Student profile: Q&A with Charles Hornbaker

February 10, 2014
Student profile: Q&A with Charles Hornbaker

Conor Myhrvold interviews his CSE SM classmate Charles Hornbaker, a US Marine veteran, to get his insights after the first semester of the ME program

Like many of the students in the new Computational Science & Engineering master’s program, Charles Hornbaker brings a unique background and experience: living abroad in challenging environments while deployed as a US Marine. I sat down with Charles for half an hour in the second week of December as we were finishing our final class projects to get his perspective on where he’s coming from, his thoughts on being halfway through the first year, and what he’s learned in the process.

What is your background?

I studied electrical engineering and computer science as an undergraduate, then served nearly six years on active duty as an Intelligence Officer in the Marine Corps, with tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. After transitioning to the Reserves, I worked as a scientific and technical intelligence analyst for several defense contractors in Charlottesville, VA.

Why this program?

This program stood out to me because of its interdisciplinary focus and the range of available resources that come with a university like Harvard. After spending several years in analytical jobs, I wanted to get back into a technical field. Computational Science is such a dynamic field with applications across so many domains that it seemed like the perfect fit for my background and interests.

We are essentially done with the first semester now. What’s the most valuable thing you’ve gotten out of the program so far?

This program has done an excellent job with integrating cutting edge tools and applications into the curriculum. In the past few months, I've learned an incredible amount about topics I had little experience with before, such as machine learning and parallel programming, and I've become much more proficient with programming in Python. The students in this program also come from a very wide range of backgrounds, so I've learned a lot from working with them as well.

What’s next after this year?

I haven't decided what my plan for next year will be yet, but I am considering applying to stay in the program for the Masters of Engineering option.

What advice would you give for students interested in studying Computational Science with a background similar to yours?

I think this program is very well suited for people with government and military backgrounds interested in studying Computational Science and looking for a challenging, comprehensive one year program. It would be great to have a stronger veteran presence in GSAS. My only other advice for anyone looking into a program like this would be to brush up on linear algebra and statistics, and programming with MATLAB and Python.