How I Became a Theorist
Inspiring a Love of Math
There is some mention of puzzles having influenced their (and commenters on their blog's) choice to do CS theory, but they also stress the importance of taking lots of formal mathematics – analysis, algebra, topology, combinatorics, etc.
As a point of fact, the two CS theory grad students at UCLA that I knew best had different backgrounds and approaches. EP, my study partner for the first two quarters of the 1989-1990 academic year, attributed most of his success to being able to solve puzzles. In fact, he did not have much of a (formal) mathematics background. OTOH, Liz Borowsky was an undergrad math major. However, she started a year after I did, so she did not take any of the theory classes that I took from Stott Parker. (We were both in Greibach's computational complexity class, however.) So I don't know how well she would have done, or what she would have thought of Stott's classes. By his own admission, Stott was a low grader, and some people might be discouraged about pursuing research with him if they received a low grade from him. But he encouraged people to approach him with their research ideas. (Guess who was one of the professors on my master's research project committee.) So for me, it was a mixed bag, having (perhaps) lower grades than if I'd taken the first three theory classes from Greibach, but being able to make a connection with a professor who was actively interested in my research.
Since I'm reflecting on my UCLA experiences a bit, I'll just briefly recall what my first few days of grad school were like. There was no great assembly of new grad students along Bruin Walk, or anything like that, but there was a little gathering in a courtyard off of entrances to Boelter Hall and one of the Engineering buildings. (I don't remember which one for sure, and there has been a lot of construction since 1989.) I remember going to the campus bookstore looking for (used) textbooks, and being followed by some guy who claimed to be a university employee and was trying to tell me that I would have a good but challenging experience at UCLA. (I guess he was right.) Before classes started, I rode my bicycle from my Mar Vista apartment to campus (about 6.5 miles, mostly uphill, but I was in much better shap back then). But for Kleinrock's 8am intro to network modeling and analysis class, I took two buses.
One more thing, major love out to Verra Morgan, graduate CS student affairs officer extraordinaire, who recently announced her retirement. IMO, she was the heart and soul of the graduate CS department.