My name is Shaun. I'm an assistant professor at the University of Maryland Baltimore County where I teach classes, mentor students, and conduct research.
My research involves creating new interactive technologies, which often involves writing code to make apps for mobile phones, tablets, and PCs. I study how to make computing technologies easier to use, especially for people who may experience challenges when using technology, such as people with disabilities and older adults. By making computing technologies better, I can help people find jobs, interact with other people, and live more independently.
How did you end up in your current position?
I earned my bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science at the University of Massachusetts, and then earned my PhD in information science at the University of Washington. I started working on research as an undergrad--my first research project was using computer image processing techniques to create a searchable index of George Washington's handwritten letters. I also worked on projects related to computer animation, video games, and technology for the classroom.
Outside of school, I've held a number of computing-related jobs and internships. I designed web sites for a web design firm, hunted for software bugs at Microsoft, and developed new mobile device technologies at Intel.
How did you get interested in computing?
Computers have an incredible impact on our everyday lives. We use computers for fun, work, learning, socializing, and much more. Working in computing gives me the opportunity to influence the future of technology, and to have a positive impact on people's lives.
Does your disability affect your career?
I have a physical disability that affects my limbs and made me rather short in stature. I type with one hand and use Sticky Keys to help me type. I also use adaptive driving equipment and keep a lot of step stools around the house. Luckily, I can still use a computer quite well with my disability.
What can I do while I’m in high school if I want to pursue a career in computing?
There are a number of things you can do now if you’re thinking about a career in computing. First, you should learn about the different types of work that computer scientists do. Learn about programming and the different types of programming tools. There are some great online resources for learning about programming, such as Codecademy, Khan Academy, and Udacity. However, computing isn't just about programming. You might find yourself interested computer-based art, 3D modeling and design, or computer music. See what's out there, and you might find something that really interests you.
Second, if you're interested in a computing career, you need to have strong fundamentals. Work hard in your math and physics classes. And if you're interested in computer-based design or making computers easier to use, make sure to pay attention in art class.
Finally, don't be afraid to try things. You could start a computing-related project in your spare time. I started programming simple video games before I went to college, and while my programs were extremely basic, the knowledge and confidence I gained working on these personal projects gave me a head start when I went to college to study computer science.
Although I decided to pursue an academic career, I've worked with many college students who have found high-paying jobs that they love. Some of my students have gone on to work at big technology companies such as Google and Microsoft. However, not all computing jobs involve working for big companies. Former students of mine have found computing-related jobs at creative companies like Etsy and have worked for non-profit and governmental groups like the Democratic National Committee.
A lot of young people aren't sure what they want to do in their career. It's important to keep an open mind, to try new things, and find something that you really enjoy. When learning about computing, it's important to be patient and not give up too early. Learning to write computer programs is like learning a new language or a new way of thinking. It takes time and patience, but you can do it.
Why should I study computing?
These days, many people use computers to read websites, listen to music, watch videos, and talk with people online. But computers are also powerful tools for being creative. Using your computer and free or inexpensive software, you can write stories, create art, make music, record and edit movies, and write apps or video games. Don't just think of the computer as another TV--you can use it to make something!