Alumnus Collin McMillan garners CAREER award

The expert guidance Collin McMillan (BS ’07) received at TU revealed his calling to share knowledge with students. As one of the youngest assistant professors in the Notre Dame Computer Science and Engineering Department, McMillan is an influential mentor who carries on TU’s mission of service-based engineering. In 2015, he received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award in recognition of his potential in academic research.

Collin McMillan

McMillan specializes in automatic software documentation and is working to develop an algorithm that reads source code and automatically generates an English description. The NSF CAREER project, “Understanding Program Comprehension for Automated Software Documentation Generation,” examines what McMillan said is a classic problem programmers face when writing documentation.

“Nearly 90 percent is undocumented, but the idea is not to take the human out of the loop entirely,” he said. “We hope to see a 10 percent to 30 percent increase in the amount of documentation programmers write or share.”

The project includes building a model for software documentation and using it to create algorithms that automate the process. According to McMillan, writing documentation is one of the largest expenses involved in software development, but automating parts of the process will eliminate those costs. As a result, programmers not only will improve their efficiency, but also achieve an important service aspect. Automating documentation will give individuals with visual impairment more opportunities to participate in the process, and software descriptions discovered in the research will enable blind programmers to read source code. McMillan said his Notre Dame research group is teaming up with the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired to help blind students pursue careers in software development.

“Those who are visually impaired read 50 words in source code for every three or four a sighted person reads,” McMillan said. “They have to read every single word.”

In addition to his NSF grant, the TU alumnus strives to involve Notre Dame students in other projects of relevant, real-world application — a key academic component he witnessed as a TU student. McMillan, who grew up in the Kansas City area, originally had planned to attend the University of Illinois before visiting Tulsa. As an undergraduate, he worked in a computer science lab and contributed to several research publications. He advanced his education with a doctorate at William & Mary, but McMillan’s TU experience remains one of the most defining eras of his life.

“TU was a great choice for me,” he said. “The community was very down to earth. People worked hard but still were very focused on their lives, families and what matters.”