"Computer as self" is a riff on the Japanese metaphor for rice as identity. And it can easily be applied to computer science major and Japanese studies minor Nicolas Hardy.

In addition to computer science, Hardy, a senior from Chesterfield, Virginia, has enjoyed studying Japanese history and eras like the Meiji Period, a time characterized by the onset of new economic, social, and political systems in Japanese society.

He has capped off his undergraduate career in the Department of Computer Science in the College of Engineering developing a capstone project based on new technology that seeks to upend political and socio-economic systems as well: blockchain.

The blockchain initiatives this semester, which included courses in programming, a blockchain bootcamp held at the beginning of the semester, and a blockchain contest, which Hardy participated in as part of a team, are harbingers of a changing world, and one that Hardy is very much ensconced in. Throughout the course of the semester, Hardy and his team consulted with industry leaders in the blockchain field at Block.one.

“One cool thing about this blockchain capstone project was being able to talk directly with the Block.one engineers and get access to the people who made the software we were using,” he said.

Throughout his last semester at Virginia Tech, Hardy, with his team, worked to develop an app on the blockchain that allowed attendance to be taken and verified in class. It’s a simple task that can sometimes be tricky for professors who have lots of other tasks vying for their attention.    

The project uses the EOSIO blockchain, geo-verification, and a peer-to-peer verification system that employs a combination of Bluetooth and other peer detection services. When a student's presence is verified, the professor makes a transaction on the chain, and logs the user’s attendance. When the professor sends the student's record to the chain, a smart contract verifies the recorded time, location, and customer reference number of the student before recording a successful transaction. The app also has checks to make sure the only people able to invoke the transaction are professors. 

The team’s aim is to prevent students from logging their own attendance via direct interaction with the blockchain.

In addition experiencing real-world manifestations of leading-edge industry tools, Hardy also been a teaching assistant in a few classes, further upping his computer science street credibility.

“Getting my undergraduate degree in computer science at Virginia Tech has been very rewarding from the standpoint of having real-world, hands-on experiences available to me as a student,” Hardy said.

Besides the blockchain initiatives, Hardy has been involved in various projects that have enriched his academic career, including a project that seeks to optimize the energy efficiency of computers.

“I like the low level and seeing how stuff gets optimized in a system. A lot of people know how to code an app, but I also like to know how your computer works under the hood to optimize things and know what is redundant, and what can be removed," he said.

After graduation Hardy will be staying in Blacksburg to pursue his master’s in computer science. Another step in completing the journey of computer as self in an era when so much about technology is changing.

“This curriculum overall has given me a good foundation of terms of skills," Hardy said. "I can use the skills I’ve gained here to pursue pretty much any avenue I would want in computer science.” 

Written by Amy Loeffler