That’s right… in addition to Star Wars Day, it’s Teacher’s Day — in the midst of Teacher Appreciation Week. Indulge me for a moment, in one of my old-man stories.
If you dig deep on my LinkedIn profile, you will notice something funny: for most of my college career, I was a Chemistry major.
I got sidetracked by Biochem, which was really fascinating to me, but at the end of my junior year, my advisor said I was gonna be behind the 8-ball if I didn’t have Physical Chemistry (the dreaded “P-Chem”, as it’s known to chem majors) before starting my senior year. So I signed up for it in summer school.
I went and started the course but the math required was a little… ok… a lot beyond my ability. About the only thing I was any good at in that class was the labs, and the main thing I was good at in the labs was, writing the software to interpret and present the results.
My prof, Dr S, called me to his lab to discuss how badly things were going overall. When I got there, what I saw were useless hunks of lab equipment in complete disarray. Broken or simply outmoded, they had been left there by other chemists who no longer wanted them. Dr. S didn’t care. What was important to him was the boxes and boxes and stacks of boxes of 80-col punch cards. On those many tens of thousands of cards were FORTRAN programs and data modelling the behavior of boron hydrides.
See, Dr. S is a physical chemist. A theoretical physical chemist. He would work on a model, run it, and publish his predictions for the behavior of those molecules. Then, experimental physical chemists would run tests to see how good Dr S’ predictions were. They’d publish their results, Dr. S would have a think about what he could improve in his models, he’d tweak them and go around the cycle again. Two or three times a year. That was his work. Actual lab equipment was not a thing he cared about.
Dr. S had called me to his lab because he’d noticed my one shining ability among the wreckage of my summer of P-Chem. He suggested that I might be happier in the long run pursuing what we call simply called, “Computers.”
I thank him, to this day.