Will Cobb ’18: Discovering Opportunities

Will Cobb ’18 first began experimenting with computer programming in the third grade, when he started learning to code and ended up making his own computer games. While still in high school, he began working on an app with a friend who was attending Rhodes at the time. Requiring funding to complete the project, they approached the college for help, and the administration agreed to pay for everything they needed. When he saw how encouraging the school was, he began considering Rhodes in his own college search. Says Cobb, “I thought it seemed like a great place to explore opportunities.”

Exploring opportunities is exactly what Cobb has done since coming to Rhodes. When he had difficulty distinguishing between all the Gothic buildings in his first days on campus, he created an app that used his cell phone’s location services and compass to help him navigate. Tapping into the skills Cobb gained through this project helped him land a work-study job that turned into a Rhodes Student Associate position in the college’s Crossroads to Freedom project. In his work at Crossroads, Cobb created an app that identifies and gives the history of the buildings on Beale Street in Downtown Memphis.

Cobb continues to discover opportunities through Rhodes, including computer science events and competitions. He was a member of the winning team in the prestigious ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest that was held on campus in spring 2016, and was on the team that took Best in Show in Rhodes’ first hackathon, RhodesHacks 0. Cobb has also continued to create apps, with his most recent being GoRadar, an app that helped PokémonGo players find the exact location of Pokémon around the world.  Upon its release, the app quickly began trending in the Apple App Store, gaining more than 1,000 reviews and 4-and-a-half stars.

Because of its well-rounded curriculum and foundation requirements, Rhodes has offered Cobb a computer science experience that is hard to find elsewhere. Says Cobb, “When I got here I saw how valuable the liberal arts are. I saw that understanding other things and other cultures and works of art makes you understand people a lot better. I love how discussion- and literature-based classes at Rhodes are.”

He also sees similarities between the field of computer science and the humanities, relating computer programming to writing essays. “Computer science all boils down to using logic to solve problems. When I’m writing an essay, I start with a problem and use body paragraphs to solve it in a philosophical way,” Cobb explains. He notes that critical thinking is a key part of finding success in the field, and that a liberal arts perspective helps in that way. “It’s not enough just to know about computer science code; you have to know how to use it and how to put it together. If you know that, you can create great programs. In the same way, you create great essays. I think computer science is more of an art than a science.”

Noting the practical benefits of a liberal arts curriculum, Cobb continues, “Taking classes in other subjects contributes to being a well-rounded person. I could sit here and code, but be disconnected from the outside world. I have to know how to program, but I also have to know what people like. Overall, looking at things from a different perspective and the critical thinking that has come from that has helped me to not do the obvious thing, but to find new ways to create an app.”

With a strong computer science foundation and a grounding in the humanities, Cobb says he is well prepared to attend graduate school after graduation next spring. “In the future, there are endless possibilities.”

By Katherine Hancock ’19