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The Prince of Pain
The Prize

University Communications

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Fall 1997
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Crocker and Cerf harbored an intense love for computers. Crocker had trained himself on an IBM 360, and he spent the summer after high school furthering his programming skills on UCLA's IBM 7090 and IBM 1401 mainframes. The next fall, he finally enrolled at the university, proceeding in fits and starts toward a degree, and by 1967 he was headed to MIT for graduate studies.

Cerf, meanwhile, attended Stanford on a full scholarship. He started out there as a math major, but soon was hooked on serious computing. "There was something amazingly enticing about programming," he says. "You created your own universe and were the master of it. The computer would do anything you programmed it to do. It was this unbelievable sandbox in which every grain of sand was under your control."

Upon completing their Ph.D.s, Crocker and Cerf, like their overachieving peers, could have taken up any number of challenging jobs in the defense or computer industries. Odds are high, in fact, that the two young scientists would have done just that -- were it not for something very compelling that happened, deep in the corridors of Boelter Hall, in the summer of 1969.

It was a fortuitous time for computer science and the proto-digerati. The 1960s were the apex of the Cold War R&D boom, and computer science was finally coming of age. Research in digital computing particularly was blossoming. Federal largesse flowed copiously into the nation's university-based research labs. UCLA's computer science department received a large chunk of that money.

The main sponsor was the Pentagon's Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which spent millions advancing computer science (and, not incidentally, creating a legacy unmatched to this day in the history of government-funded science). ARPA money came to UCLA, MIT and other major research institutions, where the best and brightest young scientists and engineers dedicated themselves to the esoteric business of developing "automatic computation." Together with the emerging computer industry, they were turning computers into ever faster, smaller and more powerful calculating machines.

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