Did you have a favorite course as a Computer Science student in the Baskin School of Engineering?
Operating Systems was one of my favorite classes—and it’s what I ended up doing at many points in my career. My entire career has been involved with computers, from microprocessors to computer systems to communications, so operating systems are still a part of what I do today. I’ve interacted with everything from low-level hardware all the way up to the user experience.
What do you do today and how does it relate to your early training and interests?
I currently lead development for an enterprise software company in San Jose. I got introduced to computers when I was about 12, and that was when the light bulb turned on for me. I knew from a very young age what I wanted to do. My high school had a program with NASA Ames to receive school credit for working there. I started in my junior year, and once I graduated from high school, I continued as a consultant to NASA Ames through my entire time at UC Santa Cruz. UC Santa Cruz then provided the foundation, but at a much deeper level, of computer architecture, which I had only scratched the surface of in my youth. By the time I graduated from UCSC in 1985, I felt like I had the necessary tools to go out into the industry.
What advice do you have for Computer Science students?
The universal feedback I’ve given when asked is that if start-ups are something you’re interested in, definitely try them while you’re young. It tends to be easier to take risks before other responsibilities such as house payments, car payments, bills, and kids might make you risk-averse. It likely is the easiest time in your life to go out and really dive deep into a small company. Many people I know who are in their thirties really want to do a start-up, but just can’t do it because they’ve got kids in school, a mortgage and two car payments; the risk of a failed startup is not a risk they are willing to take.
Start-ups really help you understand the entirety of business. Typically, nobody at a start-up has just one job, you might have three, four or even nine! You can’t buy that kind of experience and it’s hard to get at a big company.
Lastly, take the time when you’re in school to make relationships with professors, other students, and participate in research if you can. Those are contacts you’ll have your entire career, and you never know when one might become important.
Any advice for faculty on how to prepare students?
The universal thing that students need to know going into industry is how companies really operate. Many individuals who I’ve hired as interns come in with an idealized view of engineering, where we build perfect products and won’t ship anything until it’s bug-free. This is not the reality in many successful companies. Sometimes you ship a product that’s not perfect or complete in order to meet deadlines and customer commitments, or to just keep the product moving forward.
The challenges of making decisions in the face of inevitable trade-offs isn’t really covered in the current curriculum.
The energy and passion of the youth is invaluable but helping the youth in understanding the process is just as important.