When it comes to understanding the student experience, School of Computer Science and Statistics Lecturer Andrew Butterfield has got you covered. While Butterfield currently boasts many research acclaims supported by the European Space Agency (ESA), just a few decades ago he was a bright-eyed young student like the rest of us. His current projects and software are used on an international scale, however, he remains close to home by lecturing and coaching students at his alma mater here in College.
Andrew Butterfield began his studies in 1979 as an engineering student with a passion for computers and—in his words, “regretfully”—model war games. While he had always found this an enjoyable creative outlet, upon walking into the Model War Game Society during his first Fresher’s Week, he knew it was no longer for him: “It was the first time I realised that you don’t keep all of those passions you had when you were younger,” — something he notes to be one of the first important lessons he learned outside of the classroom.
While, in his words, Butterfield did the “very first year thing of joining every society possible,” he eventually found his ground in Mathsoc and DU Orienteers. Later on, after achieving Schols and being granted a room on campus, Butterfield became greatly involved with the Hist: “I was always a Hist guy, never a Phil guy,” he admits. Still focusing on his degree in Engineering, Butterfield found the Hist to be his eye-opener to different ways of thinking, offering new experiences that far surpassed his “engineering bubble”. He details having met friends from all disciplines at Hist events, some of whom have become lifelong friends: “We still meet up every once in a while in some Dublin pub to catch up.”
Something that Butterfield finds of value about his time in the Hist is all of the conversations and interactions he had, which at the time had seemed trivial, but are now looked upon fondly: “you know, you had your friend in economics, or your friend in law, talking about the beginning of theories and ideas that are being discussed today”. This also helped him out of his comfort zone and consider new perspectives, helping him tackle future projects on the application of maths proofs in software engineering.
“While the Hist provided Butterfield with a wider humanities perspective, his involvement in Mathsoc sparked his academic and scientific interests significantly.”
While the Hist provided Butterfield with a wider humanities perspective, his involvement in Mathsoc sparked his academic and scientific interests significantly. When Butterfield was a student in College, the Maths society was located next to the Maths department, which at the time was the first location in Ireland to house a Unix computer. This proved revolutionary for Butterfield, as lecturers allowed members of the Maths society to play around with the system and develop a deeper passion for computers. Butterfield explains that these experiences provided him with a new manner of thinking about computers — something that inspires his research for the ESA, applying mathematics to his foundation in engineering to decrease errors in software used in space instruments, such as satellites.
While he finds it difficult to summarise his extensive time in College, Butterfield notes that despite any impactful events or experiences, the most important thing he learned was to “talk to other people, get a new perspective, get new ideas” and to learn how to effectively communicate with others. He believes that not only does this guarantee success in the future, but it can open you up to many opportunities and people you otherwise may not have encountered: “it makes you look at the same world with a different (point of) view.”
Butterfield carries this sort of mantra into his classrooms. Working with the ESA, he allows students to “play around” with and research software used on their satellites. The lucky students who create working, vetted code may see their work used on the satellite. Students praise him for his engaging and inspiring lectures, as well as his understanding nature. Butterfield strives to make students think outside the box and learn in a hands-on manner. He also engages in community activities, having hosted and organised the Academics Symposium in College for several years, providing panels and speeches from forward-thinking academics of our time.
It is a comfort to know that among those teaching in lecture halls, there are some who have had the same experience of Freshers Week in Front Square, walking through the Hamilton, or nerding out over a computer (or, in this generation’s case, AI) with fellow society friends. It is especially a comfort when such a person understands the value of learning inside and outside the classroom, and promotes this with students to uplift and support them.