Dave Wade-Stein is one of the newest instructors at DevelopIntelligence. Dave has experience with a wide variety of software language (including Assembly, Perl, PHP, Java, Tcl, Ada, Eiffel, C++, Bash, and Fortran) and will primarily teach classes on Python, Linux, Unix/Linux, Chef and Puppet. He’s been programming since the late 1970s and teaching in some capacity since the early 1990s. He has a Master’s in Computer Science and a PhD in Cognitive Psychology. He’s worked for universities, startups, large companies, the US Navy, and now DevelopIntelligence.
Hi Dave. Tell us about your background in technology. How did it all start?
I had my first programming job at 13 in 1977 (or 1978). I had a personal computer called an Ohio Scientific (OSI) Challenger 2P (which included 4K of RAM, and for $150 I upgraded it to 8K of RAM), and after writing some games in BASIC, one of which unintentionally hung the system, the OSI rep put me in touch with a guy named Pete who was building some card key entry systems. Now they’re pretty ubiquitous but, at the time, it was pretty revolutionary to have a credit card like thing that could get you into a building or parking lot. I remember having no idea what to charge for programming, but it ended up being pretty good money for a 13-year-old.
I later bought a Radio Shack TRS-80 and continued to write programs for Pete as well as my father who was a tax attorney. I taught myself assembly language because BASIC was too slow for some of the things we were doing.
I was one of these kids who was a computer geek in high school and I had a friend who was also into it so we’d get together at his house or my house and write code (mostly games). Programming was fringe stuff at the time.
Our high school (Beverly Hills High School) had a PDP-11/70 minicomputer and a terminal room with green phosphor terminals around 1979. There were no computer classes but somehow we could get into that room and figure it out. There were a few of us who were writing little games and messing around.
Wow, so late 1970s programming at a young age? What have been some of the other highlights of your career up until now?
My first job was a summer gig between my junior and senior years as a computer science student at UC Santa Barbara. I was paid $10 an hour, which was about 3 times the minimum wage in 1985. I was working for Glen Culler, one of the pioneers in computer science. Working for his company (Culler Scientific Systems) gave me access to some really great Unix systems. So instead of having to do my comp sci work in a crowded lab where you had to fight for time on a mainframe (a VAX 11/780), Dr. Culler would let us come in after hours and work on the computers there. I continued to work at Culler Scientific after graduating and then went back to UCSB to get a Master’s in computer science. After my M.S., I taught computer science there for a couple years until I could figure out what it was I wanted to do. In 1993 I decided to move to Colorado to pursue a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at CU Boulder.
So you did a full PhD? You’re a doctor then?
Yes, I did a full dissertation in cognitive psychology but still involved computer science somewhat. My dissertation project was a computer system called Summary Street which taught middle schoolers how to summarize. We tested it here at Platt Middle School in Boulder. Summarization might seem like a trivial task, but as adults we forget how difficult summarization is for children–they’ll often create summaries which are longer than the original text being summarized, or leave out main ideas completely. Summary Street could analyze summaries semantically and help the students see which parts they’d covered and which parts they’d missed. During my disseration I was doing freelance teaching of Unix, C, and Ada for the U.S. Navy. I had started that teaching gig a couple years before moving to Colorado, so I flew back to California periodically to teach those classes. It was a nice way to break up the stress of doing the dissertation.
After the Ph.D., I worked in educational software, worked for Cisco, and then worked for an Irish start-up called MySentient. After that I worked for Tech-X and was there for almost 10 years. My old school Linux, C, and Bash programming skills were very useful there.
So your career has been a pretty varied background in Psychology, Computer Science, and teaching?
Yeah, it’s pretty much been switching back and forth between those three for the last 25-30 years.
What do you enjoy about programming?
I really enjoy problem solving. It’s just the way my brain works. I want to understand how things work or don’t work. I don’t do woodworking or work with physical things much, I work with software. The ability to take an idea and turn it into a concept that runs and actually does something is a cool thing. You start from nothing and end up with something new. It’s amazing.
What do like about teaching or training?
I’ve always been someone who is comfortable speaking in front of a group. For whatever reason, public speaking has always come naturally to me. I’m well aware that for some people, it’s more frightening than death, but for me, it’s fun and natural.
I started teaching as a grad student. Most grad students teach as a way to fund grad school, but while I was teaching at UCSB I realized “Hey, I like this and am pretty good at it. So maybe I could keep doing this.” I’ve always had a natural ability to explain and clarify things to other people. It’s just something I’ve always enjoyed.
What’s your ideal weekend look like?
Something relaxing. Spending time with my family. Hiking, snowshoeing, gardening. Something where nature is the focus instead of work.
If you could hop on plane tomorrow, where would you go?
Well, all the places I can think of seem to start with ‘I’: Ireland, Italy, India. It looks as though I’ll be teaching in India in 2016.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Colorado?
I grew up in Los Angeles, so I love Colorado because there are fewer people and less traffic. And we have actual weather, which always keeps me on my toes, especially when commuting by bike to and from DI.
Best meal you’ve had lately?
Oh, that’s easy. Currylicious in Duluth, Georgia. I was down there last week teaching for DI. From the moment I bit into the Papadum appetizer, it was amazing. They kept serving me more food and I kept telling them how great it was. They were so excited by how much I liked their food, and I’m looking forward to going back.