It’s been about a week now since Randy Pausch of Carnegie Mellon gave his last lecture. In high school and middle school computer science Randy is best known for being the person behind Alice – the graphical virtual reality programming environment. Alice is a very powerful and fun tool for teaching programming concepts.
Randy is dying from pancreatic cancer which is why this was his last lecture. While a lot of people linked to his lecture (here) right away I have been holding off. I’ve been processing. There is a lot in this lecture. The hour and a half goes fast – in some ways too fast – and I’ve listened to parts of it a couple of times. As I was listening to some of it again yesterday I thought “if one was going to make an inspiring movie about the life of a computer scientist this would be the life to do it on.”
It’s a story of someone with hopes and dreams and a sense of fun overcoming obstacles (Randy calls them “brick walls”) to achieve their dreams. And it is about having fun. All to often we tend to think of university faculty as dry, stiff boring people. That is the media’s fault I think. The faculty members I have met (and I’ve met a lot of them in the last few years) all seem to have a sense of humor and wide ranging interests even beyond their field of study. One can see that in Randy’s talk.
Randy also talks about the influence of one of his teachers and mentors – Andries (Andy) van Dam of Brown University. Andy is one of the giants in the field of computer science. He can be awfully intimidating (trust me – I’ve seen that in person) but he is also a great teacher who inspires others, who pushes them the get the most of things and he has a great sense of fun. Good teachers are like that I think. The video at the CMU site includes some words from Andy Van Dam that the Google video site doesn’t BTW.
Anyway I highly recommend the video of Randy Pausch’s last lecture to anyone. Randy shows how people in computer science can achieve lots of goals including some we don’t normally associate with computer science – things like being weightless or becoming a Disney Imagineer. Really cool stuff.