Harvard ‘Rock Star’ Professor Returns to Alma Mater

’Wick alumnus David Malan ’95 — Gordon McKay Professor of the Practice of Computer Science at the Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — returned to his high-school alma mater to discuss the value of computer science with Upper School students on Thursday, February 7.
 
Sunil Gupta, Chair of Brunswick’s Computer Science Department, introduced Malan to Upper Schoolers as a true “rock star” in the discipline. Having received his A.B., S.M., and Ph.D. in Computer Science each from Harvard, Malan now teaches the College’s largest course, Computer Science 50 (CS50), and edX’s largest course, CS50x. 
 
Worldwide, since 2012, more than one million students have registered for CS50, the course material for which Harvard now makes available for free online.
 
During his time at Brunswick, Malan recalled, he never voluntarily set foot in a computer room, only peering through the slice of glass to see his “geekier” friends with their heads buried in code or their eyes glued to the screen. 
 
Not until his sophomore year at Harvard did he gather the nerve to take an introductory computer science course. 
 
And he was forever hooked. 
 
“Computer science is about far more than just programming,” Malan said. “It’s about problem solving and collaboration.
 
“It has helped me approach problems — whether in the real world or the virtual world — much more methodically and in a way that has allowed me to explain myself to someone else all the more effectively.”
 
And, as Malan described, the interconnectedness and applicability of computer science reaches into medicine, the arts and humanities, and the sciences — providing concepts and practical skills that people can apply to their own worlds. 
 
Beyond his interactive, fast-paced presentation offering an inside look at his introductory course at Harvard, Malan left his engaged audience with some lasting advice. 
 
“I’d encourage you, ultimately, to explore something that is currently very unfamiliar to you,” he said. “One of the biggest mistakes I made at Brunswick was staying in my comfort zone and going with the flow — and doing what was expected of most students.
 
“I didn’t really push the envelope and try to find something that was really of personal interest to me and something I was passionate about.
 
“Don’t do what I did,” he advised. “There should be no door on this campus that behind which is some course or some field that’s not for you.”
 
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