MITRE Internship Combines Art and Computer Science

December 2016
Uyen Uong
Uyen Uong

Combining an interest in art with an interest in computer science isn't something seen often. Uyen Uong, a summer intern at MITRE, found ways to use her artistic background on the projects she works on for data visualization and analysis.

Uong is a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, where she's double-majoring in electronic arts and computer science. "Working on visualizations is really helpful because I'm not just doing programming—I'm also able to design the user interface and decide what it will look like," she says. "There's an artistic aspect there, which I really appreciate, and it combines both of the subjects I study at school."

Designing and Programming Helps Data Interpretation

Uong primarily works on creating visualizations that take data and present it in a way that can help the user make decisions. "Say you have a scatterplot of data points," she says. "And you want to select a specific cluster of data points and turn it into a box plot so you can analyze it further. It helps the user understand what's happening."

Another aspect of her project involved alternating values within the data presentation. For example, if someone wants to minimize resource usage and cost, they can make alternative data values for certain resources to see the effects of decreased use.

But other variables may change. "You want to figure out which combinations will help achieve your goal. In this case, it's what resource value combinations will help minimize overall costs," Uong says. Allowing the user to see the data relationships can help them understand the situation in more detail and make better-informed choices.

To achieve the visualizations that she wants, Uong writes the programming for them herself. "I can decide what they should look like, the colors needed to convey certain information, the necessary transitions. Then I design it and program those things to happen."

Uong also notes that she didn't have any specific restrictions on how to do her project. "Sometimes my managers would say they want a particular feature, or they want it to be able to perform a specific action. After I program that, it's up to me to design it and determine the best way to communicate the information to the user."

Bringing Artistic Interest to a Technical Environment

Uong's artistic background started when she was very young. Once in school, she took basic elementary school art classes and continued to pursue studio art throughout high school. "I have a very in-depth background with drawing and painting," she says. "I've always been interested in art."

She's also inclined toward animation, especially 3-D animation. Programmers often make tools to automate processes that make 3-D animating faster and easier. "I think working on something like that for animation is a great way to tie art and computer science together. It's a perfect way to use both of my skillsets."

Uong also appreciates the consideration her managers gave to her interests. "They definitely tailored my work to my skills," she says. "They understand that I'm both an artist and a growing computer scientist, and they made sure I could use both of those skills in my work."

—by Emily Ready

Editor's note: Emily Ready is a student at the University of South Carolina. She wrote this article while an intern in MITRE's Corporate Communications & Public Affairs division during summer 2016.

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