"Professional Profile" of Randy Pausch
ACM SIGGRAPH Education Committee Newsletter,
Volume 1, Issue 8.0, Winter 1996

Q. How would you describe yourself? (professionally and personally)

A. I'm a user interface designer; by formal training, I'm a computer scientist, but I've learned a bunch of perceptual psychology, cognitive psychology and industrial design along the way. One way I've described myself in detail is on my web home page, which is http://www.randypausch.com

What are some of your goals? (professionally and personally)

A. That's a hard one. Once you have tenure at a University, you run out of externally provided goals. Most of my goals are vague and long term: I want to discover new models for human-computer interaction; we're used to be at a plateau where it was keyboard and 24x80 CRT, now we're at a plateau where it's a mouse-based GUI. The next plateau is anybody's guess -- it'll probably involve voice input in some capacity. My biggest short term goal is getting the Alice project delivered; that's a system where we're trying to provide a free, easy-to-learn 3d graphics toolkit on Windows '95. It's currently available at http://www.alice.org and we hope it will allow lots of people to play around with 3d graphics.

Q. How do you utilize computer technology?

A. In my research, we use all kinds of exotic technology to provide an immersive virtual reality experience to the user. Actually, at that level, even the word "user" starts to seem inappropriate. We've been using the term "participant," along I must admit I liked the Disney term, which is "guest."

On a day-to-day basis, the most important thing computers provide me is a terrific communications infrastructure. I can run a team of 20 people, a class with 80 students, and be on the road 1/3rd of the time without it hurting them too much. In fact, I'm *much* more accessible than faculty who are in town all the time, but who don't use email, because students can *always* get a question answered from me quickly -- without email, they have to try to catch the professor when he/she's in the office, and not currently busy.

Q. Any dreams? What do you want to do when you grow up?

A. I always wanted to play in the NFL, but I think that's a lost cause. Ditto for traveling in space. I *don't* want to grow up. Most of the people I admire deeply have managed to keep the child-like wonder alive, well into their elder years.

Q. How did you get to where you are now?

A. Call me in my office any Friday night and I'll tell you the secrets of my success. The truth is, I've worked hard, I've been lucky, I've had a wonderful set of mentors along the way, and I now have a very dedicated set of people I'm working with. My parents gave me a piece of advice that I took to heart: find something you'd want to do anyway, and let somebody call it a "job" and pay you for it. It's great advice!

Q. Any heroes? Why?

A. I have a picture of Jackie Robinson on my wall (first black major league baseball player). It's there to remind me that when there's prejudice or hostility, the best way to address it is to do your job well.

Q. Would you describe yourself as successful? Famous? How do you determine either?

A. Famous? Well, I got my name printed in "Variety" (but only because they printed the SIGGRAPH speaker schedule, so I"m not sure that counts). Successful? I'm happy, and some people think what I do with my time is worthwhile, so I guess that means I'm successful. That's a hard one. I certainly like to think that over the last seven years I've helped a bunch of students do interesting things, and helped prepare them for life.

Q. Any pet peeves in the computer graphics, computer science, industry/business/research?

A. The computer science community still doesn't understand the importance of the human-computer interface. (This feeling that HCI isn't "real computer science" in fact led to my getting a picture of Jackie Robinson.) To be blunt, it's a sociological thing - many computer scientists are drawn to the field because they like clean-cut technological challenges; if they were highly interested in *people*, they probably wouldn't have gone into computer science! Combine that with the fact that HCI is inherently less objective, and you have a self-perpetuating system where HCI is looked down upon. The real tragedy of this is that it's *terribly* important work, and if the CS community doesn't do it, some other community will.

Q. Pros and Cons in your choice of profession?

A. Being a professor means total flexibility in how I run my life, and a huge ability to re-define the job on a year-to-year basis. The downside is that the ivory tower *really* isn't the real world, and there's a never-ending struggle to survive. Raising grant money is no fun.

Q. Any advice for aspiring professors?

A. To succeed as a junior faculty member? Be honest and open with people. Ask senior people for advice, and *take* it! Be prepared to work hard - really hard. Decide what you want, and how badly you want it. It's almost impossible to work 40 hours a week and succeed if the person competing with you is willing to work 70.

Q. Do you have any related hobbies that contribute to your professional aspirations?

A. Not directly. My hobbies are mostly Scuba diving, sewing, and spending lots of time baby-sitting my niece and nephew. As hobbies, they have the benefit that they take all my concentration and energy when I'm doing them, so they help me clear my mind and *not* think about work.

Q. Any issues that you find people are usually confused bout regarding your career that you would like to clear up?

A. There is a myth about college professors, which is that we are like high school teachers. In truth, it's much more complicated than that at a modern research university. For example, I'm expected to generate enough money from outside sources (federal grants and industrial sources) to pay my own salary, pay the tuition and stipend on a half a dozen grad students, and pay for the equipment and space that we all use. Given that model, one could reasonably argue that any teaching I do is pro bono. Instead, I constantly read newspaper articles about how professors like myself are *only* teaching one or two courses per semester. In fields where we are expected to generate lots of revenue, I think it's criminal that people don't understand the nature of the modern job.

Q. Does it bother you that you don't get recognition for work you do on big projects? or do you?

A. I get too much recognition. I spend most of my time trying to remind people that the work I show only exists because of the wonderfully talented and hard-working set of students in our group. In the long run, the payoff is that the students are now finding that getting into good graduate schools, or landing good jobs, is easier now that our group has some national visibility.

Q. Any final points you would like to make?

A. We live in an age of cynicism, and that's very unfortunate. Most students I see seem to believe that they're adrift in a sea where they have no control over where they end up. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The key is to find your passion for something, and run with it!