The brains behind the YaleStation portal and Yale’s admissions decision Web site is about to unveil his latest on-campus project: A 47-inch interactive touch screen in Bass Library.
Alexander Clark ’04 — who founded the software development firm Technolutions after graduating from Yale — has worked on several of Yale’s technological developments over the past eight years.
Yale has repaid his devotion to the University over the years with loyalty in kind. Many Yale professional schools and departments — from the School of Management to the Undergraduate Admissions Office — make up a large chunk of his company’s clientele. And his latest project, a 47-inch LCD touch-screen that will provide passing students with personalized flyer boards, Yale College Council polls, dining hall menus and shuttle schedules will be placed in Bass Library Café before the end of the semester.
“I like to take everything to Yale first,” said Clark, whose southern twang betrays a childhood spent in Mississippi. “It is my honor and duty as an alum.”
Clark’s future as a software developer may have been preordained when at age three he received a typewriter for Christmas. Or perhaps it was in fifth grade when he began teaching himself BASIC programming language. But by the eighth grade, when Clark began testing software for Microsoft, his fate was sealed.
“There was a rumor when I was a freshman [in high school] that I was Bill Gates’ child,” laughed Clark.
Clark flexed his programming muscles early on in his Yale career. In September 2000, as a freshman, he designed YaleStation.org, an interactive online portal providing a variety of resources to students, including news headlines and a book marketplace to fill his perceived gap in adequate online portals for students.
But despite these projects, Clark says he spent most of his Yale career running away from his programmer image. He decided to major in English, and described his work for Yale as an undergraduate merely as a “creative outlet.” His wavy blond hair, business-casual wardrobe and conspicuous lack of eyewear give no hint of the talent for computer programming that lies beneath.
In 2002, YaleStation gained an official toehold at Yale when it officially merged with YCC as the student council’s technological arm. At the time, the merger received criticism on campus.
“The proposed alliance of an elected governmental body and a media outlet is a fundamental conflict of interest that both sides should immediately disown,” wrote the editorial board of the News on the eve of the merger.
These fears have largely failed to stand the test of time, says Clark, who still has a hand in YaleStation. (He was behind the recent increase in charges added to tickets purchased through YaleStation, which he says cover credit card processing.)
Since the merger, YCC has conducted student polls and YCC elections through YaleStation.
But during the tenure of Will Tsui ’07 as YaleStation director, Tsui said he had trouble making changes to the system because he had difficulties working with the code Clark had written.
“Alex is definitely the most talented developer that I’ve ever met,” said Tsui. “With this talent comes the ability to write some fairly obscure code that only makes sense to him, so I spent my junior year trying to figure out what the hell he was doing and modify it.”
Tsui said that though YaleStation was intimately involved in the processes of the YCC while he was involved, the YCC seems to have moved away from relying on YaleStation in recent years.
Indeed, while the Yale College Council still maintains YaleStation ownership, it often uses SurveyMonkey to send out polls to the Yale student body.
While at Yale, Clark also helped the Undergraduate Admissions Office design their admission decisions Web site as well as their first Bulldog Days Web site for admitted students.
As graduation grew near, Clark decided to start his own business — and Technolutions was born.
Clark’s latest project, the LCD screens in Bass Library, came out of the self-professed “iPhone envy” he felt toward his fiancée, who bought the gadget last year.
“Touch is very much in right now,” Clark said, citing the iPhone as well as the CNN “magic wall.”
And so he set to work designing a screen that would bridge the gap between the privacy of a personal computer kiosk and the group accessibility of an informational slide-show screen.
This summer he brought the prototype to his best customer, Yale University, and gave Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry a demonstration.
The Yale College Deans Office has given the go-ahead to put one screen on campus for a trial run. The screen should be operating before the end of the semester, Gentry said.