Richard H. Austing Interview: Selected Quotes

This page includes a number of quotes from the Richard Austin interview. The interview overview page provides access to some background information, the audio from the interview, and a transcript of the interview.


link to return back to top Dick Austing Richard Austing interview excerpt:
Serendipity and openings at University of Maryland

{Question: When did you choose computer science?} Almost by accident. Toward the ... near the last semester before getting the doctoral degree, I was actually just walking down the hallway at the university. And one of the faculty members there said something about, "You know they have openings over at the University of Maryland computer science center," which had just begun about a year before that. Much of my life there was a bunch of happenstances that were very timely, as far as I was concerned, and this was one of them. He said, "Would you be interested in that?" And I said, "Well, I don't know anything about computing particularly." I did have a course in numerical analysis and my adviser was in numerical analysis, but I wasn't using a computer at the time. So I said, "It sounds interesting." I did want to stay in the area, you know, geographical area, Washington D.C. / Maryland area. So I said, "Well, would you like me to call over there?" and he said, "Yeah." So I went over and had an interview and they needed somebody at the time. They had ... the center there, they had a big grant and they were just getting faculty. They didn't have an educational program at the center at the time, but that was part of their charge, to develop one. So they needed people. And they hired me.

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Curriculum development as a career theme

As things developed, they did develop a program and I was involved in that, which was a very, again, fortunate event for me because I really enjoyed doing curriculum development. And it kind of became my theme the rest of my career. I was in, to me, a very fruitful place for development of curriculum, because the center was not attached to any department. [...] We weren’t in engineering, we weren't in mathematics, we weren't in physics, we weren't in any other things. So we could really develop something that was different. [...] So I was in a place where things were happening as far as curriculum development goes. We didn’t have the first program in computing, but I feel we really had a lot sources for the development of it. A lot of places did not have, so I felt very happy about that.

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Choice of research and promotion

Again I was fortunate to get promoted from assistant to associate professor before the real crunch on research came. And I never became professor because the crunch came. [laughter] And the kind of stuff I was doing, any papers in the area of curriculum, and a book or something, or co-authoring a something, was not considered the kind of research that was promotable. So I stayed an associate professor and found enough to do.

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Develop a strong undergraduate program

I guess I felt very strongly then that part of my advice to the colleges I went to to do the consulting was to develop a good strong undergraduate program, and the graduate program will take care of itself. I think they heard the message, but I think financially they wanted a few graduate students. Also, the faculty were more interested in the development of their own intellect, etc. than teaching graduate students. But I kind of felt that should come after a solid undergraduate program.

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Comfortable with where I was and what I was doing

I guess what a lot of people would look at as challenge didn't strike me quite that way. For example, my getting to the associate professorship, not to the full. I'm sure to a number of people in the profession, at least, would have been a challenge. I was very comfortable with where I was and what I was doing, so it didn't bother me at all.

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Advantages and disadvantages of committees

I preferred working through committees. And committee work just does take longer than one or two people working individually on something. But I think the results are much -- for the type of work we were doing, curriculum stuff, the results were much more [...] had more impact, just because of the names, the variety of names, on that curriculum. If one person put out a curriculum, well that is his/her own ideas, which may not be that wonderful. But if a group did it with a backing like ACM, it just meant more. But it took more time, working with a committee, getting people to do things, etc. etc. Working it out, getting approvals up the line for publication. In some sense those were challenges, but I thought they were reasonable paths to work through the things.

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Broad base at the beginning

But I think the most important thing to do if you're going to college with the idea of a degree, and possibly in computing, is to get a broad base at the beginning so that when you change your mind, you can go into other things and you don't have to repeat everything. It wastes a lot of years trying to pick up other pre-requisites. I think the more liberal the education (of course that's my background), but the more liberal the education, the better off you're going to be, both as a computer person and as a person. So I would advocate moving in that direction.