With the fall semester at OSU-Cascades fully underway, the university’s newest CS professor, Yong Bakos, is hard at work in the classroom — and the community. An Ohio native, he comes to Bend via the Center of Creative Computation at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Previously he spent six years as the assistant department head of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department at Colorado School of Mines.
He’s worked as a professional software developer, and he’s also trained as a fine artist and musician. So the guy has done some awesome things, and he’s fired up to do even more. We recently met over lunch to discuss his ideas for connecting Bend’s tech employers with the university, his combined passion for art and code, and how he likes Central Oregon.
Before you came to academia, you worked with several tech companies, from startups to Apple. What drew you to teaching?
I feel lucky to have been inspired by a number of great teachers throughout my life, and I was exposed to university culture at a very young age. But what drew me to teaching was anger. I felt that what little CS education I received as an undergraduate student did not serve me well as a person or as a professional. On the one hand, perhaps the 18-year-old me just wasn’t mature enough for a rigorous CS education. On the other hand, I knew that nearly all CS programs were still delivering the same old curriculum, and that struck me as being wrong. I felt that I could improve outdated curricula by delivering courses that teach CS concepts through the craft of software development. But to be clear, I still keep one foot in the world of professional software development.
You are equally passionate about creative arts and code. How do you think these two things are related, and why is it important to cultivate creativity on the engineering side?
This relationship started early for me, as I pursued both a BS in Computer Science and a BA in Art (painting) as an undergrad. For multiple reasons, this ended in failure, but I have always embraced programming as an art. I am also very careful about what we call “software engineering.” I do believe in it, but the fact is that software engineering is the “bastard child” of engineering disciplines: while civil engineering has been around since Mesopotamia, software engineering has only existed since the late 1960s. Again, I do believe in Software Engineering as a discipline, but it’s such an abused term.
Semantics aside, software engineering is about solving problems; creativity is not just important, it’s critical. As I tell my students, “there are no more easy problems to solve.” The only problems worth solving are ones that are complex, intertwined, and chaotic; and solutions require imagination, creativity, persistence, communication, empathy, and systems thinking.
You have some great ideas for connecting OSU-Cascades with the local startup and tech community. Can you talk a bit about what those ideas are and when they may launch?
I’m so glad you asked! We all know that there is a gap between what employers want to hire, and the minimal level of professional experience of most students as they graduate from college. In software, this gap has existed for decades, yet we, as a community, continue to do very little: only a few companies have a quality on-boarding program, most students typically seek internships far too late in their college career. That’s not good enough, and we’ll never solve the problem, at a macro level, this way. Let’s end this problem now.
If all goes well, OSU-Cascades CS students are going to start their professional development during the winter quarter of their first year, resulting in OSU-Cascades graduates having 3.5 years of professional immersion and real-world technical experience. This is not a traditional internship program; I call it the Pair Programming Partnership. It follows an apprenticeship model, where students progress by “level”; has minimal friction for businesses; has tangible near-term benefits for participating businesses and development teams; and awesome long-term benefits for the community. I am currently hustling to get things organized during November, with a call-to-action in December, and an official first iteration in January 2017. (If you are a company in Bend or Redmond that employs at least one software developer, you should reach out to me now – this is going to be amazing! I want you to be a part of something special – and nationally recognized – right here in Bend.)
What are you most excited about this year?
Getting to know the people and lands of central Oregon, and the students of OSU Cascades.
You moved to Bend from Dallas. How are you liking small, mountain town life?
While I will miss both the diversity and the barbecue of Dallas, moving to Bend is a lot like coming home, especially for my wife, who grew up in a small town in western Colorado. We’re happy to be here, and grateful for being able to make positive contributions to the community.