CS PROFile: Prof. Bang and Prof. Ben

Article by Shreya Balaji and Waverly Wang
Photos by Waverly Wang

According to College Factual, Harvey Mudd College is in the top 10% of computer science programs in the country. Intrigued by the fabulous profs who keep Mudd’s CS department running, The Muddraker decided to sit down and chat with Prof. Bang and Prof. Ben, who are currently co-teaching CS 131 Programming Languages. Keep reading to get to know these two wonderful profs! 

The quotes in this article have been edited for length and clarity.

Prof. Lucas Bang

Assistant Professor, Computer Science 

Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara

Prof. Ben Wiedermann

Associate Professor, Computer Science 

Ph.D., University of Texas, Austin

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Prof. Bang: When I was a kid, I wanted to be three things: an architect, an astronaut, or an artist. They all start with the letter A! I continued wanting to be an astronaut for a while, and I even applied to space camp in seventh grade. 

Prof. Ben: When I was a little kid, I really wanted to work at Grandy’s (in Texas) because that’s where [my family] went all the time [Note: Grandy’s is an American fried chicken food chain.] Then, I wanted to be a dentist for a while, even though I didn’t like the dentist as a kid.

What was your undergraduate/graduate experience like? Did you know what you wanted to do after college?

Prof. Bang: My undergraduate experience was somewhat different from lots of other people’s experience. I didn’t really plan to go to college. I was working in a restaurant. Then, I was convinced by one of my teachers in high school to go to on-site admissions at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, so I went, and they admitted me. I took a ton of classes there, including engineering, math, music, and history of rock and roll. It ended up taking a very long time for me to finish undergrad, but eventually, I discovered that I liked computer science. And I had a really good professor who encouraged me to pursue computer science. We did some research projects together, and he was my Master’s adviser. When I went to grad school, I changed direction from algorithms to automated software verification, security, and combinatorial programs. 

Prof. Ben: During my senior year [of college], I learned about undecidable problems in a computability class. I thought it was comforting to know that there were just some things we couldn’t compute. The day I graduated undergrad, I realized I wanted to go to grad school to keep learning, so I took a little time off and then went back to grad school, which was both fun and tough!

How did you find your way to Mudd? And what made you want to become a professor?

Prof. Bang: My Master’s adviser taught me his algorithm called the SMAWK algorithm, in which the K stands for Klawe. When I looked up the people who invented it, I saw that Maria Klawe was the President of this place called Harvey Mudd. I looked into Mudd and knew it was somewhere I wanted to be. At the end of grad school, Harvey Mudd happened to have an open position, so I applied, and now I’m here! I became a professor because I wanted to focus on solving challenging problems that I found engaging — and scientifically interesting — which was more compelling to me than working in industry. 

Prof. Ben: I really liked teaching when I went to grad school. I was under the impression that professors got to study, read, and enjoy themselves while making a million dollars, since we only saw them three hours a week. Then, I got to grad school, and I saw what my advisor did, which was write a bunch of grants so that I could have a job. At Mudd, I knew I could spend most of my time teaching, which was really appealing. 

What’s your favorite part of teaching?

Prof. Bang: I really like to be present when people are having moments of insight. For instance, this seems to happen a lot in my CS 131 Programming Languages class, when people implement certain functions that are tricky and challenging, and then they push through it and eventually have this moment of realization of how everything comes together. 

Prof. Ben: I love rediscovering ideas with folks. It’s kind of like exploring together. I also love when all the professors are sitting around and working on the same thing and having different insights. That’s a very collaborative learning experience that I enjoy. The fun part is figuring out how to help that happen, which is a little bit of a puzzle.

What do you like to do for fun?

Prof. Bang: I like to read a lot of books, mess around on the guitar a little bit, and shop on Etsy a lot (maybe too much). 

Prof. Ben: Seeing my family. I have a younger brother; he and his wife just had a kid, so I enjoy seeing them. I also do music lessons on Zoom with my mom every weekend. That’s something we started during the pandemic. There was also a time when I did three escape rooms in one night with a few other professors — because we really like puzzles. 

Could you tell us about your interest in the media/dramatic arts?

Prof. Bang: I have recently become very interested in how media arts and computer science connect to each other. I made a robotic Turing machine that writes its own code; it was accepted into an art gallery, which was cool! That same work has now been accepted into an art festival taking place in Santa Fe, New Mexico, over the summer. I had another art piece that was more an exploration of neural networks, which in some sense create themselves. That was presented at a conference on society, literature, science, and the arts. I have some more projects planned, so you will see them eventually. 

Prof. Ben: I’ve always been interested in various forms of performance because they showcase different methods of self-expression. Prof. Dadabhoy used to teach a Shakespeare class that puts on an in-person play during Alumni Weekend, but we recently switched to co-teaching Radio Shakespeare, where we explore Shakespeare’s plays through literary- and performance-based techniques such as close reading and vocal techniques — all used to put together a radio performance. I think it’s awesome to get to know students in a totally different context because we get to explore everyone’s identities, and it’s super fun. 

You’re working with Prof. Ben/Prof. Bang? What do you think of that?

Prof. Bang: I love Prof. Ben; he is amazing. I could not say enough good things about Prof. Ben, he is extremely thoughtful and great to work with in every imaginable way. 

Prof. Ben: Prof. Bang is a super kind and curious guy. Who could ask for more! He knows a lot about philosophy and theory of mind, in addition to woodworking and a million other things. 

Favorite boba drink?

Prof. Bang: I don’t like boba

Prof. Ben: Taro

Weirdest gift you’ve ever received?

Prof. Bang: Onion-shrimp aspic salad

Prof. Ben: Platypus slippers

Biggest fear? 

Prof. Bang: I have no fears

Prof. Ben: This interview

How many hours do you sleep?

Prof. Bang: A solid eight or nine hours

Prof. Ben: Eight hours

Would you rather fight 42 duck-sized horses or 1 horse-sized duck?

Prof. Bang: 42 duck-sized horses

Prof. Ben: 42 duck-sized horses

Eye color? What’s the hex code?

Prof. Bang: I don’t know. But it probably doesn’t have a lot in the R — probably more in the G and the B channels.

Prof. Ben: #33cc33

How tall are you? 

Prof. Bang: 73 centimeters (5’9”)

Prof. Ben: 5’3”

Social security number?

Prof. Bang: Maybe we’ll skip that one

Prof. Ben: 123-45-6789

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