• Dr. Tim Baird

Creating something from nothing

Dr. Tim Baird came to Harding in 1974 as a student double majoring in math and Bible. Now, almost 40 years later, Baird serves as the chair of the computer science department.

During his time as a student, the University only offered three computer science courses. While taking the computer science class required for math majors in the spring semester of 1977, Baird said he became hooked. Baird’s interest in the subject matched his natural ability for the material. By the midterm of that semester, Baird’s instructor asked him to work as a lab tutor for the rest of the class. By the end of the semester, Baird was working for the instructor in what is now the IS&T department.

After that first computer science class, Baird worked for the next two and a half years in the Administrative Computing Center, writing software to help run the University. After graduating, Baird decided he would get a master’s degree in computer science and return to Harding to create a computer science degree as requested by Dr. Dean Priest, former chair of the math department.

Because of Baird’s work, Harding began its computer science degree in 1982. In 1994, the degree became its own department and Baird became the chair, a title he still holds almost 30 years later.

Baird said his sophomore year (1975) at Harding was the first year the school had a computer — one that was shared by all members of campus and was significantly less advanced than even current smartphones. As technology has developed, Baird said the creation of new aspects of computer science like the internet, personal computers and smartphones have led to changes in the computer science program.

“There have been lots of transitions and all of those have affected the curriculum model and new classes,” Baird said. “There's a lot about our curriculum that looks very different than it did in the ’80s and the ’90s. We have lots of classes now that we wouldn't have dreamed of offering then.”

Baird, who has taught classes in several different areas of computer science over the years, currently focuses on database, artificial intelligence and software engineering. Baird said he enjoys seeing students grow throughout their time at Harding.

“I love seeing the light come on in the student's eyes whenever they take a difficult concept that they're not getting, they work really hard on it, we communicate about it, and then they get it,” Baird said. “I love watching the transition that happens in computer science majors from freshman year in their first class to seniors graduating about to take a job — to see how much they have grown in that four-year span.”

Baird said he appreciates the fact that building computer software is both analytical and creative. He said the process of creating software has led him to greater understanding of the creation story in Genesis 1.

“I think that [God making man in his image] means that he made us to have a lot of his characteristics,” Baird said. “I think one of the characteristics that he put in most of us is that he enjoys creation. We also enjoy creation, making things. We make stuff out of just whatever we think.”

For Dr. Baird, this is one of the most exciting aspects of computer science — being able to create from nothing.

“It's exciting when someone can come up with the idea for a computer program, and then, with no materials other than the thoughts of their own mind, put the commands into the computer to tell it to do it,” Baird said. “Really, the future is only limited by what we can imagine. It's what makes me want to get up and go to work every morning.”