Photo: Jason Dorfman, CSAIL photographer
Where did you grow up: I grew up in Taylor, a small town in Arizona. Our $30,000 home came with 2 acres of weeds. Most of our neighbors had horses. We also had a wash near our home (which is like a stream, except it doesn't always have water). I would shoot many non-living things in this wash with my BB gun. Of course, at some point my uncle donated his old 8086 to my family, and that seriously decreased my out-door time.
What was your academic path before coming to grad school at MIT? I didn't apply to any colleges after high school, mainly because I didn't think I could afford to go, but also because the application process was a pain. On the other hand, my local state college offered unconditional acceptance (no essays or lists of extracurriculars), complete with a full-ride scholarship, to any senior in the top 5% of their class.
I started Arizona State University that fall, and over winter break I worked as an unpaid-intern at a local game company. As school started up in the spring, they offered me a full-time position, and I dropped out of school.
For the next 2 years, I worked as a computer game programmer. After that time, the company went out of business, and I had to decide what to do next.
I had thought that game programming would offer a stream of interesting new problems (as games are often on the "cutting edge" of technology), but game companies are also motivated by profit, and tackling new problems is not always profitable.
I decided that I wanted to do research, which required a PhD. I was concerned about the cost, but a friend told me that engineering graduate programs pay their students. I had also developed the impression over my life that MIT would be an extraordinarily neat place to study, so I decided to try.
I re-entered ASU in the fall, intent on graduating and applying to MIT. I told my professors about my goals, and they were very supportive. I got multiple offers to do undergraduate research, and my advisors gave me pointers about what graduate schools would care about, e.g., good grades, research experience, letters of recommendation, and a publication would be great. They also mentioned the GRE, but I learned that the EECS department at MIT did not accept the GRE, so I didn't invest much time in it.
I ended up applying to four schools, and the application process consumed more time than some of my classes. But in the spring, MIT accepted me, and I felt the largest sense of relief I have ever felt.
What department are you currently working in, and when did you start there? I started in the User Interface Design group under Rob Miller in the fall of 2005, and I am in EECS.
What are you working on and why are you passionate about it? I am trying to compile ad-hoc syntactically impure statements such as `print hello world' into statements the computer can understand, like `printf("hello world");'. I believe this ability will make some programming tasks easier, especially tasks involving an unfamiliar language and API.
My interest in this topic stems from my own use of programming as a tool to explore ideas. Some ideas are still cumbersome to explain to a computer, even with modern scripting languages, so I am interested in this research as a tool to help myself and others like me explain our ideas to the computer more easily.
What are your future plans? I would like to understand consciousness, and build a computer capable of housing it.