Get With the Program

Mark Liu (12) carefully tests out the robot he has just programmed, manipulating its movements and gestures. He uses programming to bring things to life, controlling what they do through numbers and codes.
“I started programming freshman year when I joined Robotics Club,” Liu said. “It wasn’t too difficult to learn, but took a lot of time and practice.”
As president of Robotics Club, Liu uses programming to enable the robot pick up objects, move in specific directions and even stack objects based on color recognition.
Kevin Jiang (10) has had three years of programming experience but, unlike Liu, creates games and programs to help him with classes, like programming his calculator for specific functions in math.
“Programming’s fun because you can customize what you make, so you can make games and do whatever you want to them,” Jiang said. “You’re fully in control.”
Programming code is like a language for computers to read as a set of instructions, with different words representing different commands for the computer to carry out.
June Clarke, a freelance programmer and programming teacher at Wintriss Technical Schools, says the possibilities of programming are most appealing.
“You start out with nothing, and then create something that’s totally different and new,” Clarke said. “It’s like art, but with computers and technology. You make things people use.”
Clarke said she chose programming as a career because she had experience and thought it would be easy, but said that assumption was “very wrong.”
“Learning programming is not very difficult at first, but as you go there are more complicated algorithms and codes that can be difficult,” Clarke said. “I did not expect that going into college.”
Although Liu is not interested in a full-time programming career like Clarke’s, Jiang hopes to major in computer science and find a job in programming.
“I just started with taking classes [in programming] because I liked toying with computers, and it was really fun,” Jiang said. “It was one of the reasons I became interested in a programming job.”
Jiang hopes to follow a path similar to that of Mark Vismonte (‘09), who will work for Facebook starting in August, following his March graduation from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He has interned at Sony, Google and Yelp.
“I took AP Computer Science in my junior year at TPHS, and the teacher encouraged me to join Botball, which was a great experience,” Vismonte said. “With programming, you can just sit at a computer for a few hours and make something happen.”
Vismonte has worked on building the iPhone application for the UCLA library catalog. Like Jiang, he finds ways to make programming useful in his everyday life, including writing a program that sends him a text message when certain class registrations open.
As artists do with paints, programmers manipulate codes and programming languages to create just about anything. However, they also have to pay attention to the meticulous details of programs in order to preserve the quality of the final work.
“Working in programming can be frustrating because it’s easy to mess up and make mistakes,” Clarke said. “It really teaches you to be careful with your work.”
However, Clarke says that a finished program is worth the hard work. Liu agrees, and said that watching a robot he programmed pick up objects and maneuver itself is one of his most satisfying experiences.
Whether for creating games and apps or bringing a mechanical robot to life, students like Liu and Jiang and programmers in the workforce like Vismonte and Clarke use programming like artwork to create their own masterpieces.

By Anna Li