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John Dooley

William and Marilyn Ingersoll Chair in Computer Science

Computer Science Department Chair

At Knox Since: 2001


Computer scientist John Dooley has two big problems -- his own, and
other people's.

"I tell my students that computer science solves problems on two levels,"
says Dooley, professor and chair of the computer science program at Knox College,
who was recently elevated to the grade of Senior Member by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

"What I call lower level problems -- the ones specific to computer science -- focus on the improvement of computers as tools, such as how data is organized and transmitted, artificial intelligence, and how people react to different computer user interfaces," Dooley says. "At the upper level, computer scientists help solve other people's problems -- problems in biology and chemistry and economics -- any field where computer-aided data collection, communication, organization and analysis can increase our knowledge and understanding. We use the tools refined at the lower level to solve important public and scientific problems at the upper level."

"I've always done a mix of computer science and computer engineering," says Dooley, reflecting on his recognition from IEEE -- an organization of engineers, scientists and professionals in electrical and computer sciences. It is the largest technical-professional association in the world, with more than 365,000 members in 160 countries -- only 12% of members are selected for senior grade. Selection as Senior Member acknowledges both professional accomplishments and length of service in the field.

A member of the Knox faculty since 2001, Dooley previously worked for 18 years in software engineering, including ten years at Motorola, where he managed both large-scale and small-scale software development projects.

"For most of my time in industry, I worked in the systems area -- operating system software, device drivers, communications software -- the software that talks directly to the hardware. I'm one of those who likes doing assembly language programming, because I get to see at a very low level what the hardware is doing. I find it particularly satisfying twiddling bits in a register, building communication packets from the bit level up. At that point you get a feel for having complete control of the machine, getting it to do what you want it to do, at a very deep level inside the machine. People who do operating systems have to know quite a bit about hardware in order to make the operating systems work efficiently. I always had a foot in both camps."

"This is an advantage at an institution like Knox, where each faculty member teaches a broad range of subjects within the discipline. In winter term I'm teaching computer organization, which is our hardware course. And I will also teach software development. So I still have a foot in both camps."

At Knox he has taught both introductory and advanced courses in computer science; supervised student research in such areas as computer and Internet security, and computer analysis of writing styles; and helped students and classes develop software for community organizations. For the past six years, he also has organized public "wrestling matches" that pit student-built, computer-controlled robots against each other.

Dooley's research interests center on software engineering and cryptology. He recently published two research papers about the writing of cryptologist Herbert Yardley, one of which was co-authored with one of his former students, Yvonne Ramirez, who is now a consultant with IBM. He also regularly reviews works of fiction that use codes and cryptology.

"I'm particularly interested in how computers and cryptology came together," Dooley says. "Currently I am working on two related projects in the history of cryptology. One examines the relationship between Herbert Yardley and William Friedman, America's two founding fathers of cryptology, and the second is taking a closer look at the work done by Alan Turing, the godfather of modern computer science, at the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park in Great Britain -- the agency that broke German secret codes during World War II."

View John Dooley's faculty page