Ever since he read a book from his dad about creating a text-only Star Trek game, John Calsbeek thought it would be cool to develop video games. Today, thanks to his computer science major at Northwestern and his graduate studies in game development at DigiPen Institute of Technology, he’s doing just that. John was part of Northwestern teams that participated in the world finals of the Association for Computing Machinery Intercollegiate Programming Contests in Sweden and China in 2009 and 2010. He also brings a well-rounded liberal arts education—including a minor in English literature and completion of Northwestern’s Honors Program—to his game.
How well did Northwestern prepare you for your career?
I can’t name a computer science course I took that hasn’t been useful in some way in the workplace, but I’m most thankful for the opportunities I had to fail. I was encouraged to run with things I was excited about. The ones that didn’t cross the finish line are the ones I now remember the most and that keep my crazy ideas in line.
What from your Northwestern education has most helped you in your job?
The fundamentals of computer science, which I was first exposed to in the Data Structures and Computer Organization classes, are inescapable in high-performance software. Also, project-oriented classes that required the use of source control were very valuable.
As you look back on your time at Northwestern, what do you feel you gained the most from your NWC experience?
Serving as a tutor for other students was one of the most educational experiences I could have asked for. Now I don’t consider a concept actually understood unless I can explain it clearly and simply. Trying to teach something forces you to reevaluate the concept again, and usually you come to a better understanding of it.
What did you most appreciate about the computer science department?
The amazingly supportive professors—they were instructors, mentors, and surpassingly friendly. I think the true strength of Northwestern is the strength of its professors.
In what ways did your computer science studies at Northwestern challenge and strengthen your faith?
I've been taught to think about the responsibility a computer programmer has toward the world. As more and more processes become automated without direct human supervision, programmers need to be aware of the effects of the code they write—on other humans, on the world and on creation.
What are some of your favorite memories from NWC?
Living in West Hall was one of the most formative experiences of my life, but if I had to pick a single moment it would be the A cappella Choir’s tour to the Czech Republic, Austria and Poland—the churches, the fellow choir members, the fellowship, the acoustics and the songs.
What do you enjoy about your current job?
It satisfies my number one criteria for a job: that I am surrounded by people who are smarter than me. It is wonderfully challenging and lets me work on a huge variety of different things—high-performance code, work-saving tools, automated building and testing, and 3D graphics.