Victoria professor wins international computer programming prize

A Victoria University of Wellington researcher has won an international prize for work that makes it easier for students to tune into coding.

Professor James Noble.
Professor James Noble.

Professor James Noble, from Victoria’s School of Engineering and Computer Science, has won the 2016 AITO Dahl-Nygaard Senior Prize for his contributions to computer programming languages.

The international prize is considered the most prestigious in object-oriented computer science, and last year was won by Bjarne Stroustrup, the designer of renowned language C++.

Professor Noble is part of an international group of researchers who created Grace—a language specifically designed to help novices learn programming in a simple way.

Simple, object-orientated programming languages are sought-after, says Professor Noble.

“Grace emerged from a conference in 2010, where it became clear there was a need for a new, more easily digestible programming language,” says Professor Noble.

“People can find programming languages daunting or frustrating, but they shouldn’t. Grace has flexibility—that is, students can be introduced to it in stages, and can grow to the full version at their pace.

“I’ve been working to make the syntax and semantics of Grace as easy to learn as possible, and engaging with students to lower any barriers.”

One of those students is Sam Minns, a professional musician who turned his attention to studying software engineering five years ago.

During his studies, Sam developed a web-based music library which allowed him to use Grace to programme music live.

“I can create and perform music by writing code live in front of the audience or dance floor,” says Sam. “This shows just how useable Grace can be, and how different people can get value out of programming.”

Sam—who will graduate with a Bachelor of Engineering with Honours in May— works as a Software Developer at Powershop. He also presents the Friday Nite Flava show on Radioactive.fm, and was a core performer and producer for percussion ensemble Strike.

“Grace can help novices in their forays into computer programming,” says Sam. “It helps to minimise that discouragement when programmers are first starting out, and create code with greater ease.”