#CodeLikeAGirl Scholarship Winner: Whitney Mulhern
Say hello, to one of the amazing winners of our #CodeLikeAGirl Scholarship! Whitney is in her fourth year of a 5-year program studying Computer Science and Computer Engineering at NYU. Outside of school, she is an active member of NYU's chapter of the Association for Computing Machinery but also loves to dance and perform in musicals. This engineering and computer science superstar isn't taking things as they're given, but rather has her eyes set on improving the way everyone interacts with technology!
Read on to see how she became interested in computer science, how she thinks, and what she plans to do post graduation!
What would you like to reinvent?
I would like to reinvent Unix, or, at least, invent a new operating system that is the basis for most commercially used operating systems (Unix is the basis of Linux distros and Mac OS).
Why do you want to improve this? In your opinion, what is the Unix system lacking?
Well, Unix was first built in the late 1960's-early 1970's so a lot has changed in the industry since then. At that time, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie were still exploring what computers could be used for and how they could make using computers more user-friendly for people who didn't have an in-depth knowledge of how they work. So, one of the things that they weren't necessarily concerned too much about was security, which is a huge topic to explore and major concern today. There are a lot of elements of today's operating systems that aren't necessarily used or could be implemented more securely that create vulnerabilities, but we can't change them because these systems need backward compatibility. So, I would like to reinvent Unix with a greater focus on security without the restriction of maintaining backward compatibility. No system will ever be 100% secure, but we if we can build on top of a more secure starting point I think our systems, in general, would be much better off.
What or who inspired you to study computer engineering?
It was a class I took in high school called Computer Aided Design and Engineering. The first half of the year we learned how to 3D model using CAD software. The second half we played with and programmed Arduino-like microprocessors. We learned some basic circuitry to connect buttons and LEDs and then we learned a little bit of C++ programming to make them interact. Most of my friends who took that class with me also ended up studying some kind of engineering, though I am the only computer/software engineer of the group. This is why I think it's so important that high schools have at least one class, if not more, that introduce students to engineering. I don't think I would be where I am today without that class.
What was your favorite computer game growing up?
I don't think I had one favorite. My favorite type of game was always the stage based puzzle-like games like Super Mario Brothers 3 or MegaMan 2. Games that didn't necessarily have one correct way of completing the task at hand, but many ways to approach a problem where some worked better than others. I never really got tired of playing them because as soon as I beat a level, I would go back and figure out how to optimize (points, time, attacking enemies, etc). There was also leeway to explore the space. This is somewhat similar to the way that I approach programming now. I find a (usually clumsy) way to make the code work then go back and optimize or explore new behaviors. Without knowing it that sort of thinking trained me for what I do now.
What’re your plans after you graduate?
The answer to that question changes constantly because I am still figuring it out. As of now, I plan to (hopefully) work for a company that will allow me to start exploring what about systems programming I like and where I would like to focus my energy and attention in the future. After a couple years of that, I plan to go back to school and get my Ph.D. in computer science with a focus on systems. I am pretty sure I want to get my Ph.D., just not right out of college. That being said, who knows where I will end up or what I'll be doing. I just hope I am happy and love what I do.
Inspired by Whitney? Are you looking to start down a path of computer science? See more of our #CodeLikeAGirl scholarship winners now!