Jake Peacock can handle a lot of pressure. In addition to adding a junior level CS class to a full load of sophomore courses, he also served as the CS Club external vice president, managed a local startup pitch for Bay Area entrepreneur Max Levchin, secured an internship with HomeAway, negotiated a fall study abroad experience (rare for a CS major), and coordinated Beer Bike for his college.
By the end of his spring semester, even Peacock acknowledged he might have gone a little overboard. “I had a lot of time invested in Beer Bike,” he said, “but I had to keep going to class, and doing my school work. At times, I felt like everything else was crashing down.”
Peacock gained an appreciation for his own resilience, and speaks with the quiet maturity that results from hard things done well. And he said he chose Rice for the many opportunities it presented. He looked for a university with diversity in its CS program as well as across the campus. “I didn’t want to be surrounded by engineers,” he said. “To be really happy, I needed to be surrounded by people of all majors.”
In his first year at Rice, Peacock hit his stride and knew he was in the right major. “In COMP 182, there are only six projects and you work so hard,” he said. “Your whole world is grounded in the current project you are working on. But even if you’re frustrated, when you find a bug, when you solve that problem, it is very rewarding.”
Later, he discovered the benefits of group projects. “It’s nice to sit down and learn from each other,” said Peacock. Talking in a group– even casually over dinner – creates an opportunity for students to express their own assumptions and then listen as other people talk about different ways to approach the program. He said, “It is much more difficult –and not very wise– to just jump in and immerse yourself in the problem alone.”
The group talk is especially helpful in the courses with long term projects. “There are checkpoints along the way,” he said, “you can’t just code straight to the end.” When students first begin CS courses at Rice, they may be surprised at how long the homework takes to produce correct results. It is also easy to get stuck.
Peacock said the checkpoints assist with both of those challenges. “You just have to get to a checkpoint and step back so your brain’s subconscious can work on it. It won’t be solved in six hours. Or eight. You may start on Monday, and get stuck, think about it, work on it again on Tuesday. Hopefully, you’ll be working on the second half of the problem by Wednesday for homework due on Friday.”
He will continue building on what he’s learned about time and project management this fall as he explores the wilderness of Patagonia in a fall semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Peacock and a team of students from other universities will backpack through the harsh conditions at the southern tip of South America for 75 days.
This will be the second and longest NOLS wilderness leadership course Peacock has completed. He said, “Hopefully, I will learn a lot about myself and my character. One of the big goals for NOLS is to observe how you perform as a leader. That includes how you approach and deal with risks. How you serve and build up your team. How you perform and how you keep safe while you are out in wilderness, miles away from medical help.”
Before heading to Chile, he’s wrapping up his second internship in Austin, Texas. Last year, he worked for the Advisory Board, a company that enables hospitals and universities to better serve their patients and students. At the Advisory Board, Peacock was helping set up a rule engine for the integration engineers to validate the data of new hospitals as they were added to the system.
This year, at HomeAway, Peacock worked on the Core API team developing the 2.0 version of their projection engine. The engine allows other teams to create objects that span multiple endpoints and databases within the company. He said, “Working on the backend, it is sometimes difficult to see the impact we’re having on the front-end. At the end of the summer, it was great to present our beta version to the company and show how our project would make their jobs easier and their products more efficient.”
He appreciated the learning culture at HomeAway and said, “I went in scared, a sophomore with not much experience. But you can talk to anybody there. Asking questions is encouraged. Staying stuck and making no progress – that’s not encouraged.”
As his peers at Rice enter their third week of classes, Peacock is headed to Chile. “I’ve loved my summer jobs,” he said, “but I’ve missed being outside.”