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Writing a compiler for the Burroughs Corporation


Wanting to be a teacher and why I chose to go to Caltech
Donald Knuth Scientist
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I never thought of that as a career. That was my summer job at... at Case, but there was no such thing as a career in... in computers, and computers were just, you know, this weird thing on the periphery of society. What did I really want to do, as... as my own career? When I was in... when I was in Grade School, I wanted to be a Grade School teacher. I wanted to, you know, if I was in Sixth Grade I was thinking of myself as a future sixth grade teacher, seventh grade and so on. And in high school, I wanted to be a high school teacher. I always viewed myself as having... as being a teacher later on, and also maybe with a... with a part time job as a musician or something. So I got to college, I wanted to be a college teacher, I got to graduate school, I thought, okay, graduate school teacher, but... but I never thought of computer science as a... as a part of my career, it was something that I... that I could do in order to make money, to... to prepare myself for a... for a career that I'd heard about before. It was like, so... so I was going to be a physics teacher, then I was going to be math teacher, when I switched into math.

And I went to... okay, so, when I... when I finally graduated from Case, I... I had been recommended that I should go to... to the West Coast.  Well, no, I... I chose the West Coast for... for graduate school, because my family, we... we would go; finally we had enough money to take vacations in the summer time, and we could drive around, and so we had driven to the different parts of the United States, and I fell in love with California.  So when I applied to graduate school, I applied to Caltech, Stanford and Berkeley. Basically, where... where should I go to... to do my mathematics? And I was accepted to all three, and I had scholarships to all three, and... and... but the... but I had been specially recommended to Caltech, because of Professor Marshall Hall, who later became my advisor, since at... at Case we had.. we had a visitor, Professor Bose, a... a great Indian mathematician, who had just... who had been... introduced me to research, and he spoke very highly of... of Marshall Hall. Bose, at the time, was... was doing his famous work about disproving Euler's Conjecture about Latin Squares; it's a... it's an interesting subject, a several hundred year old problem, where... where people hadn't been able to... to construct patterns that are... that are useful in... in many parts of statistics and... and combinatorics and... and Euler – this greatest mathematician of all time, probably, or at least in everybody's Top Ten – in the... in the 1700s had conjectured that there was no solution to this problem, and three or four people had even proved that... that he was right, but... but there were mistakes in the proof, and so... so finally, my professor... my Professor Bose and two of his co-workers found that Euler was wrong, and that there were... were really patterns of the kind. And... and so Bose got me interested in... in research, because I was at the Computer Center, and he had a... he had a computing problem that he... he couldn't solve, and he put me to work on Latin Squares of Order 12, and I came back the next morning with five mutually orthogonal Latin Squares of Order 12.  And this excited him very much, and... and that was my third technical paper, I guess, was this paper with Bose. But he recommended Marshall Hall, who was one of the leading mathematicians in... in [the] combinatorial mathematics area, and so I... I liked the idea of going to Caltech.

Born in 1938, American computing pioneer Donald Knuth is known for his greatly influential multi-volume work, 'The Art of Computer Programming', his novel 'Surreal Numbers', his invention of TeX and METAFONT electronic publishing tools and his quirky sense of humor.

Listeners: Dikran Karagueuzian

Trained as a journalist, Dikran Karagueuzian is the director of CSLI Publications, publisher of seven books by Donald Knuth. He has known Knuth since the late seventies when Knuth was developing TeX and Metafont, the typesetting and type designing computer programs, respectively.

Tags: California, United States, Caltech, Stanford, Berkeley, Case Institute of Technology, Marshall Hall, Raj Chandra Bose, Leonhard Euler

Duration: 4 minutes, 32 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2006

Date story went live: 24 January 2008