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Q & A with Carol Traynor

Professor Traynor talks about jobs, computer games, and math phobia.

How did a math and French major from Ireland wind up teaching computer science in New Hampshire?
I was teaching in Ireland at a time when unemployment was so high that people were encouraged to take career breaks of up to five years. I went to teach in Malta, then the U.S. I was working as a nanny and wanted to do something intellectual so I took a few computer science courses.

Would you call yourself a math person?
I'm certainly not math phobic. It's a kind of culture in the U.S. that people tend to be afraid of math. In Europe and Asia it's not as big a deal. There's more emphasis on math in Europe and the minimum requirements are a lot higher.

How has the department changed since you arrived in 1998?
We had nearly 80 majors at the height of the dot com boom. Few students owned a computer so they came to the CS lab to do their work. Since then computer power has increased and the programs we run are a lot more sophisticated. The department has become more integrated into the college. We've created more courses for non-majors and established the minor.

Is the department growing?
In the early 00s there was a 70 percent decline nationwide in enrollment in computer science programs. Our majors dropped to 22. We have 40 now and I expect that to keep growing because so many jobs demand computer skills.

Who else is taking courses in the department?
There are almost 80 non-majors taking computer science classes. The computer forensics course draws students from several disciplines, even nursing and philosophy. It's about using computers in investigations; getting evidence, finding hidden files, recovering passwords. There are a lot of jobs out there for people with knowledge of computer forensics.

Do you talk about cybersecurity?
We talk about it a lot. A cyber-attack is one of the greatest threats to the national security-such an attack could cripple the emergency response, transportation, communication, and energy systems. Averting a cyber-attack is not just a concern for the government, since a large percentage of cyber infrastructures are owned by the private sector. As well as training more people in this area, we need to educate the general public so they're aware of the threats and can take measures to prevent them.

What should we be doing to protect our online privacy?
Take a computer science course. People need to be more savvy about having firewalls and up-to-date virus software. You need to stay current.

Are your graduates finding jobs?
All of last year's graduates are employed. Our students have excellent success in getting jobs, many even before they graduate. Local companies contact me directly when they're looking, and they like hiring our grads because they have the skills to deal with customers. We have an internship program and work closely with the career services office. Even after students graduate, I communicate with them and pass on opportunities.

Do you worry about radiation exposure from computer screens?
Oh, everything's bad for you and everything will kill you. I'm more concerned about the social implication of kids spending too much time playing video games and in chat rooms. I also worry that we'll lose historical information because the media we use to store it changes so fast. People no longer print out photos, and videos are all digital. How many people take the time to transfer their media to other forms, and how will that affect our society?

Is it hard to keep up with changes in this discipline?
It's an ever-changing field. You have to constantly update the courses because the technology changes.

Do you play any computer games?
I'm not too much of a computer game person, but Angry Birds is the one I can get into. I sometimes play solitaire to decompress.

You're married to a software engineer. How high-tech is your household?
We don't have all the high-tech gadgets, and we try to restrict our children's usage of computer games. I don't have a fancy cell phone. I still write lists on paper and I prefer to talk to people rather than text. I miss getting letters. But I do Skype my parents in Ireland. It's wonderful. And I have my iPad.

What will computer science students be doing in 10-20 years that they aren't doing now?
Imagine the impossible and that's what they'll be doing.