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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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.

Router
Sandra Lerner

It is difficult to imagine a time when computers were not capable of sharing information and resources with great ease. Sandra Lerner pushed the boundaries of network computing as one of the co-founders of Cisco Systems, which introduced one of the first commercially viable routers. The router was born while Sandra was working at Stanford University in the 1980’s after earning her Master’s degree there in Computer Science. To avoid the tedious task of transferring information between computers using floppy disks, she and co-founder of Cisco, Leonard Bosack, created a local area network, or LAN, between their campus offices using a multiprotocol router that Bosack developed. Shortly thereafter the pair started Cisco Systems, and began selling the router which was a success, because it could work with so many different types of computers. After Leaving Cisco in 1990, Lerner started the trendy cosmetics company Urban Decay and became a philanthropist and avid activist for animal rights.

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.

RISC processor
John Hennessy
John Hennessy

Have you ever wondered how computers can execute complex commands in mere seconds? John Hennessy is a pioneer of reduced instruction set computing (RISC) architecture which employs small, highly-optimized sets of instructions to greatly enhance computer performance. He was instrumental in transferring the technology, specifically MIPS RISC architecture, to industry. He co-founded MIPS Technologies and co-authored the classic textbook with David A. Patterson, on Computer Architecture.

As Stanford faculty he rose to be the Chairman of the Computer Science Department, Dean of the School of Engineering, then Provost and finally the President of Stanford in 2000 (and till date). Hennessy holds a Master’s and Ph.D. in Computer Science from SUNY Stony Brook. He is an IEEE Fellow and was selected to receive the IEEE Medal of Honor in 2012. Hennessey also launched significant activities that helped to foster interdisciplinary research in the biosciences and bioengineering at Stanford.

Turing machine
Alan Mathison Turing
Alan Mathison Turing

Did you know that computing has been used in military espionage and has even influenced the outcome of major wars? Alan Mathison Turing designed the code breaking machine that enabled the deciphering of German communications during WWII. As per the words of Winston Churchill, this would remain the single largest contribution to victory. In addition, he laid the groundwork for visionary fields such as automatic computing engines, artificial intelligence and morphogenesis. Despite his influential work in the field of computing, Turing experienced extreme prejudice during his lifetime regarding his sexual orientation. There is no doubt that computers are ubiquitously part of our lives due to the infusion of Turing’s contributions.

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