Earning bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in civil engineering from Louisiana State University and a master’s and doctorate degrees in computer science from Southern Methodist University points to Tom Perkins’ desire to understand how things come together.

(Photo Courtesy of Tom Perkins)

(Photo Courtesy of Tom Perkins)

Since the early 60s, when Perkins saw a computer tell a printer to print 40 lines of text in a minute, computers intrigued him. While working on his civil engineering master’s degree, he began to train himself in computers. There were no formal courses in the early days of computers.

“How one learned was by getting a manual and start working to program it. I didn’t take a formal class in computers until I was working on my master’s in computer science. I had already been working as a computer professional for the past 15 years by the time I took my first formal computer class,” said Perkins.

Why did you go back to school?

“I was trying to keep up. The computer field is a very dynamic field. People in the computer industry try to keep up with the developments in the software industry. It is like trying to drink from the fire hose. There is an incredible volume that comes out. It is very difficult to discern which direction to go in when there is so much information available.”

What is the benefit of going to formal classes instead of learning it on your own?

“Schools can really help a lot because they bring things into focus and can train you quickly. Schools are much more responsive to the needs of industry. There are a wide variety of schools that are available in the computer field – from technical schools to community colleges and universities. Anything you can take is well worth the time because you can talk with someone to try to figure out how to program a computer better than you can just trying by yourself. The complexity of computer development has gone way beyond what an individual can handle right now.”

How important is networking?

“The need to have an intellectual community to help guide you is extremely important. I believe in networking and apprenticeship where you are working with someone who has more experience than you. You can ask questions about what is happening with complex issues. Schools will teach you the basic fundamentals on how to do stuff on a computer, plus they provide a sense of networking with your instructors, your classmates and provide placement services.”

Many software developers meet with clients and then go off on their own and create programs. Is teamwork ever a part of the process?

“Yes. ‘Agile’ development is a combination of team learning, peer programming and incorporating the customer/user input in the development process.”

Robin D. Everson is a native Chicagoan who resides in Dallas, Texas. Her appreciation for art, food, wine, people and places has helped her become a well-respected journalist. A life-long lover of education, Robin seeks to learn and enlighten others about culture. You can find her work at Examiner.com

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