David Joyner

(CS 08, MS HCI 09, Ph.D. HCC 15)

Executive Director for Online Education and OMSCS

What were the circumstances of your coming to work at the College of Computing?

Toward the end of my Ph.D., the College partnered with Udacity to develop the OMSCS program. My Ph.D. adviser, Ashok Goel, was interested in creating a course for it, and Udacity hired me to work with him on the course. In the process, I discovered I thoroughly loved teaching online, and so when I had the opportunity, I jumped back over to the College of Computing to continue working in the area.

Prior to this, had you ever thought about coming back to work at GT Computing?

Honestly, I can’t say I’ve ever had much of a long-term plan. When I joined Udacity to work on the OMSCS program, I expected to work on it for a year while finishing my Ph.D. and then move on to whatever was next. I never considered staying at Georgia Tech after graduation, but I didn’t have an alternative plan either, really!

What’s one of your favorite memories from your time as a student?

In my first semester as an undergraduate, I took CS1100 with Charles Isbell, which was sort of an introduction to computer science seminar course more about the field as a whole than any particular topic. I distinctly remember the day he beautifully introduced us to the halting problem and P vs. NP; for me, it was the day when computer science ceased to be just about programming and became about something more deeply fundamental. The memory is probably also reinforced by how much we’ve intermingled since then, leading up to the publication of a book together this year—it’s amazing to think back on where that experience led.

How has the College changed since you were a student?

The obvious answer, especially from my role, is the college’s embrace of online learning over the past several years; between OMSCS and our online undergraduate classes, we have gone from having essentially no online offerings in the College of Computing eight years ago to having over 12,000 online students this semester alone. But I think to a broader degree, it’s remarkable the extent to which the college hasn’t changed in that time: our embrace of online options is just the latest in a long line of experiments in new and novel ways to teach computing. I was the second graduate under the Threads curriculum, and it’s remarkable to me how Threads and our online developments (not to mention Computational Media, the CSE programs, and so much else) mirror the same underlying philosophy: a willingness to question and experiment on the most fundamental assumptions about teaching and learning computer science.

How is the College of Computing different from similar organizations?

What I think is most remarkable about Georgia Tech is the ease with which we collaborate across departments, across schools, across colleges, and across the institute as a whole. I’ve worked with other schools where it was more difficult for them to collaborate within their own university than it was for them to collaborate with us, and it’s remarkable the ease with which faculty around campus collaborate with one another. For computing in particular, I think that’s part of what makes Georgia Tech so influential in the field: computing now touches everything, and Georgia Tech’s culture of collaboration has made it uniquely suited to applying computing to new arenas.

What do you carry with you from your time as a student that still informs/influences your personal/professional life?

I think that willingness to question fundamental underlying assumptions has been key to what I’ve ended up pursuing in life, and it’s part of why I’m so happy to be at Georgia Tech. Too often I find that outside this culture, there are things that are best left unquestioned, whether they be because they are part of the organization’s status quo or because they are handed down by the leadership. I don’t see that at work here; I see a willingness to question everything—but with that comes the obligation to question it thoughtfully, deliberately, and authentically.

How would you like to see the college grow in the next decade?

Increasing our reach online is an obvious area, but even more important is the college’s influence in the other areas where computing is becoming more and more prevalent. City-planning, environmental science, technology policy, and so on are all areas that the College of Computing is uniquely suited to guide over the next decade.