Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Thank you, Sputnik I

54 years ago today the Soviet Union successfully put into orbit the first artificial satellite, Sputnik I. Less than a year later, the US government enacted the NDEA to provide new funds for engineering education:
Wikipedia article on the National Defense Education Act

Fortunately for me, I was 7 years old then, and had a keen interest in science and mathematics. NDEA-funded school programs fed that interest. I was switched to a new college-bound track of advanced classes: Adv. English, Adv. Math, Adv. Physics, etc. It made a big difference; school was fun!

In high school, exploring career options, I discovered computers: machines that could be taught to do a complex task on their own. To put a bit of your own intelligence into a machine, and have it do a job faster and better than you could ever hope to do: that was magic.

That sense of magic has never left me; today I teach tiny microcontrollers to efficiently do their jobs in products all over the world.

So, thank you, Sputnik I, for giving the US a wake-up call just in time for this budding scientist to become a software engineer. It's still magic, and it's still fun. :)