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.
Erickson profile

John S. Erickson

Director of Web Science Operations, Troy, NY & Norwich, VT, United States

Degree(s):

Ph.D., Dartmouth College
M.Eng, Cornell University
BSEE, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
“"Computing" is a great way to follow your curiosity and have fun doing it. Look around you: most of what you see required someone just like you to dream up something new and then build it. It’s great to be part of that!”

Starting in elementary school I kept a "junk box" of salvaged parts from which I built various "inventions". In junior high I was first exposed to "cloud computing" when I accessed computers via 300 bits-per-second dial-up and a Model 33 teletype. I was an electrical engineering major at RPI, focused on digital circuits and control systems; through a co-op (academic credit for job experience) at IBM Fishkill I gained a passion for the special-purpose systems one finds in manufacturing and test equipment. I ended up as a test equipment engineer and project leader for Digital Equipment Corp, developing high-performance memory test systems, during which time DEC sent me to get my M.Eng at Cornell through a fellowship-like program. After eight years I moved on to pursue my Ph.D. at Dartmouth; my original plan was to study special-purpose systems, but I ended up studying the unique technical/legal/social issues of managing copyright on the Internet just as the Web was coming into being. After two startups, I worked in corporate research at Hewlett-Packard Labs for a decade; I am now in academic research.

I start my working day at 7a, catching up with the overnight email traffic from my European colleagues and our students, who never seem to sleep! I review the day’s conference calls; I work remotely from Vermont for part of the week and therefore do a lot via Skype. Part of my day is spent in focused email or Skype conversations with students, checking on status and trying to work through technical problems. Typically there is a paper or presentation due, so some time is spent revising, hopefully using a collaboration tool. After a dinner break (and assuming I don't have some obligation in the community) I'll find time to work on the current boat and do emails.

My primary responsibility is research project management for several concurrent projects of different scales. I provide a critical level of guidance and support between three senior professors and a large team of post docs, graduate students and undergrads. I love the daily intellectual challenge of helping the team create something totally new. Students don't know what they can't do, and therefore create amazing and surprising innovations!

As a graduate student I had to take a feedback and control systems course to fulfill some "core" requirement. This class had a term-ending project --- nowadays it might be called a 'capstone' project --- that usually involved the students using stock instruments from the lab to demonstrate some principle. Having (at that time) about a decade of engineering experience, I decided to instead build from scratch a small robot that would use ultrasound to position itself. It was a very ambitious project that required both analog and digital systems engineering plus some low-level Macintosh programming, using a wide array of self-acquired parts, some of which (like a small battery-powered bulldozer) were found at a toy store! On the final day the "Sonic Ranger" worked perfectly and ended up in a display case in the engineering building for a short time. It was intense work over a short period of time but was a lot of fun!

I'm a builder of wooden boats, homebrewer, vegetable gardener and am a volunteer leader on an annual youth group work trip to the southern US.

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Liz Gerber - Image credit Lisa Beth Anderson
Liz Gerber
Liz Gerber - Image credit Lisa Beth Anderson

Liz Gerber earned her MS and PhD in Product Design and Management Science and Engineering at Stanford. She specializes in design and human-computer interaction, particularly how social computing supports the innovation process. Her current research investigates crowd-funding as a mechanism for reducing disparities in entrepreneurship.
Gerber's work funded by the US National Science Foundation and the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance has appeared in peer-reviewed journals, including Transactions on Computer Human Interactions, Design Studies, and Organization Science.
As an award-winning teacher and researcher, Liz has touched the lives of more than 6,000 students through her teaching at Northwestern's Segal Design Institute and Stanford University's Hasso Plattner's Institute of Design and through her paradigm-shifting creation, Design for America, a national network of students using design to tackle social challenges.

Image credit - Lisa Beth Anderson

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).

CGA palette
Mark Dean

If you have ever used a PC with a color display you have been acquainted with the work of Mark Dean. After achieving a Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Tennessee, Dean began his career at IBM. Dean served as the chief engineer on the team that developed the first IBM PC, for which he currently holds one third of the patents. With colleague Dennis Moeller, he developed the Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) systems bus, which enabled peripheral devices such as printers, keyboards, and modems to be directly connected to computers, making them both affordable and practical. He also developed the Color Graphics Adapter which allowed for color display on the PC. Most recently, Dean spearheaded the team that developed the one-gigahertz processor chip. Dean went on to obtain a MSEE from Florida Atlantic University and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, has been inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and is the first African-American IBM Fellow.

First computer mouse
Douglas Engelbart
Douglas Engelbart

In 1967, Douglas Engelbart applied for a patent for an "X-Y position indicator for a display system," which he and his team developed at the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park, California. The device, a small, wooden box with two metal wheels, was nicknamed a "mouse" because a cable trailing out of the one end resembled a tail.

In addition to the first computer mouse, Engelbart’s team developed computer interface concepts that led to the GUI interface, and were integral to the development of ARPANET--the precursor to today’s Internet. Engelbart received his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Oregon State University in 1948, followed by an MS in 1953 and a Ph.D. in 1955 both from the University of California, Berkeley.

@ 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.

Image credits