Juniors create software programming club

A new student club is hoping to one day improve how students access online college resources on their computers and mobile devices. Created by Jayce Rudig-Leathers ’16 and Tim Brown ’16, the organization VC++ launched as a collaborative community for student programmers or anyone else interested in software or mobile app development.

The name VC++ derives from a code pun. If “VC” were a variable in a program, then “VC++” would mean “VC plus 1” or “VC increased.” At the same time, however, the joke is an earnest statement of the club’s wider goals: to enhance the everyday lives of Vassar students through software and app development.

“We are bringing together the people who can build things with the people who have ideas to build things,” said co-founder Rudig-Leathers. Although not even a semester-old, the club has been attracting an average turnout of 25 to 30 students to their weekly meetings.

The seeds of VC++ arrived to Poughkeepsie from more than 4,000 miles away in Budapest. Both computer science majors, Rudig-Leathers and Brown spent the Fall 2014 semester in the Hungarian capital with the Aquincum Institute of Technology.

Rudig-Leathers described the program as a departure from what he was familiar with at Vassar. “A lot of the classes are focused on more practical aspects of computer science,” he said. “As opposed to the Vassar CS department, which is maybe a little bit more theoretical, more liberal arts and geared more towards getting you into a grad school than professional development.”

Meanwhile, Brown described how, in conversations with his Budapest classmates, he began hearing more and more about the different programming clubs offered at other American colleges. He felt that the time was right for Vassar students to organize a community of their own. “People have done independent studies of mobile app development through the Computer Science department, but there’s never been an extracurricular club dedicated to exploring this topic,” wrote Brown.

Rudig-Leathers and Brown held VC++’s first meeting in January. Although the club’s participants are mostly computer science majors, no prior knowledge or experience in programming is required to join. Rudig-Leathers described education as one of the main pillars of VC++. They will be holding a basic crash course this Sunday on the programming language Java.

Urban studies and Chinese double major Joey More ’17, got involved with VC++ through sheer happenstance: He was working on homework in the Retreat when he heard Rudig-Leathers and Brown in some early discussions about VC++.

“I only overheard snippets of the conversation, but it caught my interest,” wrote More in an email. “As soon as they were wrapping up their conversation, I leaned over and asked them if they were starting a programming org…I ended up as the first one on their mailing list!” More had taken the introductory computer science class as a freshman. He described VC++ as an occasionally challenging but always-supportive work environment.  “There have been a few moments when talking about things that most people have learned in CS classes that I’ve felt a bit out of place, but everyone has been very welcoming and willing to explain, so I have no doubt that I’ll be able to catch up,” wrote More.

Rudig-Leathers would like to see VC++ one day tackle the College’s labyrinthine AskBanner website. Students depend on the system on everything from registering for courses to getting their paychecks on time. But according to Rudig-Leathers, “A lot of those web apps that Vassar students use all the time that are really sort of un-user-friendly.Have you ever tried to fill out a time sheet on your phone?” he asked. “It’s hellish.”

But any work involving AskBanner is tentative, requiring partnering with the College. VC++ did say, however, that they could see themselves working with different student organizations to enhance their website or with an individual who came to them with an exciting idea for an app.

Brown emphasized the necessity of collaboration in any programming job. Members of VC++ often split up into several different small groups, each tacking a different aspect of a large-scale project. “The vast majority of programming that happens in the industry is done in small teams. Since most of our computer science coursework is assigned to be done individually, we’re trying to give people a taste of what programming ‘in the real world’ is like.”

Whenever topic of mobile apps do make the news, it’s most often in the case of a multi-million dollar acquisition by a major tech company. The founders of VC++ say they don’t share the same Silicon Valley philosophy where final objective is always monetization. “I don’t want to be the founder of snapchat on my gravestone—that’s all I did with my life,” said Rudig-Leathers. “Personally, to me it’s important to work on something that I care about.”

He would like to see VC++ pursue projects that help the majority of Vassar students, adding, “Even if it’s not helping every single Vassar student, if they’re making it just to make something, they’re building for fun that’s still in the scope of the club.”

VC++ holds weekly tutorials meetings designed in large part for newcomers on Wednesdays 10:00 pm in Sanders Physics 309. A second meeting, meanwhile, is held every Sunday 1:00 pm in the Sanders Physics computer lab for more seasoned programmers. 

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