My first computer was a Commodore Plus/4 that my mom purchased at an auction. None of us really knew what its capabilities might be, but I was dying to play with a computer after having read so much about them in science fiction stories.

It was the summer before I entered 7th grade, and I happily buried myself in the BASIC manual that came with it, and soon was tinkering around with really simple programs, illuminated by the glow of the green and amber monitor. ¬†Although the “Plus 4” in the computer’s name refers to the built-in programs it came with (word processor, spreadsheet, database, and graphing), I barely remember trying these out. ¬†I wanted to control the computer myself.

Then I discovered games. My sister and I spent hours playing Bruce Lee, and then I’d spend even more hours exploring my way through Infocom’s interactive fiction. I adored the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and spent hours working through it while recovering from having my wisdom teeth extracted.

Computers have played a role in my life ever since. They’ve helped me get into and out trouble, meet new friends, and stay in touch with old ones. I was irresistibly drawn to Computer Science since those early experiences, and my choice of major was never in doubt. Computers led me to grad school and then to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I learned about computers designed for operation in space (among other things). Without that early influence, how might my career be different? I think I would have chosen some field from science (geology or astronomy) or engineering (mechanical or civic), but it’s hard to say. I like to organize information and understand how things work, and computer science brings the best of those together in one field.