Monday, January 3, 2011

Whitworth computer science, mathematics major selected for Microsoft internship

Last summer, David Jackson, '11, completed a 12-week paid summer internship for Microsoft in his hometown of Redmond, Wash., where he worked as a software development engineer.

Jackson's internship was designed to provide an experience similar to that of a Microsoft employee. His position including ensuring the quality of the company's products by finding and eliminating software bugs.

"I really enjoyed being able to work in an industry setting and apply what I had learned in school," Jackson says. "My coach challenged me in setting my objectives. I think the most educational thing I learned wasn't about computer science, but rather how to work with a team, in areas such as asking people for help and objective management."

Jackson first heard about the internship from Pete Tucker, associate professor of mathematics and computer science and chair of the department. A former Microsoft employee, Tucker encouraged his students to apply for the position.

Working with 10 other testers, Jackson performed manual testing and automated existing test cases, which are used to make sure new versions of software meet quality standards. He was able to work closely with the developers and project managers of the products he was testing.

"David is a hard working, detail-oriented individual who works hard to make sure that whatever he creates functions correctly," says Kent Jones, a professor of mathematics and computer science at Whitworth. "He likes tackling hard problems."

Jones says that in his computer architecture class, Jackson and his project partner, 2009 alum Anders Erickson, gave their final class presentation with a program that was running on a computer system of their own design. This computer system consisted of a microprocessor running on a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA). Besides designing the logic for the microprocessor, they implemented a keyboard scanner, character generator, and Video driver, also running in the FPGA.

Jones says that Jackson has also participated in local and regional programming competitions, where he has helped his team achieve very respectable performances. Such competitions include the 2009 Spokane Intercollegiate Research Conference. Sponsored by Pete Tucker, Jackson gave a presentation entitled, "Query Operator Scheduling in Data Stream Management Systems with Genetic Algorithms" at that conference.

"Data streams are data that come rapidly and from heterogeneous sources, so traditional approaches don't work," Jackson explains. "My research was an attempt to optimize the scheduling of operators in data stream management systems, which are programs designed to handle data streams."

The result of his research was WhitStream, a system designed to handle a fast stream of non-terminating data. WhitStream processes large amounts of continuously incoming information, which can't be done with traditional methods.

Last November, Jackson was one-third of a team representing Whitworth at the 34th annual Association for Computing Machinery Regional Computer Programming Contest. Jackson, 2010 alum Josh Simmons, and senior Timothy Bull finished 18th out of 80 teams from the Western U.S.
Jackson serves as an officer for the Association of Computing Machinery Club, an organization of computing professionals and students. He has also served as a teaching assistant for various computer science classes.

"All of my computer science professors have been really influential in my education," Jackson says. "They assign difficult projects, but are willing to answer questions if you show that you've done work yourself."

After graduating in May, Jackson plans to accept a job from Microsoft in a position similar to his internship. Eventually, he hopes to pursue a career in game development.

Located in Spokane, Wash., Whitworth is a private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The university, which has an enrollment of nearly 3,000 students, offers 60 undergraduate and graduate degree programs.