Meet Jacob Van Geffen, Class of 2018

Jacob Van Geffen

Jacob Van Geffen started coding early. He loved the feeling of creating something from scratch.  Before he came to The University of Texas at Austin, he knew that he wanted others to be able to experience that feeling as well. He was passionate about making programming easier and more accessible for all people.

“I wasn't really sure how I would accomplish that goal,” he said. “Luckily, through UT's great community, I found two ways I could start: research and volunteering."

Geffen was accepted into the Turing Scholars, an honors program for undergrads in computer science at the College of Natural Sciences. The program focuses on building community for students through small class sizes and mentoring. 

Through the support of this community, Geffen has built an impressive résumé. He is graduating with a double major in math and computer science with honors with 3.97 GPA. He has published an academic paper; landed internships at Google, Airbnb and Lockheed Martin; and served for three years as the director of Kids Who Code, a UT student organization that sends volunteers to low-income middle schools to teach weekly interactive computer science lessons.

We spoke with Geffen about the impact of college on his life and his plans after graduation.

Q. Why did you decide to come to UT?

Jacob Van Geffen: There's a lot that can be said about the greatness of UTCS and UT Austin as a whole, but ultimately, I decided to come for one reason: the community. Everyone is excited to work with others on building amazing things, whether in the classroom or in cutting-edge research. This common goal has stuck with me throughout my undergraduate career, and it's why I've enjoyed my four years so much.

Q. What is your favorite college memory? 

Van Geffen: After the final for my Quantum Computing class, I decided to stick around and see if the professor and TAs wanted to grab lunch. The professor for this class, by the way, is by far the most well-known quantum computing researcher in the field. He had just left his job at MIT for UT that semester. At lunch, I asked him why he decided to come. He said, "Isn't it obvious? The people at UT are amazing!" Hearing that made me feel so proud to be a student at UT, and I'll definitely never forget it.

Q. What are your plans after graduation?

Van Geffen: After graduation, I'll begin pursuing a computer science Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Seattle. At UW, I plan to work on program synthesis, a field that studies how to automatically generate computer programs.

Q. What resources support did you find on campus that helped you most?

Van Geffen: For me, the most important and impactful resources on campus were the caring people around me.

From professors to graduate students to fellow computer science majors, everyone understands that pushing for your goals can be both rewarding and stressful. 

Q. What do you hope will be your mark on the world after graduation?

Van Geffen: I think being able to create something and call it your own is empowering. I want to enable that in other people. With Kids Who Code, I got to teach middle schoolers about computer science and programming every Friday, and you wouldn't believe how quickly they pick it up. Our lesson topics range from basic programming to robotics to cryptography, all focusing heavily on engaging students in exciting challenges.

I hope that people won't think of computer science as some wizardry that takes years to understand. It's quite the opposite. Anyone who wants to should get involved.