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How LSU’s Jacob Hinton Is Living Computer Science Inside and Outside of the Classroom

by Caroline Kaufman
2.13.2017

Jacob Hinton’s affinity for computers started early, and the subject seemed to click with him more than other topics he was learning in school.

“I always thought I kind of got it more than the people around me,” he says. “My mom did a lot of office work, so we always had a computer at home, and she encouraged me to learn on it.”

Originally from Lake Charles, Hinton is now a junior at LSU and is pursuing a degree in computer science with a focus on software engineering and a minor in math. He says LSU offered three things he was looking for in a school: It has a good computer science program, it’s relatively close to home and a financial aid package made it affordable. “I really like the department and the professors here, who have been very helpful to me,” he says. “It’s not only a good school, but they give you the ability to get through the good school.”

We recently spoke to him about his experiences as an LSU computer science student and his plans for the future.

Learning Real-World Skills as a Professor’s Assistant

Hinton understudied in summer 2016 with associate professor Clint Whaley for class credit, an experience that he says turned into a job for him beginning in the fall.

He works under Whaley, writing and updating a software library called ATLAS (Automatically Tuned Linear Algebra Software) that Whaley first wrote in the 1990s. The software library is designed to perform linear algebra as quickly as possible on a given machine’s hardware. It has been updated over the years, and Hinton assists Whaley in writing programs to future-proof the library and in helping him research how to update it.

“It’s helped me immensely,” Hinton says. “The computer science work you do in school versus what you do at work can be different. The kind of work I want to do is actually going to be used by people, and that changes how you approach your design.”

Passing Along His Skills

Even before he was working with a teacher, Hinton played the role of teacher. In 2015 he taught computer science to youths 9 to 16 in a summer program run by the organization iD Tech, which hires computer science undergraduates to teach technology skills to kids at summer camps across the U.S.

The young teachers taught Java or C++ to the program’s older participants, and used video games to relate programming to the younger kids, Hinton says.

He says a valuable skill in computer science is the ability to explain its concepts to lay people. Heavy use of jargon can make it difficult to explain things to people from outside the field, but “not only was I explaining it to an average person, but to kids,” he says. “It helped me with how to communicate in a work environment and to outside people.”

Looking Toward Graduation and Beyond

Hinton says he hasn’t decided exactly what he wants to do when he graduates in May 2018, but he’s leaning toward consumer software development. He also has considered the possibility of seeking a master’s degree, he says.

Hinton has an internship lined up for this summer with Bentley Systems, a software developer that focuses on infrastructure. He will intern in Bentley’s office near New Orleans that is geared toward designing software to manage oil rigs. The internship will tie into both his past experience and what he wants to do in the future, he says.

And he says he’s looking forward to his upcoming computer science classes to provide more depth and nitty-gritty details of how operating systems work, how they interact with hardware and how they manage programs. “There’s so much about computers that we take for granted,” he says. “It’s amazing that it even works every time you turn it on.”

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