Passion for developing AI-enhanced software drives Lincoln W Daniel

In this issue’s Spotlight, meet junior computer science major Lincoln W Daniel, who works with his own campus software-development team and aims for a career that marries search technology with artificial intelligence (AI).

Q. Your name is Lincoln W Daniel, no “s”?
A. I’ve been getting that all my life. Back in high school track, we won states twice, back to back, in Pennsylvania, and on the record board, they put my name as “Daniels.” People think that my name’s wrong, so they say, “Do you mean Daniel Lincoln?” and I’m like, “No, Lincoln Daniel.” (Laughs.)

Q. Where are you from originally?
A. I came to this country when I was 5. We escaped the second civil war in Liberia. My Mom decided she’d rename me “Lincoln,” because that’s what resonated with her the most. I lived in Philadelphia from the age of 5 till around 8 or 9. My Mom married my stepdad, who moved us out to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

Q. When did your interest in computers begin?
A. I’ve always been interested in computers. I used to be the fixer of all things computers around the house. When I was getting ready for college, I had marketing and computers on my mind. Because I was afraid of the math in computer science (CS), I started as a marketing major, but I quickly realized my passion is in developing software that enables people to accomplish their goals more efficiently, so I switched to CS. I’m pushing (to add) a math minor and/or a business administration minor.

Q. Why did you choose SUNY Oswego?
A. I was applying to all the big-name schools, and my counselor said, “You should check out SUNY Oswego. They have a great business program and you will love it.” So I came here for a track team visit. I loved the campus and they told me about the Shineman Center. I came here for business. I ran track for a semester. Then I met (computer science chair) Doug Lea, who convinced me to just get through the math. His advice and the new Shineman Center convinced me to switch to CS within the first four weeks. I couldn’t commit the four hours the track team was asking for each night and still achieve my academic and career goals.

Q. What do you think of Oswego faculty?
A. The professors have been, for the most part, wonderful—especially Doug Lea. He’s renowned, he makes it fun and he makes learning interesting. Professor (James) Early has been wonderful—he was my first CS teacher. He did a great job of making sure everybody felt great about themselves and felt knowledgeable. I’ve also had professors (Randolph) Oldendahl and (Craig) Graci, and they’ve been great. They teach you different ways of thinking about developing software.

Q. What do you think of your fellow SUNY Oswego students?
A. They’re doing great things. I’ve met very talented students here. I work with Andres Ramos and Keith Martin every day. Our team is called Ground Zero. We build Google Glass applications, which we demo’d at Quest last year to a packed room. Everyone else is doing well. Computer science is tough and often unforgiving, so it’s necessary to work together. None of us are tutors, but everyone is in Shineman every day helping each other out—and helping younger students pick up CS. The more you help people, the better you become as a person and a professional in the field.

Q. Is your app-development team connected with a course?
A. No. Google came out with Google Glass two years ago, and they started the Google Explorers Program (development community), and they invited people to buy it for $1,500. My friend Andres was president of IEEE, which is a club we opened up for electrical and software engineering, so he and I convinced the ECE department to purchase Glass for us. We’ve built apps in our free time, we set up meetings two times a week and we just develop. By use of the Scrum agile development methodology, we conceive an idea, design it, write up the requirements, develop it, test it and iterate. We go on to demo our work to our peers and professors, hoping they like it. “Seen” is one of our apps that lets you capture the moment wherever you are without missing that moment. Seen lets you capture the picture and send it online with only three words: “OK, Glass, Seen.”

Q. What is Ground Zero up to this year?
A. This year, Ground Zero is building “Alkemy.” When we designed it, we called it a super app because it does so much and has artificial intelligence. The mission is to gather information around the user, combine it and create new information for the user to consume. It learns your interests in order to give you more information. Alkemy—A for Andres, L for Lincoln, K for Keith. It’s a super version of Seen with artificial intelligence.

Q. What other interests do you have on campus?
A. Last year, I was on the African Student Organization. I was responsible for communicating the organization’s ideas and events to the constituents. That was really fun for me—I had the opportunity to work with people who aren’t CS majors and see where they’re coming from … what makes them tick. This year I am doing chess club and sometimes I go to American Marketing Association meetings when I have time.

Q. Have you started thinking about careers?
A. Yes. Last fall, I got a scholarship from NACME, the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering. I also applied for and was accepted by Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) and CODE2040 after passing a bunch of interviews and very stressful technical assessments. Those fellowships will help me prepare for my career and be ahead of the competition. This summer, I spent my time with IBM Watson. There were 80 interns across the country on the Watson team and I had the opportunity to work with 10 of them in the Massachusetts lab. I worked a lot with artificial intelligence while building a search framework from the ground up—my main contribution was the ranking algorithm.

Q. What else can you tell us about your family?
A. I came to this country with my Mom and my little sister, who is now 18 years old attending Ohio State. Now I have a stepdad, a younger brother and a baby sister. The reason I work so hard is because of my Mom, who lost her mom and dad before she was 12. She has been a powerhouse. She is my motivation to work very hard in order to give her time to rest. I told her, when I graduate college, she’s done—she’s done working! My dad’s very hardworking, too. He’s vertically integrated—he does construction, plumbing, wiring, painting and everything in between.