Decades before personal computing ever went mainstream, years before Bill Gates had even programmed his first game of Tic-tac-toe, Stuart Madnick began dabbling in what would become a lifetime pursuit. He came across his first computer in the early 60’s during a field trip with his school science club and was hooked.
But if it was truly love at first sight, Madnick wryly remarks, it took a few years for the romance to really bloom, “My father was a shoe cutter, and always made it clear that I needed to learn a real trade. This was long before ‘computer science’ could be considered an academic discipline—it felt more like a hobby or a game. In the end, my compromise was to study electrical engineering. I figured that I could always fall back onto fixing toasters.”
Growing up in a working class family from Worcester, Massachusetts, Madnick and his brothers learned from an early age that hard work and a good education were the path to success. His personal interests lay mainly in math, science…and magic. A few of his notable childhood accomplishments included building a Van der Graaf generator—a machine that creates small “lightning bolt” charges of electricity—and constructing a box that was strategically lined with mirrors, allowing the talented magician to make anyone’s head seem to disappear and reappear. He remembers always being a diligent student: “At the end of every school year, I would take out a pile of books from the library, and sit on the lawn in our backyard reading about anti-neutrinos. I’m pretty sure that’s not typical summertime behavior.”
Little surprise, then, that he was admitted to MIT. Upon arrival, Madnick’s first aspiration was to become a nuclear engineer, but he was soon lured into computing, which proved to be a lucrative choice for the young student: “By 1964, computers were becoming more popular at MIT, but people who knew anything about them were pretty scant. That meant that I had a lot of opportunities. I think that at one point or another, I must have worked for almost every department at MIT, helping them with some sort of computing challenge.” Read more.