Career Profiles

Explore profiles of real professionals and students to learn how they got started, what they love about computing, and all about the fascinating work they do.
David Walden

David Walden

Retired Computing Professional

Degree(s):

B.A. (math), San Francisco State College, 1964
Graduate coursework, Computer science, MIT, 1966-1968
“Start reading the computing literature and find a way to begin building hardware or writing software now; don’t wait until you start taking formal computer courses. Practice so you write prose fast and well; it will help your thinking and give you an advantage over all those computer people from whom writing is hard.”

I discovered an IBM 1620 computer while studying math, at which I was not very good, and thereafter I spent a lot of time writing programs. Upon graduation, I applied for jobs as a computer programmer and was hired by MIT Lincoln Lab. There, I evolved from a novice to a journeyman computer programmer under the mentorship of Will Crowther, the author of the first computer adventure game. I then moved to BBN where I had to good fortune to become part of the small team that developed the packet-switching technology for the ARPANET, the precursor of the Internet.
Read Dave’s computing memoir for the IEEE History Center Global History Network:
http://walden-family.com/cshc/archive/pubs/walden-memoir.pdf

As I became an experienced computer programmer and learned about designing overall computer systems, my career evolved step by step: programmer, software project leader, department leader, assistant division director, and general manager. In these latter jobs I was involved in sales and marketing as well as management. An important lesson was that I couldn’t simultaneously be a manager and remain a top rank technical person. However, I could accomplish bigger things as a manager, and was able to see a variety of business situations: contract R&D, product start-up, growth system business, and business shut down. It was interesting and exciting.

I am a serial hobbiest, spending vast amounts of time on whatever hobby I have been interested in. Over the years these activities have included contract bridge, musical theater, postal chess, juggling, sailing, playing Irish traditional music, and now (in retirement) writing, editing, and self-publishing about computing history and business management. Curiously, the most recent area of interest involves lots of computing (website development, typesetting, publishing workflow, etc.). In addition I read a lot of fiction and try to see at least one movie a week: http://walden-family.com/public/movie-index.htm

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James Dammann

If you have used a word processor today, moved your mouse on your laptop, dragged an object around on your smartphone, or highlighted a section of text on your tablet, you can thank Jim Dammann. In 1961 during his second year at IBM and just one year after completing his PhD, Jim created the concept of what today we all take for granted -- the cursor. This idea he documented in utilizing the cursor within word processing operations.

After retiring from IBM, Jim went on to inspire future generations of software engineers at Florida Atlantic University. His work there too demonstrated his creativity for he spent considerable effort enhancing their software engineering program by integrating ideas and feedback from local industries into the University curricular. Today, Jim lives in the Westlake Hills west of Austin Texas and spends most of his time in his art studio. He wrote and published The Opaque Decanter, a collection of poems about art, which provided a new view at part of art history.

Punch card from a COBOL program
Jean Sammet

Jean E. Sammet was one of the first developers and researchers in programming languages. During the 1950’s - 1960’s she supervised the first scientific programming group for Sperry Gyroscope Co. and served as a key member of the original COBOL (COmmon Business-Oriented Language) committee at Sylvania Electric Products. She also taught one of the first graduate programming courses in the country at Adelphi College. After joining IBM in 1961, she developed and directed the first FORMAC (FORmula MAnipulation Compiler). This was the first widely used general language and system for manipulating nonnumeric algebraic expressions. In 1979 she began handling Ada activities for IBM’s Federal Systems Division. Ada is a structured, object-oriented high-level computer programming language, designed for large, long-lived applications, where reliability and efficiency are paramount. Jean has a B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. from the University of Illinois, both in Mathematics. She received an honorary D.Sc. from Mount Holyoke (1978).

Gordon and SenseCam QUT
Gordon Bell
Gordon and SenseCam QUT

Gordon Bell is a pioneering computer designer with an influential career in industry, academia and government. He graduated from MIT with a degree in electrical engineering. From 1960, at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), he designed the first mini- and time-sharing computers and was responsible for DEC's VAX as Vice President of R&D, with a 6 year sabbatical at Carnegie Mellon University. In 1987, as NSF’s first, Ass't Director for Computing (CISE), he led the National Research Network panel that became the Internet. Bell maintains three interests: computing, lifelogging, and startup companies—advising over 100 companies. He is a Fellow of the, Association of Computing Machinery, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, and four academies. He received The 1991 National Medal of Technology. He is a founding trustee of the Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA. and is an Researcher Emeritus at Microsoft. His 3 word descriptor: Computing my life; computing, my life.

King's Quest
Roberta Williams

Video games immerse users in a world of high tech thrills, stunning visuals, unique challenges, and interactivity. They enable users to become a warrior princess or a gruesome ghoul, create a virtual persona, or even develop worlds that other gamers can play on. But before the games of today became reality, they were the dreams of a few innovative individuals.

Roberta Williams is considered one of the pioneers of gaming as we know it today. During the 80’s and 90’s along with husband Ken Williams through their company On-Line Systems, she developed some of the first graphical adventure games. These included such titles as Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess and the popular King’s Quest series. Williams also helped introduce more girls and women to the world of gaming by bringing games developed from a woman’s perspective to mainstream market.

@ symbol
Ray Tomlinson
Ray Tomlinson

Have you ever considered that someone, at some point, was in a position to choose what symbol would be used separate the user from their location in an email address? That person, it turns out, was Ray Tomlinson, and in 1971 he chose "@". Tomlinson is credited with demonstrating the first email sent between computers on a network, and when asked what inspired him to make this selection he said, “Mostly because it seemed like a neat idea.”

After completing his Master’s degree at MIT in 1965, Ray joined the Information Sciences Division of Bolt Beranek and Newman Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Since then he has made many notable contributions to the world of network computing. He was a co-developer of the TENEX computer system that was popular in the earliest days of the Internet; he developed the packet radio protocols used in the earliest internetworking experiments; he created the first implementation of TCP; and he was the principle designer of the first workstation attached to the Internet.

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