To me, “Building a Better World” means education and helping others learn. One of humanity’s greatest strengths over other species is our ability to learn and pass down knowledge to next generations of the species. Very few other species exhibit this behaviour, even if that species is quite intelligent (e.g. octopi). Education is the embodiment of this – we take the skills and experiences accumulated over our lifetime and transmit them to our children, allowing them to get to our level faster, push the boundaries of our field forward, and avoid the same issues we experienced in our lifetime.
Education does not necessarily mean standing in a lecture hall in front of a class and speaking (though I certainly would enjoy that), it can be any situation where someone asks for help and another person helps them. In my thinking, any question asked is an opportunity to learn, and the most important ability of any advanced thinker is to be able to succintly phrase and ask questions.
In action, I enjoy helping out in whatever ways I can, with two particular experiences coming to mind. First, I served as an undergraduate TA for Operating Systems last fall. OS is widely regarded as the most difficult CS class at UT, leading it to be despised by many. I love the topic, however, and I strived to express that in my discussion sections and office hours. Our professor also had brilliant lectures and educational assignments, so I felt like the only thing holding many students back was their preconceived notion of OS being a difficult class.
Secondly, I am involved in the Modded Minecraft community online. In this, I don’t develop content for many mods, rather, most of my time is spent mapping names (providing human-readable names for decompiled Minecraft code), and writing documentation. Modding is a fragile practice built on reverse-engineering a closed-source game, and many newcomers often complain about the state of documentation. I try to do the community a little good and write documentation articles, guides for implementing specific features or porting to newer versions of the game, etc. I also hang around in Discord channels, answering questions from any modders that visit. I find that these kinds of “chatroom” helpers are very educational – for instance, I once visited both Clojure and Rust IRC channels, with very beginner-level questions. However, I received warm, welcoming responses as well as full elaborated answers to my questions, which both improved my understanding as well as made me feel more welcome in the community.
In the future, I’d like to enter a formal teaching role after my time in the industry is up. Experiencing bad teachers here at UTCS has quite frankly enraged me. It’s a shame that brilliant people come to our program yet, due to bad teaching, may not reach their full potential or discover a passion for a specific branch of CS. I would like to teach either high schoolers or lower division classes at a college or university, since foundational knowledge is the most important for a good career.