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Computer Science Senior Max Reeser Explores the Math and History Behind the Code

by Jeremy Harper
10.22.2017

Senior computer science major Max Reeser says he arrived on the LSU campus with his sights set on material science via the field of mechanical engineering — until his first encounter with computer programming set him on a new path.

“I took a coding class freshman year and I just enjoyed it so much that I decided that I’d rather do that probably than the very physics-intensive work of mechanical engineering,” he says.

The southwest Louisiana native changed his major after his second semester and never looked back. Today he’s focusing on data science and analytics, conducting research with LSU professors and preparing to graduate in May 2018.

“I’m very interested in looking at data to find meaningful results,” he says.

Difficult but Rewarding

Reeser says the class that hooked him on computer science was Introduction to C++, taught by instructor Dennis Castleberry. “He was just very passionate about programming and very knowledgable about it,” Reeser says. “He made it really fun. I had been using computers forever, but being able to learn how to control one is pretty cool.”

Reeser says programming came naturally to him, which made the learning curve behind switching his major to computer science a manageable one. He didn’t stop with coding, though; Reeser is also wrapping up a minor in math to help bolster his understanding of the foundations of computer science.

“Sometimes I ask myself why I’m doing this, because math is very hard, but it’s also very rewarding,” he says.

Despite those occasional challenges, Reeser says he recommends that high-school or new college students interested in the field focus on improving their math skills. “There are a lot of different things [in math] that I wish I’d studied more intently in high school, because if you do some kind of computer science or engineering it’s going to pay dividends,” he says.

Digging into the Mathematical Foundations

This year Reeser is taking his math-related studies to the next level through research into the mathematical underpinnings of computer science, as well as looking at the inner workings of a key software tool used by a high-performance computing group at LSU. His work is exploring how different mathematical concepts map onto what is actually happening when computers are used.

“When you look at people who started computer science — people like Alan Turing — they were all mathematicians,” he says. “So there’s a very clear historical connection there in math being very integral to understanding what programming is.”

Last year, his research project focused on parallelizing computations, specifically comparing a long-running industry tool with a cutting-edge software utility used by LSU’s Systems Technology, Emergent Parallelism, and Algorithm Research (STE||AR) Group — a collection of faculty, researchers, and students working at the Center for Computation & Technology.

Travels Abroad

Despite his heavy studies, Reeser has taken time to travel to the Czech Republic several times, both with his church and through a study abroad program in which he took multiple computer science courses. He says the trips allowed him to get a taste of big-city life, meet people from across Europe, and study a new language.

Now in the final stretch of his undergraduate career, Reeser has ramped up his search for a job in the technology and computer science fields, with a handful of interviews scheduled in the coming weeks and months. While his specialization remains data science and analytics, he says he’s not necessarily limiting himself to that field in his search.

“I’m definitely interested in doing something specifically with that, but at the same time I don’t know if I’d even enjoy it,” he says. “So I’m interested in shopping around and seeing what I’d like to do long term.”

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