with them,” she said.

To get through her first year of computer science courses, Mini said she was at her teaching assistant’s office hours every day. The strategy not only helped her to be successful, but she also made a close friend.

“She helped me so much, because it was intimidating at first and she helped me get through it. She is definitely my mentor,” Mini said of Sneha Krishna.

Mini not only mastered the material, but she started teaching it herself when she became a teaching assistant the following year for the introductory classes. “I really like seeing the progress in the students. At the beginning I was explaining to people what a function was, and by the end they were learning linked lists,” she said, beaming with pride.

Although she enjoyed computer science, Mini initially didn’t have a plan for her career until she discovered she could combine computer science with psychology, and pursue a career in human-computer interaction (HCI).

“I really like to communicate with people and make software that’s helpful to people, and HCI involves a lot of talking with the user to find out what they want incorporated into the product,” Mini said.

Mini has quickly grown from a nervous freshman learning to code for the first time to a leader for her peers. In addition to being a teaching assistant she serves on the board of the OSU ACM Club as the secretary. She has also gotten much better at computer games, but she still likes to watch others play and root them on.

Story by Rachel Robertson

The first peer-reviewed paper Christopher Scaffidi wrote 10 years ago has just been named the Most Influential Paper at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing, (VL/HCC) in Melbourne, Australia, July 28-Aug 1.

Chris Scaffidi and Brad Meyers accept award.
Chris Scaffidi (center) and Brad Meyers (left) accept the Most Influential Paper award.

“It’s surprising because my first attempt at something usually isn’t my best …but this paper won the award because it helps to establish the scope of impact for a research area,” said Scaffidi, assistant professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Oregon State University.

The research area the paper impacts is end-user programming — a type of programming such as website or spreadsheet authoring that is performed by people who are not trained programmers. The 2005 paper, “Estimating the Number of End-Users and End-User Programmers,” predicted that 90 million end users would be in American workplaces by 2012, and that 55 million of those would potentially be programming spreadsheets and databases. They also predicted that 13 million end users would describe themselves as programmers, which far exceeds an estimated 3 million professional programmers.

“Those were astonishing numbers, which, along with the detailed analyses presented in the paper, has resulted in this paper being highly cited, and highly influential in getting more researchers to focus on this class of programmers, which generally has received little attention,” said Brad Meyers, Scaffidi’s co-author and professor at Carnegie Mellon University.

Scaffidi started the research as a first-year graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University with his other co-author and advisor, Mary Shaw, when he became intrigued by an often cited, but unsupported estimate of the number of end-user programmers.

Beyond estimating the number of end-user programmers, Scaffidi made predictions based on his method and validated the results with real data from 2001 and 2003.

Scaffidi said the importance of the paper is that is highlights an area of research that is becoming more critical in our society. The research aims to make end-user programming easier and more accessible to a broader range of people.

“I really think end-user programming is absolutely essential for the health of a middle class workforce. There are lots of jobs which are being automated away and being given to intelligent software or robots, and end-user programming gives people a way to be more secure in their jobs — they are the automators, not the automated,” Scaffidi said.

–by Rachel Robertson