Students won’t learn to solve problems unless they are solving problems. I give them the tools and let them practice using them.

Edward Talmage

Playing nicely with others isn’t just for toddlers. Computers need that skill too when they are working to solve problems. Professor Edward Talmage, computer science, uses math and algorithms to figure out how to get computers to work together without confusing each other or generating bogus results.

Cloud-based systems have become commonplace as computers run into the physical limitations of performing many tasks at the same time. Talmage’s research in distributed data structures has many connections to such processes in everyday life — such as when multiple authors work on a single Google document. He looks at such questions as which user has to wait, and for how long, to make every change to the document appear in a sensible way for all users. Practical results of his research include reduced wait times, which improve the performance of the entire system.

As an undergraduate, Talmage was a computer science and mathematics double major with a particular interest in the theory side of his studies, which led him into the field of distributed computing. He’s intrigued by the process of chipping away at a hard problem to figure out how to solve it more efficiently, which he says fits well with his goal of teaching students “the beauty and the fun of problem-solving."

“Students won’t learn to solve problems unless they are solving problems,” he explains. “I give them the tools and let them practice using them.”

Talmage appreciates teaching in a liberal arts setting and working with students who have interests outside of computer science. He notes that, because the field of algorithms was largely developed at the same time as "computing machines," may people associate the term with computing. "However, an algorithm is just a specific set of steps, like a recipe," he says. "Any student in any field can benefit from studying methods of solving problems." 

Posted September 2018