Growing up Geek: My Dad, the Computer Scientist


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An Ignite talk given at Google I/O, about my life with two geeky parents and how I got involved in web development and related areas.

I've pasted my pre-scripted lines on top of the slides so that it makes sense.

I'm entering this in the Tell a Story contest since it happens to be a story, and there's a checkbox for entering it. :)

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  • Growing up Geek: My Dad, the Computer Scientist

    1. 1. Growing Up Geek: My Dad, the Computer Scientist
    2. 2. Me, Now Hey everyone! My name is Pamela Fox, and I’ve been the Google Maps API Support Engineer for the last 2 years. I always get asked how I got into this crazy world of web development, so I figured I’d boil the whole thing down to 5 minutes for you.
    3. 3. In the beginning… Okay, so, yeah I’m a geek. But, I didn’t start the fire! It all started at Caltech - as all good love stories do - when 2 people infinitely geekier than me fell in love. Let me introduce you all to my parents, and justify their geek cred.
    4. 4. My Dad, Geoffrey Fox Here’s my dad. He started in physics, and later moved on to computer science when he realized he needed mad CPU to compute physics shit. He did pimp things back then like write the kernel of the Mathematica forerunner with Stephen Wolfram, and run the physics department with Richard Feynman.
    5. 5. My Mum, Rosemary Kennett Here’s my mum. She was my dad’s physics student --- ooh la la! -- and has a thing for space stuff. She worked at NASA JPL and helped invent a scatterometer, which is now orbiting space above our heads.. Kinda creepy, maybe she programmed it to watch me all the time?
    6. 6. 1984: Pamela Fox Born! “ Highlights of the reaction π-p-->π-π+n at 100 and 175 GeV/c “ “ Study of the Decay D0-->K-π+π0 in High-Energy Photoproduction” 1986: Heather Fox Born! “ Monte Carlo physics on a concurrent processor “ “ Study of inclusive K0S, Λ, and Λ¯ production in diffractive γp interactions “ 1982: Oliver Fox Born! “ An SU(3)-based comparison between inclusive kaon and pion charge exchange scattering in the triple Regge region “ “ Inclusive π0 and η production from kaon, proton and antiproton beams in the triple-Regge region “ They married and decided to have babies, but they never stopped writing research papers with ridiculous titles. Who knew particle decay could provoke so many passionate nights of conception? Also, is it a good thing that the 1984 papers had the dorkiest titles?
    7. 7. We kids were pretty oblivious to the fact that our family was.. different. We didn’t realize it was strange to have portraits of Richard Feynman and framed super computer chips around the house instead of family photos. I found out years later that there were no wedding pix cuz my parents eloped.. Too busy writing papers, I guess.
    8. 8. PCs/TVs = 6/1 We also didn’t realize that it was peculiar to have 6 computers in our house and a puny 13 inch TV. It made family communication a whole lot easier – when it was dinner time, I’d just send an instant message to my dad upstairs from the downstairs computer.!
    9. 9. T1 = Insta-Friends! Speaking of that - We were also the only house in the city with a T1 connection. To me, that mostly meant instant popularity. I had so many new friends wanting to come over and browse backstreet boys sites … and porn!
    10. 10. For the most part, I was using the myriad computers for playing with awesome old school programs -like Carmen San Diego, which I desperately want to redo with the Maps API -and Kid Pix Deluxe, which is Paint on Crack.
    11. 11. “ Internet Assistant supports Microsoft Internet Explorer's new HTML tags such as marquee text, watermarks, in-line video, superscript and subscript, and background sounds. “ But then one day, I realized it was Mother’s Day and I’d forgotten to get a present. So I did some googling (yahoo’ing) and found out about HTML -- and a nifty plugin for MS Word called Internet Assistant. I’ve never had to buy presents since!
    12. 12. My dad saw my interest in programming, and introduced me to REAL programming - Perl! On one fateful new years eve, instead of doing the traditional thing and watching fireworks, I compiled my first Perl program with my dad sitting next to me.
    13. 13. Pamela Fox My dad was a huge proponent of Java back then -- the future of the Internet - so he had me learn Java and help run a Saturday Java Academy for high school students - which I invited all my friends to, of course. That’s where my first boyfriend asked me out - with a Java applet! I said yes, of course.
    14. 14. As kids, we’d always had a lot of freedom, but suddenly my dad became strict. He had one rule and one rule only: I could only go out and have allowance if I had programmed Java that week. He was intent on me becoming his protégé, and evangelizing Java to the world.
    15. 15. Right…. Sooo, right, I programmed a bit.. But there was so much else to do in high school - like being class president, layout editor of the newspaper, and a mentor to middle school students. Dad wasn’t thrilled.
    16. 16. I went to USC for a straight Computer Science degree -- that was still my core interest - so that appeased Dad a bit. But I still continued exploring other loves - like linguistics, animation, leadership, and volunteerism. I had to follow my straying heart.
    17. 17. HMM.. MAYBE THERE IS MORE TO LIFE THAN PROGRAMMING? One day during my senior year, my dad gave a talk at USC about SOAP web services, which looked like gobbledy gook to me. But more importantly, during that visit, he saw all I had accomplished at USC, and he admitted that maybe he’d been wrong about telling me to do nothing but program. That felt good.
    18. 18. A year later, I got into making mashups and using APIs -- and eventually learnt SOAP -- and confirmed that it is indeed gobbledy gook, but in XML form. And, I’m proud to announce, my dad finally admitted another thing a few weeks ago - SOAP is sooo 5 years ago.
    19. 19. What about the rest of my family? My sister is now at a web development program in Boston, specializing in jQuery. My brother logged off Facebook a few years ago, before we created our Fox Family group, so we don’t actually know what he’s up to. Let us know if you’ve seen him.
    20. 20. My mum is a scientific programmer, analyzing spectral imagery from rocket emissions. So, yeah, pretty much a rocket scientist. She visited recently, and says they’re thinking of publishing their results using Google App Engine and Amazon EC2. It’s funny how we’ve all converged to the same point.
    21. 21. GEEK: The Next Generation My dad recently had new spawn, with a new wife- also a former Physics student (I’m beginning to see a pattern). It looks like he’s already trying to get her interested in programming, but I hope he encourages her to explore everything else too.. And hey, I bet she’ll come out geek after all.