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.

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.

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.

Bletchley Park
Dr. Sue Black
Dr. Sue Black

Dr. Sue Black has demonstrated the power of social networking. She used Web 2.0 technologies to help raise awareness of, and critical funding for, Bletchley Park, the UK World War II center for decrypting enemy messages. She has also been an active campaigner for equality and support for women in technology fields, founding a number of online networking platforms for women technology professionals. A keen researcher, Dr. Black completed a PhD in software measurement in 2001. Her research interests focus on software quality improvements. She has recently won the PepsiCo Women's Inspiration Network award, been named Tech Hero by ITPRO magazine and was awarded the first John Ivinson Award from the British Computer Society. In 2011 Dr. Black set up The goto Foundation, a nonprofit organization which aims to make computer science more meaningful to the public, generate public excitement in the creation of software, and build a tech savvy workforce. Read Sue's blog about The goto Foundation: http://gotofdn.org

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