Ask Alex Bimm where he’s from, and you’ll get a complicated answer. He was born in Canada, but his father’s work as a software developer led the family all over the United States, with stops in Georgia, California, Vermont and most recently Florida. Bimm spent his high school years in Vermont, but due to the lack of a local high school he graduated from a Canadian boarding school.
It turns out, a passion for software development and programming runs in the family. Bimm is set to graduate with a joint A.B. in computer science, from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), and molecular and cellular biology. He’s devoted most of his extracurricular time to Harvard College Video Game Development Club (HCVGDC), a club for students interested in learning to program and develop computer games.
“I attended the first meeting freshman year, really liked it, decided to stick around, and it’s been my main extracurricular activity ever since,” he said.
Bimm’s interest in video games predates his arrival at Harvard. Despite his father’s background in software development, it wasn’t until some of Bimm’s high school friends asked him to work on a game together that he really took an interest.
“I definitely grew up in a technologically proficient household,” Bimm said. “Video game development was what got me into it. I thought video games were cool and wanted to see if I could try to make one. Once I started showing an interest in that is when my father and I started bonding over it.”
Bimm looked at universities on both sides of the border, but ultimately chose Harvard for its faculty and academic opportunities. “I knew I was going to be interested in biology as a general field,” he said. “At that point, I’d already been doing a bit of video game development as a hobby, because I enjoyed software programming. I had a general idea of where I wanted to go, but it was once I started taking classes that I realized there were a bunch of different biology concentrations at Harvard, and that I had to specify into one.”
He eventually chose molecular and cellular biology, which crossed over well with his computer science education.
“Biology is fairly complex at the end of the day,” he said. “A lot of it connects to statistics. A lot of it can be connected back to interesting programming problems. A lot of time I’ll be in a CS class, and they’ll introduce an application for dynamic programming that just happens to really connect well to biology, such as DNA processing and sequencing.”
Bimm has worked on multiple games in his four years with HCVGDC, learning several programming languages along the way. Genres range from platformers to bullet hells (games that require the player to constantly dodge incoming projectiles) to card games. He’s even presented completed projects at PAX East, a large annual gaming convention in Boston.
“Working on a project for an entire year during my freshman year, being able to present this project in public areas and collaborate with other game developers in the greater Boston area was just an amazing experience,” he said.
Along with the fun of creating and testing video games, Bimm also discovered plenty of crossover between his extracurricular activity and the CS coursework he took at SEAS.
“I’d come to a CS class where they’d say it’s helpful to have this programming language experience, and I had that experience in a different context but could apply it to this class,” he said. “And then there have been other cases where in classes we’ve discussed better algorithms and data structures, and I’d be working on this game project but could maybe speed it up by implementing this better algorithm or data structure. We have an entertainment focus obviously, because they’re video games, but at the same time there’s also an education aspect that we like to focus on.”
Bimm’s experience with HCVGDC not only benefited his coursework, but also helped lead to his first job post-graduation. He’ll be moving to California to work for Codexis, a bioengineering company that produces enzymes for use in therapeutics and manufacturing.
“I’m going to help update and maintain the variety of software tools that they use to inform their various experiments,” Bimm said. “A lot of it’s going to be in Java, which is a programming language I only learned because a friend of mine asked if I wanted to try to make a game from scratch without a game engine, which we tried doing in Java.”
When he’s not in the class or programming himself, Bimm has also sought out opportunities to teach younger programmers. He’s been a volunteer teacher at local nonprofits, working as junior game design instructor for the Young Hacks Beta Masters camp, and volunteering with Harvard Splash, an undergraduate-run high school education program.
Bimm has loved his collaborations with other programmers throughout his time at Harvard and wants to help younger students find the same joy.
“A philosophy I’ve stuck with is that the best way to know you have the material is whether you can teach it to others,” he said. “And then it’s also very rewarding to help others get to a point where they’re able to understand these concepts, and then to learn from them as well. For as much as you’re giving, you can still learn.”
Matt Goisman | firstname.lastname@example.org