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Interview with Harry Smith, April 22, 2004 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Title:
Interview with Harry Smith, April 22, 2004
Date:
April 22, 2004
Description:
Retired computer science professor Harry Smith discusses his academic and professional experiences, including changes in computer technology and working in the industry versus working in academia.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Smith, Harry Interviewer: Hayes, Sherman Date of Interview: 4/22/2004 Series: Voices of UNCW Length: 49:31

Hayes: Greetings! My name is Sherman Hayes, I'm university librarian at uh.. Randall Library at UNCW. Today's date is April 22nd, 2004. We're part of our UNCW Voices series with faculty member Harry Smith. Well, why don't you tell us, Harry, what your full name is, so that we have...

Smith: Well, Harry F. Smith is good enough.

Hayes: Harry F. Smith. And you're a professor in the department of...

Smith: Computer Science.

Hayes: Computer Science now, and just recently retired after a long and distinguished career here. But I thought before we do the UNCW years, you've had such an interesting background in getting here, let's-- why don't we go way back and tell me about your beginnings. Where'd you grow up, and family, and get started.

Smith: I grew up in Pennsylvania. And uh.. I- I began work for IBM uh.. rather young.

Hayes: Well, where'd you go to school then?

Smith: Columbia University. I got all my degrees at Columbia University. Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate.

Hayes: From Columbia?

Smith: Columbia University, yes.

Hayes: But you grew up in Pennsylvania?

Smith: Yeah, well, and after-- well, I was in the navy. When I got out of the navy, then I relocated to New York City and began my education really, okay?

Hayes: When was that?

Smith: Oh, let's see. That would've been in the late '40s, early '50s, I guess.

Hayes: So were you in World War II or just after World War II?

Smith: Just afterward. I was in the navy actually during the Korean war, but I didn't see any combat of any kind.

Hayes: Yeah, but okay, but that gives a sense of Korean veteran.

Smith: Yeah, that's right.

(overlapping conversation)

Smith: The GI Bill, so that was helpful.

Hayes: Hey, yeah. Did you go continuously in school?

(overlapping conversation)

Hayes: And just kept right through?

Smith: Yeah, actually before I joined the navy, I'd gone to MIT for two years, and then I got out and went in the navy. And then when I came out of the navy, I went to Columbia and I stayed there throughout getting my degrees. Okay. Uh.. and it was in-- there was no computer science program, or there were very, very few of them at that time. So I was in applied mathematics. Uh...

Hayes: And that's what your PhD is in?

Smith: That's right, that's what it's in, correct. Although I was really doing computer science.

Hayes: Early on you decided that's what you wanted to...

Smith: Yes, I uh.. I began working with computers even before I joined the navy. Uh.. you know, I- I was...

Hayes: But what was there in that time? I didn't even know there were...

Smith: Oh, they had these punch-card machine computers. It was a very different world. But uh.. I enjoyed it immensely. I mean, that really got me hooked. So there was no question in my mind that that was what I wanted to do whenever I got out of the navy, go get a degree in computer science. And Columbia suited it. Because what happened, I was able to work at Watson Laboratory in New York City, right on the campus of the university, uh.. and get my degree. And my immediate boss at the laboratory was Wallace Eckert, a very famous name in celestial mechanics. So he- he was uh.. my employer, direct employer. He was in-- he was the head of the laboratory. He was my thesis supervisor, and uh.. it was a very incestuous type of thing. (laughs)

Hayes: Watson, the founder of IBM...

Smith: That's right.

Hayes: ...had to have what, endowed this lab?

Smith: That's right.

Hayes: But it was a Columbia lab, it wasn't an IBM lab?

Smith: I'm not sure how to describe that. Uh.. it was all paid for by IBM.

Hayes: Really?

Smith: But it was essentially on the campus of Columbia University. And I was there for many years while I got my doctorate and worked away and supported myself getting my degree. It was a very cozy relationship.

Hayes: And where'd you live in New York, then? I mean, did you...

Smith: I had a rented room in an apartment, right-- 113th Street and Broadway.

Hayes: That's great.

Smith: Those were good years.

Hayes: Yeah. And you loved New York City?

Smith: Yes!

Hayes: It must've been a fun time to be in New York. Through this must've been in the '50s.

Smith: That's right.

Hayes: Much of the '50s?

Smith: That's right, yeah. And uh.. it was great to be in New York City at that time. I'm not sure if I'd like to live there now. I'd like to visit, but I don't think I'd like to live there now. It was a great time. Yeah.

Hayes: So tell me about this mentor/professor that you worked with. Who/what?

Smith: Wallace Eckert. Uh.. at one time he was the head of the US Naval Observatory. But he was really a professor of astronomy at Columbia University, and he was also the head of this laboratory. Which IBM had set up so he could be there to- to run the laboratory. He was one of the real pioneers. Not well-known for a real pioneer in computing.

Hayes: Interesting.

Smith: Yeah.

Hayes: Even though he was an astronomer by...

Smith: Well, he was one of the first people to really use computers uh.. for scientific computing.

Hayes: Okay.

Smith: That's how it got started. Uh.. so he was a-- like I say, a real pioneer in that IBM appreciated his-- what he could do and get them started down that road.

Hayes: Now did you being in a PhD program that long, did that create kind of life-long contacts out of that?

Smith: Well, yeah, I uh.. worked for IBM for many years after that point, you know.

Hayes: Oh, okay.

Smith: I worked for IBM for actually over 30 years uh.. after I got my degree. I worked after- after I left Watson Laboratory, I had a Fulbright, and went to Spain and taught computing in Spanish at the University of Madrid for a year.

Hayes: And you had that fluency in Spanish?

Smith: Well, I picked up the fluency in Spanish before that, I'd been working on it for a while. And so uh.. it worked. I don't want to say how well it worked, but it worked. I- I felt pretty comfortable uh.. trying to do it. And when I came back from Spain-- or we did, I was married then-- and uh.. so we lived in Washington, DC, for a while for IBM, worked there. And then went to Palo Alto-- I was still with IBM, and I was there for a long while at the scientific center, Palo Alto, California.

Hayes: And what kind of work were you then concentrating on?

Smith: Uh.. a variety of computing projects of all kinds. I- I liked the atmosphere. We were sort of s-- in those days, very self-directed, so we picked a project area and work in it. So a lot of it-- various computing types of applications I worked in, okay. Uh.. and I was there-- and while I was there, I became interested in teaching, I thought. So I began to teach part-time at first uh.. De Anza College. Nice-- very nice community college there. And then I went from there to San Jose State University, teaching there for a while. And I was actually UC Santa Cruz as a visiting professor briefly. And then I retired, and IBM had a program then where there was a real shortage of people in engineering and computing, and so they subsidized the transfer of, you know, out of leaving the company and going to work at a-- some university. Uh.. so I interviewed at several places, and I liked being somewhere near the ocean. And so I wound up coming here.

Hayes: And what year was that then?

Smith: That must've been like 1988, I'm thinking. I think I've got that right, yeah, about 1988 that was.

Hayes: You're coming in then is pretty unusual for us to have a computer scientist who had actually been in the field, compared to the...

Smith: Relatively, yes. Yeah.

Hayes: Because it was for most people still much more lucrative, right, to stay in the field than...

Smith: That's true. Uh.. but I- I-- by that time I knew I liked teaching quite a bit. And I had the uh.. it's funny, I was talking to Doug Smith about this just the other day...

Hayes: And Doug is?

Smith: He was my first chair when I was-- when we were...

Hayes: Chair at UNCW.

Smith: Very...

Hayes: I'm just saying for the people listening.

Smith: Very, very nice guy. And uh.. he remembered that I had said, "Well, I'm going to come here, and live a laid-back life compared to what I was doing with IBM." (laughs) And it didn't work that way at all! I worked much harder here for those first years than I had in the last years at I-- because I- I liked it so much, it was just the challenge of doing it, you know.

Hayes: That's good.

Smith: I liked the idea of you just follow your nose and do whatever you get interested in doing. That- that's great! Uh.. so...

Hayes: And where was computing at that time? Was it still a mainframe world when you came? Or was that still the...

Smith: Well, when I came PCs were-- IBM had entered the PC market by that time. And so uh.. they were pretty big news, although there were still a lot of mainframes, too. But uh...

Hayes: The transition had started pretty heavily.

Smith: The transition had started maybe five or six years at least.

Hayes: And was your work mainly tied to a type of machine, or was it more theoretical what you were doing at IBM?

Smith: More theoretical, I would say, yeah. Some compiling applications, some other-- some virtual memory applications. Various things which were just- just _________ here.

overlapping conversation>

Hayes: One of the things that I've always found, people who were on the technical side will say the mainframes, and then came into a university-setting where they wanted either theory or PCs could be out of water. But it didn't affect you then in that sense.

Smith: No, it did not, no, no.

Hayes: Now the department that you came into was really mathematics, though.

Smith: That's right. They call it mathematical sciences to be precise.

Hayes: And how recently have they split in CIS, has that been about four years?

Smith: I- I would say-- time goes so fast, maybe five or six together. And uh.. the way these things work, it wasn't-- I mean there had been some noise, I guess, among the faculty-- computing faculty, too, about their own department. But what really made it happen was the administration decided that we should be a separate department, so that's what made it work.

Hayes: Well, I was in part of that discussion and I don't think that it came out of any divorce within the department. We've had that on campus, a few departments people call divorces, but it seemed like from a market standpoint that computing had become so dominant as a separate visible field that the students almost wanted to say "I have a degree in..."

Smith: Yeah, I'm sure that would've been a factor.

Hayes: You know, I mean, the math, you know, it was in many ways similar products, but it was the students saying, "I need that degree called computer..."

Smith: I think the thing is that it-- some of the computing faculty had wishes for this to happen. And that wasn't sufficient. At some point the administration decided, you know, that made sense, if a response to student things, whatever, but the decision came from above, basically. And we were all happy when it came. That wasn't a problem.

Hayes: But you still have good relationships with the math department. And you say Smith, who was your hiring department chair, and was here as the department chair for years and years and years.

Smith: I- I must confess, I uh.. I was slightly sad about the separation, because I liked being in that department, and several times I taught mathematics courses, and even designed some new mathematics courses a couple of times. And that opportunity wouldn't exist right now so much since we're separated.

Hayes: Well, tell me about the kind of courses that you teach then. I mean, in other words, what does a computer science professor concentrate on? I mean, I don't know that most people who aren't in the field would understand the differences.

Smith: Perhaps- perhaps not. I- I think to the man on the street, computer science means programming. But there's much more to it, of course. And uh.. while here in the department I've taught ______ the program for non-majors, uh.. it's an introductory thing. I've taught the first courses for our majors. Uh.. I've taught programming languages a lot.

Hayes: Which languages are particularly ones that you work at?

Smith: Oh, I guess over the years, I used to say you had to learn a new language every year. That's no longer quite the case. But I guess I've programmed about a dozen languages throughout my lifetime.

Hayes: Such as.

Smith: Oh, this is back in FORTRAN, then C, and C++, and Java, and uh.. goodness, uh.. Prolog. I'm having trouble remembering some of them now. Various kinds of sym- symbol language. Quite a few. Yeah, and Lisk, Ada, I don't know where to stop.

Hayes: That's useful. I mean, to get a sense of at this time period what were the languages that students had to learn. I mean, that's the...

Smith: The course that our majors use now is Java. And uh.. these things are almost religious. At a certain point, you know, a better religion will come along. I don't know. I'm not sure. I really like Java. I think it's quite a bit superior to some of the other things we had to use, okay. And uh.. but the other part of that is what will students find employment in when they leave the university. So- so that makes it, you know, that's-- influences...

(overlapping conversation)

Hayes: Well, in a sense you're not free to just go your own way, because industry is dictating some of that, right? I mean, what's happening...

Smith: They're certainly pushing us, yeah. Uh.. but I don't see much of-- I found- I found much more of a push to do things a certain way when I was just my-- in my latter years at IBM. In my early years with IBM there was a lot of freedom to pick project areas and work in them. You could always justify it over just each conversation. I think the later years of IBM, the uh.. business was always trying to monitor what you were doing, and see if it made some business sense. And that was sort of a-- just a nuisance sometimes.

Hayes: Well, I think that I've talked to other people that have said that that's a real shift. That pure research is just less and less...

Smith: Less and less satisfactory. This is what I see everyday.

Hayes: And yet, in the end, doesn't it drive an awful lot of the breakthrough, but uh...

Smith: Well, I don't know how-- I'm really not too sure that all that effort to regulate research. I don't know how well it pays off compared to letting people just do serendipitously what they like to do. I think that pays off more sometimes. But that's my point of view. But coming to university, see, I-- there's a lot more freedom to follow your oats. So I- I learned a lot of things here that I wouldn't have had a chance to learn maybe at IBM, 'cause I...

Hayes: Now the university at the time you came was in a transition to talk about scholarship as an expectation from the faculty. Did you fall under that same rubric? I mean, you had come from a research back, but had you come from a writing standpoint? I didn't know.

Smith: Yes, my big effort there was a textbook I wrote for a graduate course in data structures. So I used that when I was teaching data structures here several times also, okay. But yeah, there is a big shift which caught some of the older faculty, I think, not well-prepared to spend more time doing research. At least as well as teaching. I didn't mind that.

Hayes: I was going to say you had that orientation coming in, in a sense, from your IBM years, right? Now what would at IBM, though.. they probably didn't expect an article. Did they want you to write it up more for the potential use of the company?

Smith: I think they would've been happiest if there was some application program that one wrote that they could then use/sell, you know, to make money with. I think that was the research. 'Cause I was not in pure research. I was in what's called scientific centers, which is a little more closer to the market. Okay.

Hayes: Talking about some other courses that you taught, when you said you'd taught an introductory course, I mean, this is the whole A to Z of computing type thing?

Smith: No, it's-- as it-- to- to be a little more specific, they-- we have a course in the department called 105, which is an introductory course. When I first came here, I wound up teaching that, all the sections of that, for several years, maybe three sections each semester, and I got tired of it after a while, obviously. And now there're about-- the department has over a dozen- dozen sections of that every semester, but I don't wind up with those. Other people get them.

Hayes: Good.

Smith: But the courses have, I think in my mind, have-- that course has degenerated from what it was into being a course just the skills like in word processing, spreadsheet and database. Not much of an overview of what computing is like. No programming, that kind of stuff. Uh.. there's a- there's a move afoot called fluency in information technology. Uh.. there was quite a large committee that looked into this years ago, and I heard uh.. Snyder, he was the chairman of University of Washington, computer science, describing it. Uh.. an effort to give people an introductory course that would leave them much better prepared for when uh.. as they got older. 'Cause things change so much. Not just like skills that'll be obsolete in a year from now, but to want to get a broader view of what it's all about. So uh.. that course is-- has been proposed. Snyder has written a very excellent textbook for that course. Uh.. and I taught one section of it this past year, UNCW this past semester. He was sort of odd, th-- it didn't get promoted correctly, I guess, and I wound up with just three students. They were all seniors. Not the-- we're looking for freshmen and sophomores. For me, it was still a godsend, because I was able to go through the book and learn the material that's in it and see-- press them to do things, and to see what would work, what wouldn't work. So now it's going to be a course redesignated, and probably a basic part of the new combination and information technology here at UNCW, combined with CIS and CSE, and so it's a- a regular course, will be in the fall.

Hayes: But what audience is it aimed at?

Smith: Freshmen and sophomores.

Hayes: Just general students?

Smith: General, right. To give them a view of information technology, which hopefully will s-- keep them, stand them in good stead for years ahead. Getting them sort of an understanding of-- for the background of things. Not just how to do some mechanical kinds of things.

Hayes: Yeah, yeah.

Smith: So that's the idea.

Hayes: Good. Now you talked about general courses, you talked about specific languages that you call programming languages. Then did you also teach systems and uh...

Smith: Not so much systems, but I've taught computer graphics an awful lot.

Hayes: Oh, really?

Smith: Yeah, a lot of that. That's probably what my biggest area has been here, computer graphics really. Uh.. I taught the basic computer graphics course, uhm.. a number of times, and then became interested, because there was a nice book for the purpose, I knew the author, uh.. to introduce graphics to people without-- to- to do computer graphics, you need to know what-- you need to employ quite a bit of mathematics and do some programming. And a lot of people who like to do graphics without having to do much mathematics and _________ programming. Oh, and then there's a lot of those programs out there, which allow you to do that. So this was...

Hayes: But when you were talking computer graphics, you were aiming this at a major who was gonna help design these systems. I mean, not to the artist.

Smith: That's what comes with the regional computer graphics course. Now there's a computer graphics course, and one of our major-- largest clientele for that is film studies.

Hayes: Well, I wondered, and so...

Smith: And there- there's no requirement to really be an expert programmer. There's no necessity to know a whole lot of mathematics. But we learn to use some of these more sophisticated programs so they can acquire the concepts and employ them to- to do graphics. Uh...

Hayes: So you are doing that service then for some of those other discipline areas.

Smith: Yeah, the uh.. that course uh.. is cross-listed between computer science and film studies and art. But most of our students come from film studies and computer science.

Hayes: And so they're interested in some of the film editing.

Smith: Oh, yeah.

Hayes: Besides, I mean, PhotoShop would be something that you would uh.. look at, but I'm saying what one are you using now as a dominant film editing one?

Smith: Well, I'm not doing-- we don't do-- I don't do any film editing in-- when I teach the course. It's really to do-- and there's not even any computer animation. There's really there's a se-- we have a sequence of courses now. Uh.. one's 220, one's 320. And I've taught 220, I guess, five or six times. I first-- designed the course the first time. And it's to give people some acquaintance with the basics; elements that go into making the computer graphics, and to use tools to cre- create very nice images, okay. Uh.. to follow on 320, uh.. which Eric Patterson is teaching, uh.. is animation. And that uses Maya as the language.

Hayes: Maya, uhm hm. Now did you use any particular languages in that 220 class?

Smith: Yes, yes. I used uh.. I used a program called POV-Ray, and uh.. it stands for persistence of vision. It's a ray-tracing program.

Hayes: Now what kind...

Smith: Ray-tracing. That's a technique in computer graphics called ray-tracing to create...

Hayes: Ray-tracing? Huh, interesting.

Smith: It's a ray-- and there's a famous uh.. researcher in computer graphics uh.. Jim Kajiya who also calls it tray-racing. I just picture these people sliding trays down stairs. (laughter)

Hayes: Tray-racing. I like that.

Smith: Yeah, but uh.. and we also use a program called Rhino.

Hayes: Rhino, yeah.

Smith: We've used that. So the two main programs have been P- POV-Ray, and Rhino in-- when I teach 220. But it changes now to.. Eric Patterson is teaching 220 now and he does something different. So that- that happens.

Hayes: That happens, yeah, I would say...

Smith: It's probably.. a lot of it's good.

Hayes: Oh, the freedom of a professor to choose one approach.

Smith: That's exactly-- that's not-- that's the beauty of it.

Hayes: That's what you liked about it, right?

Smith: That's what I liked, absolutely.

Hayes: Tell me about some of the people there that you've worked with. You came in and you mentioned Doug Smith, he's a mathematician. Uh.. supportive always of uh.. computing, even uh...

Smith: Yes, very supportive. Uh.. I was thinking- I was thinking of Zack Dacko [ph?] is retiring next week, and he's always been a close friend here.

Hayes: Was he in computers or math?

Smith: No, mathematics, yeah.

Hayes: I thought he was a mathematics...

Smith: He was telling me just the other day how when I first came, some of the mathematicians were sort of dubious about having a computer scientist in the faculty, didn't know if it made sense. So, but anyway. Well, I think I justified my existence. I- I taught a course in hyperbolic geometry once. And uh.. another course in applications of graph theory. So, I- I enjoyed the freedom to just design courses. That's- that's nice.

Hayes: But after you designed one, you'd like to do it a few times, because you hate to put too much, right?

Smith: Yeah, it depends now, in the case of the- the course we were just talking about, 220, I've taught it many times. And the others uh.. they were not that uh.. they just didn't catch on that much.

Hayes: And who were some of your other colleagues now in computer science? Uh.. Ron Vetter.

Smith: Ron Vetter, of course.

Hayes: Chair.

Smith: Yeah, uh.. it-- almost anybody, Ti-- Gene Tagliarini, certainly. He's extremely good person. I'm very uh.. Sridhar Narayan, I could go on. Uh.. Ken Withke [ph?] was a close friend. I don't know if you recognize his name.

Hayes: No, I don't.

Smith: He retired uh.. maybe four or five years ago. And I- I think-- and- and certainly Fletcher Norris. Have you interviewed him yet? You should get Fletcher Norris. He's still around.

Hayes: Okay, good.

Smith: Very nice guy! Uh.. when I first came, and I don't know if it's still the case, they would sometimes explicitly or implicitly encourage faculty to have a mentor.

Hayes: Oh.

Smith: Another faculty person. And so uhm.. I guess I sort of sought out people like Ken Withke [ph?] and Fletcher Norris for that role when I first came.

Hayes: Good.

Smith: Very good for that.

Hayes: Yeah, I know they actually have some formal programs now.

Smith: I think they may.

Hayes: Because there's a sense that a young faculty member can get lost. You were in a different situation, though, in the sense of not being not necessarily a young person. So you didn't necessarily need-- some- some of the mentoring is how to survive at a university.

Smith: Right.

Hayes: Did you feel like having done the part-time teaching at your other places that that was good preparation?

Smith: Oh, yeah, very definitely. I- I mean, I was used to uh.. some of the material in various cases, uh.. I certainly was used to being in the classroom, okay? Uh.. you know, just preparing a course, giving lectures. Uh.. what I could expect of students. That was excellent preparation, I'm sure.

Hayes: Yeah, I think that's really hard for many of the new PhDs coming back, is, you know, are they ready for the...

Smith: Yeah, one of the things that IBM did for-- it was quite an active program, this helping people within IBM to retire, and make a transition to either uh.. computing or engineering. West Coast schools were very short of faculty. That's very cyclical, you know. That- that was a point in time when there was a great shortage of qualified faculty. So they-- what they did was they had a program where they uh.. _______us off to Vanderbilt, I guess it was a week, maybe two weeks, sort of get a crash course in how to survive the university. (laughs)

Hayes: Well, that's good.

Smith: It was- it was quite interesting.

Hayes: That's good.

Smith: Yeah. IBM takes things very seriously when they try to do things. At least they did.

Hayes: Yeah. I'm sure they still do. And they seem to be doing well.

Smith: Yeah.

Hayes: Had you been asked to do unusual committee work, or task forces? I mean, I would think as this department was switching around, they'd cul...

Smith: No more than anybody else. I mean, committee work is sort of onerous sometimes. Sometimes it's fun. Uh.. I've always enjoyed the hiring process.

Hayes: Oh, that's good.

Smith: And I had to-- I- I was in charge of that committee a couple of times years back. My most-- my largest committee work was not here at the university, but I've been involved in the ACM cGraph organization. cGraph is a special interest group in graphics, and they're the largest special interest group within ACM.

Hayes: And ACM is?

Smith: Association for Computing Machinery.

Hayes: And that's the dominant-- both theoretical and practical?

Smith: Both. Try to be anyway.

Hayes: Yeah.

Smith: Uh.. and CGraph is often what they call the tail that wags the dog. They just exert so much influence with ACM that it overshadows anything else that ACM tries to do.

Hayes: Really?

Smith: Oh, very. At least it has been till recently. Their annual meetings would draw about 30 to 50,000 people.

Hayes: 30 to 50,000 people! Where would you hold them? I mean, how could you hold?

Smith: I mean, there aren't too many places they could go.

Hayes: I was gonna say. Las Vegas.

Smith: Yeah, but we didn't like Las Vegas, but we went there. But Los Angeles primarily, or Atlanta, or Boc-- or Florida, Boca Raton.

Hayes: Oh, really? New York City was probably so expensive that it...

Smith: They never had a meeting there that I can recall.

Hayes: Yeah.

Smith: I went to the cGraph meetings every year for about ten years, I guess. Got thoroughly involved with the courses, worked with that. Because they put on 30 to 50 courses at a cGraph meeting over a period of three to four days. Uh.. and there's a huge jurying process where the courses are selected from proposals. And after proposals are accepted, there's a lot of work to get the course notes prepared. Uh.. I have-- still have about this many course notes from when I-- I was Courses chair in 1998.

Hayes: Interesting.

Smith: So that was...

Hayes: When you talk about a course, you mean you actually went all day long?

Smith: Yeah, oh yeah. For three or four days.

Hayes: But then what about the rest of the convention? Was this like before?

Smith: Well, that tended to be the early part. The part that-- ACM conference is like a ten-ring circus. I- I'm serious.

Hayes: (laughs)

Smith: There're the courses, but there's also a-- and it's an interesting thing, phenomena in cGraph, in most disciplines the prestige of publishing comes from putting in one of the scholarly journals in the area. In cGraph the prestige comes from having your paper accepted for the conference. Very unusual situation. So extremely competitive to have your paper accepted at a cGraph.

Hayes: But not necessarily published in a journal. I mean, the conference itself...

Smith: ...the conference proceedings.

Hayes: Wow.

Smith: Yeah. Very prestigious. So uh.. so does the- the courses, the uh.. papers and panels, and about four or five other venue-- different things that go on there. And it's really-- the hard part is deciding how to spend your time every day. There's so much to see and do.

Hayes: So you taught course...

Smith: It's a huge exhibit.

Hayes: Did you teach courses, too, then and all that.

Smith: I never taught a course there, no.

Hayes: No.

Smith: But met some-- I got to meet and work with some really top-flight talent. Great and talented people.

Hayes: This wasn't really dominated then by academics, I was much more of a practitioner's group-- is that a fair assessment?

Smith: Uh.. academics played a large role if you look at the courses, who taught the courses-- and who wrote the papers, but they were largely academics. Although there were quite a time-- a lot of time the authors were from the industrial world. There was a lot of cross-fertilization.

Hayes: Good. Now did you-- were you encouraged to write grants while you were here? I know now all of a sudden now everybody's writing grants.

Smith: Well, I took it upon-- I guess I was. I shortly took it upon myself. And I was sort of pleased. I- I did write a grant, a- along with Gur Adhar. First grant proposal I'd ever written, and it was accepted.

Hayes: Oh, yay!

Smith: Which is, I guess, not too common. And that allowed us to uh.. get some equipment to teach parallel programming here. That's one of the other courses I started here, parallel programming.

Hayes: And what is that?

Smith: Well, that's having several computers working in conjunction on a problem, instead of having single computers, okay. And so uh.. for several years I taught that course. And we had some equipment for that purpose especially, okay. Now the focus has shifted. Uh.. that equipment's in the closet somewhere. People are doing different things.

Hayes: Oh, really?

Smith: That's the way it goes.

Hayes: Yeah. Yeah, if it lasts several years then that's good. I mean, that's...

Smith: We got our money's worth. Well, it didn't cost us anything, but we got our money's worth out of it. Or the government did.

Hayes: Yeah, good. And I would guess those students are out there still using that, and uh...

Smith: Well, in the real world, they're doing-- it's still an important topic, parallel computing, okay.

Hayes: Yeah.

Smith: Still being done.

Hayes: Any other grants that you wanted to mention?

Smith: No, that-- no. I- I was on several grant proposals where, with Ron Vetter and other people, I think they were the ones that didn't get funded. Although, once I did submit a grant proposal to uh.. to AutoDesk Corporation, it's a software company in California. And they gave us some equipment, some software, really, and that led to an early computer graphics course I taught, team-taught with Don Furst.

Hayes: Really?

Smith: Yeah.

Hayes: Tell me about that. That's interesting.

Smith: Well, it was. (whistle in the background) It was-- I don't know what that is butting in.

Hayes: I don't either. I think it's-- let's stop for a second.

Smith: There, okay.

Hayes: Very observant. We're back after a brief fire alarm. Hope that doesn't happen again too soon. Uhm.. we're-- I was trying to uhm.. pull out of you various colleagues, and you mentioned you did a joint course with Don Furst. I find that fascinating. Tell us about that. He's currently head of the art department, and a print maker. But uh.. what was that about?

Smith: Fine person, really, great person to work with. Well, I got this grant from uh.. there's some s-- lot of software, and we had the new equipment, which I got from my other grant from uh.. parallel programming. So we used that same room, and so we conceived of this course to-- for computer-- you know, for animation of a sort, and using a- a program. It was animation. And uh.. we- we team taught it. First we pretty well split it at first. He sort of the artistic side of things, and I talked about the computer science, and science things. And uh.. I guess we did it four or five times. And over uh.. the semesters, tailed it off where he took-- did more and more of it, and I finally didn't do any of it. You know, he did the whole thing. Uh.. he's really a fine person. And uh.. the students liked it. Uh.. there's sort of limit because the- the amount of facility-- equipment that we had. But they sti-- and it took a long time in those days, not nearly as fast as it is these days. So students would come in, in order to get their crack to do these animations which would take a long time, and they'd sort of go to sleep on the table at night so they could get up in the middle of the night and get their turn at the machines to create these animations.

Hayes: Gosh!

Smith: So they did some nice stuff! Uh.. but since then, you know, computers and software have gotten so much better that we long ago abandoned using those- those things. Okay. There's better tools now.

Hayes: Better tools, yeah. That's probably been one of the big changes, even in the time you've been here is the- the power of the computer and the sophistication of the software.

Smith: Oh, yeah. When I first came the-- it was common for faculty not to have a computer at all. Maybe have a terminal to the backs. Uh.. I was fortunate, I- I really early uh.. began to associate with Dick Ward. And teaching Summer Ventures.

Hayes: And tell us who Dick is, just so those who're listening.

Smith: Well, Dick Ward, he's now the head of the chemistry department, I think, currently. But for a long while he was in charge of uh.. s- science and math education center. And for a while he was in uh.. supposedly some kind of dean, I think, also. Uh.. but he was always uh.. able to funnel equipment to me.

Hayes: Yeah.

Smith: So early on, I got a computer when most faculty didn't even have one. That's uh.. now they all have one, you know, it's very different. So I was never resource poor as long as I was friends with Dick. And uh.. so I taught Summer Ventures for six or seven years I guess...

Hayes: Now what was Summer Ventures?

Smith: Summer Ventures was a program for bright high school students. Uh.. they bring people to campuses so they're at least maybe, like, 50 miles away from home, and within the state. And while they're-- where it used to be, it's sort of not as big a program as it used to be, but they used to be on each campus for a period of I think six-weeks. Maybe eight, I forget. Maybe uh.. eight to ten courses.

Hayes: Wow.

Smith: And students could elect to, which ever course they really sort of "major in" for the last half of the summer Ventures program, and so uh.. when I was doing it, I was teaching uh.. fractals and chaos and that kind of s- that kind of stuff, okay? Uh.. and...

Hayes: So were these some of the best and brightest in the state then?

Smith: Yeah, uh huh, there were some very, very good ones. Yes.

Hayes: Interesting.

Smith: Very good ones. And uh.. for well, I did it also for a while, I guess I team-taught with-- mostly I did it myself. Once-- sometimes-- I think one time I did it with uh.. Gabriel Lugo [ph?], too, but I forget. Uh.. but uh.. in those days the students were so satisfied to create so many fractals. I don't know, you've probably seen some of them. They're very sort of glamorous looking abstract types of images.

Hayes: Right.

Smith: Uh.. very complicated images. But now s-- and as soon as, once again they have a computer run-- primitive computers that have to run for hours to produce one image, now they can do it in an instant just about. And they've seen so much on television, they're pretty jaded. So we have-- we didn't teach-- I haven't taught that course for many years. I doubt if any students would much care about it now. It's just how sad. There's other things they can do.

Hayes: That's interesting, how the bar moves up and everything becomes normal.

Smith: Yeah, so anyway, that was a lot of fun for me to do that for a lot of summers. Except I have to be honest, you're teaching minors, and uh.. outside of the class, they're pretty carefully monitored by residents, assistants. Uh.. while they're with you in the classroom during the day, you're really responsible. So you're sort of babysitting them. And you're really tied down. And I uh.. I didn't like that after awhile, being so tied down to being with them, you know, all that length of time.

Hayes: Yeah, I wondered about that, because here you had been IBM researcher, and now you're helping with high school kids. That's kind of a...

Smith: Well when there was some bright ones, then that made it worthwhile. But just as pure orneriness of being tied down all day long was- was a burden after a while. And when you're a s-- a professor, you sort of get up and move around, or whatever you want, you know? Normally. (laughs) All you have to do is be in that classroom and do your work. After that you can do whatever you please.

Hayes: Now at your recent retirement event, you demonstrated some aspects of your life besides the professorate. You might tell us about some of those. What lifelong hobbies? I mean, what did you do besides being a professor?

Smith: I guess I've not had a lot of hobbies. I've uh.. traveled a lot. I've been doing that especially since I retired. I've traveled a great deal in the last four years.

Hayes: Did you before, too, though?

Smith: Not so much. Well, I- I was married, and uh.. she's dead now. And uh.. the children have sort of grown up, and so I'm free relatively to do- do as I please. And so I've gone to Europe several times every year now lately for the last three or four years.

Hayes: So who're your children? You might tell us.

Smith: Yeah, well, I have some children by my first marriage on the West Coast. I have two children by the second marriage here. Uh.. actually one of them has moved to the West Coast now to stay with her aunt, my wife's-- my dead wife's sister. The-- one of them is still in town. So but for the most part they're out of the picture for me. They're grown-up. Uh.. but the big passion, as I said, is dancing now. I've been doing that for several years. And uh.. it's a little bit expensive, but it means a lot to me. It's great physical exercise, it's great mental exercise, still learning to do all those things. And it's a great social thing, too. So I really love dancing! Love it a lot.

Hayes: That's great.

Smith: Yeah.

Hayes: And you said that you're also now reading more and so forth?

Smith: Yeah, I am. Uhm.. I was talking to you outside, I've been doing-- looking-- see, I didn't go to movies at all when I was-- years and-- I was too busy working. Then I really s-- got interested in videos and I just, you know, such a fabulous collection now. It's great, you know, watching a lot of stuff. And uh.. I really like those Roemer things you got me.

Hayes: Oh, good.

Smith: It's fabulous. I don't know. I reckon-- well, you have to like, just have a taste for 'em, I guess, because Gene Hackman says, watching Roemer's like watching paint dry. I think he's great!

Hayes: Well, I think one of the stereotypes for people who're mathematicians is that they're just single-focused. But I found many, many mathematicians who have a lot of interest. It isn't a stigma that you could just do math. So I'm pleased that you uh...

Smith: And I've just-- I've also started to read some more things. I never had time to read. Beckett, and Pirandello, and Joyce, that kind of stuff. So that's great!

Hayes: Yeah.

Smith: Great to have the time to do that.

Hayes: Now the time that you've been here, you've seen the school kind of just skyrocket in size. Did it make a difference? I mean, do you think that there's a, you know, a difference on this campus with the increasing size? Do you see that in CIS or not?

Smith: I'm- I'm not aware of any significant, other than just larger, yeah. And the quality of the students has certainly gone up.

Hayes: Oh, can you relate-- do you really feel it has?

Smith: Oh, yeah, I think since when I first came.

Hayes: Interesting.

Smith: This-- when I first came, the thing that I noticed most about the students was that the girls were so polite. (laughs) I don't know if they still are. I guess they are. But they're- they're brighter now. They-- and uh.. they're better students, so that's good.

Hayes: That's interesting. And of course, your CIS or Computer Information Systems, is still in very much in demand, right?

Smith: Well, it's cyclical. Uh.. with the .com bubble burst that really influenced enrollments. Okay.

Hayes: You really could see a change?

Smith: Oh, yeah, very-- for sure. Very much so. Uh.. I- I think it's steady, though. It's been cyclical ever since I've known it. And right now, I guess it's still uh.. increasing a little bit. On the upswing somewhat.

Hayes: I guess you can at least get-- your chances of getting faculty are a little better right now, 'cause there was a time-period where you couldn't even find faculty, right, on the market that you...

Smith: Well, when I was head of the uh.. creative hiring committee, I remember when we had like 250 applications for a position-- for one or two positions in computer science. And then it tailed off a- a few years ago, we only had like uh.. maybe a dozen applicants. Now it's back up. I think this year-- I wasn't involved with it-- I think they had over 100 applications.

Hayes: And most of them were qualified.

Smith: Yes, yes, yes.

Hayes: Now when you came out with a degree in computing with a PhD, you were really...

Smith: Applied mathematics, really. 'Cause there was no computing at that time.

Hayes: But that was a fairly rare degree at the time.

Smith: Well, applied mathematics, I don't know. I guess so. Certainly with majoring in computer science was unusual back then.

Hayes: But then in a sense IBM was the very logical place to-- who would invest in uh...

Smith: But surely.

Hayes: ...that talent.

Smith: Right.

Hayes: Now what about today's market, if someone had that PhD in computer science, is it wide open as far as where they would possibly go in their career?

Smith: I think so, uh.. I think hiring now is sort of uh.. maybe a little more balanced between the applicant and the school looking for people, I think, to uh.. uhm.. I- I wasn't part of the hiring process this year, so I'm not really greatly tuned into it, but uh.. I know we had a-- we were-- we had to really scratch to find applicants a few years ago. That's not too nice. And there were over 100 this time.

Hayes: Good.

Smith: And from the applicant's point of view I guess uh.. I guess it's a fairly healthy situation. Uh.. there was a time when schools had trouble finding faculty, because the commercial outside, you could go outside and work for more than they could earn at the university.

Hayes: Much more, yeah.

Smith: And I think that's subsided somewhat. And now.. schools are once again an attractive-- well, some people always would prefer a school. But at least there's not that money difference, which would drive people away from school.

Hayes: As much. And when the possibility is that your job will disappear in a blink, there is some stability at a university, right? (laughs)

Smith: That's right.

Hayes: With tenure. I assume you had to go through the tenure process.

Smith: Oh, yeah, yes.

Hayes: We're just about finished, but I want to give you a chance to just reflect. What is your sense of choosing this second career, so to speak? You happy with that process?

Smith: Very much so. I- I started teaching part-time in California, first at a community college, then at some larger schools, and uh.. I have to be honest, I guess making some extra income was the first thing that occurred to me. My reason for doing it. Might as well, why not do it. And uh.. but I liked it, and uh.. I- I remember once at this community college seeing uh.. s- somebody teaching a course in called-- in Tommy [ph?] called data structures, which I knew nothing about. Even though I was a computer scientist. And uh.. I got interested. And eventually that's what led me to write this graduate textbook in data structures, which was fairly successful. I mean, and uh.. I used that as a basis for a course here. And it's been used in a lot of places. And then it's- it's passé now, I guess in-- because other ideas come along. And uh.. partly the work was written using Pascal as a major programming language, and Pascal is sort of out of favor now. So all these things...

Hayes: But did you have some temptation to just keep doing newer and newer editions, or had you done that?

Smith: No, it-- I- I put an awful lot of effort into that. I wasn't anxious to repeat that process.

Hayes: But I mean, that seems to be the trend now to try to pressure people to uh...

Smith: I was never under any pressure to do it, and I wouldn't want to do it.

Hayes: Good, good.

Smith: IBM was very supportive of me doing-- I spent an awful lot of their time and their equipment producing the book, okay. So they were very good about that.

Hayes: And what about the students themselves? Do they still stay in touch with you? I mean, do you have people come back to campus?

Smith: Sometimes, sometimes yeah. I still have students who I remember very vividly and fondly, and I stay in touch with them. Not too many, but some.

Hayes: And I think they end up everywhere, though, right? In the field of computer information systems, they would be-- of course, the Triangle is probably a major recruiter out of our program. SAS, I think SAS has taken a lot of our...

Smith: True.

Hayes: I don't if you've been up there to that facility.

Smith: I- I've never been to SAS. I've been to Research Triangle Park a number of times. Uh.. but I've never been to SAS, okay.

Hayes: Yeah. And I think those that want to stay in Wilmington just it's probably difficult, right, with the marketplace.

Smith: Well, some- some do. I'm thinking of one student in particular, and I- I guess I wonder why they stoos-- why they choose to stay here. Because I- I-- the- the opportunities, I don't think are as good certainly. But they like it here. So you can't argue with that.

Hayes: Well, what's gonna happen now in true retirement-- although it isn't true retirement, they announced that you're teaching in the fall another class? What is that one gonna be?

Smith: That's this course I mentioned earlier, which is a much uh.. it's a much broader view of computer science for an introductory course that people normally get. So that they would hopefully be prepared for the world uh.. as it changes over the next decade or so rather than just a few-- a year or two. K?

Hayes: So you see yourself, though, in retirement doing a lot more traveling.

Smith: If I had more money, yes. (laughter) Traveling, I'll probably cut back to two trips a year. I mean, I guess that's- that's not bad. I went sort of overboard a year ago. (laughs)

Hayes: You got it out of your system or not?

Smith: Yeah, I think so.

Hayes: That's good. And you're going to stay in Wilmington, then?

Smith: Yes. Well, why would I want to go anywhere else?

Hayes: Well, I think that's fascinating because so many faculty do stay here. I mean, they're loyal but the weather's good.

Smith: Well, the weather's a fact, but uh.. the friends that I have are mostly are here! And the dancing is here with my instructress. And uh.., of course I could go somewhere; I don't want to change that either. I-- all my children are on the West Coast, but uh.. I could go and be there, but what kind of association...

Hayes: Yeah.

Smith: I wouldn't be at home there. It'd be sort of a-- so, I'm- I'm at home here, okay.

Hayes: And at your retirement you had folks from your church-- what church do you attend?

Smith: Church of the Servant Episcopal church right close by.

Hayes: Oh, good, good.

Smith: There were a number of people from the church, and there were quite a few people from the dance studio also.

Hayes: Yeah, and that's a wonderful church. Interesting, active, vibrant church.

Smith: Yeah, very active.

Hayes: So I agree, why would you...

Smith: Go somewhere else.

Hayes: Go somewhere else. And it sounds like they're gonna keep asking you to-- you're never retired. I mean, a professor never quite ever retires, right?

Smith: You know, and after, uh.. I guess it's just something on my mind, but when I went to my dance lesson last night, one of the women from the dance studio had brought me some flowers! Big vase of flowers. But I just-- it just made me feel real good. Uh.. you don't normally have a man getting flowers from a woman like that. And uh.. I was quite touched by it. Anyway, it was on my mind, so.

Hayes: Okay, that's good. Well, listen, thank you very much! I appreciate you participating, and I enjoyed talking with you.

Smith: Okay.

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