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it's a time for joy, a time for tears

Yesterday was graduation day at the 'tute. I remember the day I graduated, about 20 years ago. In my living room, I
have a picture of myself about to shake Paul Gray's hand. I was smiling, so I guess I was happy, or at least relieved.

It sometimes surprises me that I graduated because there were times when I thought I wasn't going to finish. In
particular, in the summer between junior and senior year, I was convinced that I would withdraw. I was very discouraged
at the time, mostly because in the previous semester, I had switched from CS to EE and was regretting it. (This was
before I learned about computer network modeling and analysis.) I realized that I didn't want to take electromagnetics
or the other stuff the EEs were required to take. I wanted to take abstract algebra for CS majors (now known as 6.042,
which is more of a discrete math class), compilers, and so forth, but I didn't have a lot of confidence in my abilities.
Instead, I was just going to leave and get some kind of hacking job at the 'tute or in the immediate area. I knew
several people who'd left and done just that, so I had some justification for wanting to do so.

I spent a fair amount of time that summer on the ninth floor of 545 Tech Square, which is where some AI Lab hackers'
offices were. I had a lot of conversations with people up there, during which I'd explain my reasons for wanting to
leave the 'tute and asking their advice. One of the people I met, Marty Connor (figmo, do you remember
him?) told me a lot about his background, and how he came to be at MIT. He was a student at the University of Maryland,
I think, where he used to program in assembly language a lot. Someone introduced him to ITS, which he became hooked on,
enough to move up to Cambridge and get a job supporting ITS and MIT-OZ, their new TOPS-20 system. Hearing what he had
done gave me some encouragement, so I volunteered to write some documentation and do a little bit of hacking on MIT-OZ.
It was an interesting time -- exciting in some ways, being around people who were very passionate about hacking.

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
madcaptenor
Jun. 5th, 2004 12:53 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't describe 6.042 as "abstract algebra", unless it's changed a lot...
gregbo
Jun. 5th, 2004 10:24 pm (UTC)
If you look in the course description for 6.042 via OCW, you'll see references to 18.063, which is what I meant by "abstract algebra for CS students." Back in the early 1980s, cryptography was a hot research topic in the CS department, so it was considered important for CS students to know abstract algebra. For some reason, 18.063 was created rather than having students take 18.703, although it was possible to substitute 18.703 for 18.063 by petition. (More on this later, perhaps.)

I had Mattuck for 18.063. When he didn't think people understood what he was talking about in lecture, he used to write Lisp code on the board. I don't think he liked teaching that class very much.


gregbo
Jun. 5th, 2004 11:41 pm (UTC)
BTW, do you like Kate Bush? (I noticed your AOL IM address.) In that summer I described earlier, I got to know Doug Alan, who was the moderator of the Kate Bush usenet newsgroup rec.music.gaffa. I knew who he was before that summer, from seeing him around the EECS terminal room a lot, and also on ITS machines. He had wheel privileges, I think. I was actually somewhat intimidated by him, and was reluctant to talk about my situation. As it turned out, he was having trouble with some EE classes, and wound up changing his major to cognitive science, which enabled him to concentrate on the areas of CS he was most interested in. As an aside, after he graduated he worked for Project Athena and some other MIT labs.

I would write more about him/this, but I have to get ready for my concert.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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