Assistant Professor Dr. Eva Iwer traces her passion for computers to when she was just 8 years old.
“My first computer was a [Robotron] KC-85,” she recalls. “It had a 2 MHz processor and 16 KB of RAM. You needed to work with an external cassette to get any programs to run. It took hours to load a little game.”
It was on that computer that Dr. Iwer learned her first programming language, BASIC, taking her first steps toward what would become a lifelong pursuit.
After completing primary school, Dr. Iwer enrolled at Dresden University of Technology in Dresden, Germany. While there she dabbled in mathematics, chemistry, and physics, but ultimately decided to major in computer science.
“I wasn’t sure I’d fit in [in that department],” she says, “but then I did it and I loved it so much.”
Dr. Iwer completed her computer science degree at DUT and decided to stay at the college to complete her master’s and doctoral degrees. For her doctorate thesis, Dr. Iwer studied automated recommendation systems (think Netflix’s “Recommended for You” feature). Specifically, she studied how such systems could be universalized for easy adaptation on a variety of platforms.
“The project was called ‘Software on Demand 2.0,’” she says. “It was during the time of ‘Web 2.0.’ so everything needed to be ‘2.0,’” she laughs.
After earning her doctorate, Dr. Iwer decided to pursue a job in the commercial industry. “After I got my PhD, I was thinking about if I wanted to leave my academic career or stay at the university,” she says. “I always had that feeling that I knew a lot of theoretical stuff and I knew a lot of research stuff, but I didn’t know enough about the real life. I wanted to know—what are the real problems?
At Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), Dr. Iwer found the opportunity she was looking for when she hired on as an IT consultant. There, she says, she got to jump onto troubled projects as an expert and advise struggling teams.
Dr. Iwer says her experience at CSC offered a great opportunity to travel Europe and become an expert on a variety of projects. It also opened her eyes to the wide range of experiences with which new graduates come into the industry and the associated challenges of transitioning into a professional career.
“I worked with a lot of new employees, including some students who were pursuing their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. It was always really hard to bring them into the professional life and professional development, because they came from their own little nutshell,” she said. “[You would] just throw them in the water and say, ‘Okay, now it’s your turn to swim.’ … It’s hard to understand that it doesn’t work like college, that it’s totally different. And I said, ‘Hey, it’d be good to go back and try to transfer this knowledge to students.’”
After four years at CSC, Dr. Iwer decided to dive back into the realm of academics by accepting a position at DigiPen’s main campus in Washington.
DigiPen’s lengthy track record for preparing students in an industry-like academic environment definitely appealed to Dr. Iwer. “It’s really great for DigiPen,” she says. “Students really get all of the experience they need here. And they’re able to make their failures here, so they can fail and do better the next time.”
In other words, students have room to experiment and make mistakes, and flopping on a single assignment won’t spell the end of their job like it might in the industry. “That’s what I really love about DigiPen,” she says. “And the students and all the teachers are so passionate about what they’re doing. I’ve never seen that in another place.”
Like many of her students and fellow faculty members, Dr. Iwer also shares an interest in games, both electronic and traditional, and she enjoys interfacing with games and technology in unexpected ways. She describes one instance when she and her sister jury-rigged a digital version of the board game Carcassonne using an Excel spreadsheet, which the two played remotely while Dr. Iwer was in college.
“The first tab was just the map, the second tab was an overview about all the little cards, and then a friend of mine wrote a script and put it on a server,” she explains. “So I’d write an email to the server saying, ‘Send me a new card,’ and the server sent me a new card. Then I’d write to my sister, ‘I put this card over there.’ And this is how we played for over one year. It was really fun.”
When she’s not checking out new games (she cites Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Life is Strange as recent favorites) or preparing for her classes, Dr. Iwer enjoys the outdoors and soccer. “I’ve already been to a Seattle Sounders game,” she says. “I was really impressed. The stadium was quite full because [the game] was against Vancouver.”
Since beginning at DigiPen last fall, Dr. Iwer has been teaching the CS 212 (Advanced Databases) and CS 365 (Software Engineering) courses, both of which she says tie directly into her own education and work experience.
Looking toward the future, Dr. Iwer says she’s excited to teach the first user interface/user experience (UI/UX) course at DigiPen in the fall of 2016. “It’s a new course, and I think it will be awesome,” she says, noting the importance of UX/UI to a successful project. “You can have such a great game, such a great idea behind it, but if players don’t know in like seven seconds what they should do and how they should do it, no one will use it. Especially if you have a web browser game or it’s on your mobile phone — if they don’t get it, they delete it.”
DigiPen’s faculty, administrators, and students are excited to have Dr. Iwer aboard and are thrilled to add her knowledge and perspective to the DigiPen experience.