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Sylvia Haas- The Coding Journey


Sylvia graduated from University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign as a Computer Science and Statistics major. Currently she works in Wolfram as a social media specialist.

This interview was originally conducted over a video conference, with me, Sylvia and Macy (another WELP participant)


Me: So, Sylvia, could you tell us a bit about your experience with coding- how did you start coding and when did you know this was for you?


Sylvia: Okay, so, I started programming probably when I was 4 years old or so. But, I think I really got into coding when I was 11. I started programming in Ruby and I really liked making things easier. So, I would code at the Cross- roads puzzle, or I would do my math homework, I would just program. It was fun. And then, I took a coding in high school, it was in C++, and it was very intensive. And I found it overwhelming. So, I again starting coding in college. So, when I was filling out the applications, and I didn't really know what I wanted to do. And there were so many options. And I saw a computer science and statistics. And I was like, that sounds really vague and I could do anything I want with it, so I don't have to pick right now and it sounds like I will get to solve puzzles. Which is one of my favourite things to do. So, that is why I study computer science- I love the logic behind programming - and the satisfaction when you run the line of code and it works makes up for all the times it doesn't work. So, yeah I have been coding for almost 20 years now.


Me: That is really awesome. You are probably one of the youngest I have ever heard to start programming.


Sylvia: Yeah, my dad was a big coding guy. So, we liked to code together.


Macy: I love that! So, how were you introduced to Wolfram and what urged you to start coding in that language?


Sylvia: So, right. I used Wolfram Alpha a lot through high school and college- because it's awesome. And then, when I started my job here, I thought I will start doing all of my things in Wolfram Language. So, I started 7 months ago, and I started by just reading the blog posts, and liked to recreate the stuff they were working on. There was one that I remember- a piano. And I thought, I wonder how hard would it be to create a virtual piano? It was not that hard! It was awesome. Mine is a 2D piano, but it is Rainbow, of course!


Me: (Laughs) So Sylvia, you were a Wolfram High School Summer Camp mentor this year. So how was your experience, and what was your favourite part of it?


Sylvia: Hanging out with you guys is always a good time! But, I think getting to work on so many different kinds of projects- being able to switch between all the stuff- I mean, my team worked on so many random projects- from 3D cellular automaton to automated crossword puzzles. It was fun having such a variety.


Macy: Definitely! Your projects were so, so cool. And so, on the topic of projects, what projects have you done in Wolfram before joining the company?


Sylvia: So, I had never programmed in Wolfram Language before I started here. So, everything has been while I was here. But yeah, I try to do everything for work in Wolfram Language. I do social media, so I would use ServiceConnect to get twitter data and make charts from that and just have it all in one notebook. And it's fun. Because if I can't figure out how something works, I can call up Christian from camp, and be like, how does this work? Having that network is definitely fun. And yeah, having poetry and machine learning is fascinating- because machine learning in Wolfram is super simple.


Me: So, just as you mentioned before, you gave a lecture at the camp on computational art. (excited) we still remember your presentation. It was all rainbow!


Sylvia: (Chuckles)


Macy: So colourful, I loved it!


Me: So, could you tell us a bit about what exactly computational art is, and then probably go on to tell us a bit about your project that you are currently working on.


Sylvia: Oh, computational humanities/ art finds its way into everything, making it very open ended. So, my computational poetry is using Markov chains to create poems that have similar statistical word probability as other poems. So, it's like smart plagiarism (eyebrow raise). I feel like, I like to be creative, but I can't come up with it myself, but like I really want to be a poet. So, I get the computer to do it for me! Using machine learning, you can learnt from art, what art is. So, I have been playing around with the musical part of the project. So, instead of putting poems into it, putting songs into it. And then having giving lyrics and trying to recreate the song. I think I showed you guys "Mary had a little Lamb". So you can put it any kind of song, and it would give you some weird stuff out, but it's catchy.


Me: Have you ever tried sending your poetry to a journal?


Sylvia: No, I think the next step would be to add in another level of machine learning that handles punctuation. So that is going to clean it up a bit more. So that is it more crisp.


Me: That sounds fun.


Macy: And so, obviously you've been coding for so long. So lastly, do you have any advice for people trying to get into coding?


Sylvia: I feel like people get overwhelmed really easily, like you might want to create the whole website or project all at once. I think, even if you are successful is achieving the smaller steps in the code, it still can be frustrating. And so, I think CS is the most fun when you can break it down into smaller steps. The Wolfram Language helps a lot because each line or code can do a huge step for you. But, yes, don' get overwhelmed, I think, that's my tip.


Macy: I'll definitely take that to heart (laughs).


Sylvia: Yeah, coding should be fun. And asking for help. Yes. There are lots and lots of people out there who know all the things, you just need to ask them.

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