Menlo Park, CA
MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA
University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Jeremy leads a group
of 70 scientists and staff who develop new ways for people to
learn math and science and study impacts of educational
things you are passionate about and pursue them vigorously. Find
the hard problems that you can’t stop thinking about and keep at
them. Find people who make you think harder and talk to them
often. The rest will fall into place."
When did you know you wanted to become a Computer Scienctist?
I decided I wanted to study how people learn and
look for ways to improve learning when I was in college. I thought I
wanted to be an engineer or a physics major when I went to college – my
hero was Wile E. Coyote – the cartoon character who never gave up trying
to find a better way to catch that roadrunner, no matter how humiliating
his failures. But I found I didn’t like the way they taught physics or
engineering; it seemed to make it much too hard to learn. So rather than
give up, I decided I’d have to learn how technology could be used to
make it easier for more people to succeed in math, science and
What was your college experience like?
I went to MIT, which
was a work hard / play hard environment. Everyone assumed they were
different than the rest of society (we accepted that we were nerds) and
so there was a lot of freedom to be an individual and to pursue my own
interests and passions. There was a lot of teamwork and – although it
was a big school – there were lots of ways to find more personal
experiences, with direct involvement with faculty. I got involved in the
undergraduate research opportunity program and worked directly with
professors who were experimenting with new ways to use technology in
education. It was thrilling!
Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
Yes. I worked for a small
software company in Cambridge that was building educational games:
“Heredity Dog” and “Gene Machine” – games to teach science. I worked on
the Commodore 64 versions. It was called a Commodore 64 because it had a
whopping 64K of memory. I also taught courses in the summer at a program
that still exists: Exploration. It
was great to teach students math and science.
How did you get your first job?
Well, I got my first real job while I was in
graduate school. I needed to earn some money for the summer. My
professor wanted me to work for him, but I had lots of friends making
much more money in Silicon Valley. When my professor saw I was resolute
about working in Silicon Valley, he called a friend who was the head of
Xerox PARC at the time, and so I landed a summer job at Xerox PARC.
What's the most rewarding thing about doing the work you do?
In a general sense, the most rewarding thing is
getting to do meaningful work with smart colleagues at a very high
quality. More specifically, I’ve ended up enjoying giving presentations
and writing technical papers the most. As happens to many technical
people, although I started out writing software and making things, I’ve
ended up being a manager of technical people. The best thing about being
a manager is helping people to be happy and successful; its very
rewarding to see someone grow to win their own first big project and
lead it to a successful conclusion.
Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've
worked on has positively impacted the world?
I worked for about 15
years on a tool for teaching difficult mathematics to everyday kids
called “SimCalc.” Although we started small, we’ve now done very large
studies with thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and in several
states – and we have solid data that shows how much more students learn
with SimCalc than with a typical textbook.
Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
Yes, I’ve have had
opportunities to do work and give talks in places like Australia, Chile,
Singapore, Taiwan, Dallas, Greece, Sweden, England and Scotland. Why
Dallas? Some of my favorite people to work with are there! One thing I
like is that I feel I have friends all over the world.
Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years? Was this helpful
I feel lucky to have
had many mentors over my career; I can think of 5 or 6. I still keep in
touch with all of them! Its always very helpful to a mentor.
Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Team work. In my workplace, we have build new
teams for each project we take on – one of the most fun things is
learning from the other people on the team.
Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while
working in your current job?
Yes, my job is very
flexible. I don’t strictly work 9 to 5. The hardest part for family life
is the travel.
If you had to do it all over again, would you earn the degree you did?
If you had to do it all over again, would you be doing the same work you
are doing? Why?
Yes. No Regrets here.
Did you think that your education prepared you for the way the work gets
done in the real world?
I thought my engineering school experience was
very good in that it stressed team work and solving realistic problems.
Where do you see jobs in the future for those interested in science,
technology, engineering, mathematics, or medicine (STEM)?
My grandfather, whose
career involved making fur coats, always said that the most interesting
jobs for the future are at the intersections. Although he wasn’t very
high tech, I think he was right. The best and most interesting jobs will
be where two areas of innovation are coming together – like learning and
technology; or medicine and visualization; or handheld devices and
What should middle and high school
students be doing to prepare themselves to take on STEM careers?
Find things you are passionate about and pursue
them vigorously. Find the hard problems that you can’t stop thinking
about and keep at them. Find people who make you think harder and talk
to them often. The rest will fall into place.
How important is mathematics to the work you do?
are extremely important – the why and how mathematics helps make sense
of the world. On the other hand, I don’t spend very much time computing
things or writing down equations. Tools and other people do most of that
work. Thinking and communicating mathematically is the most important
part for me.
What advice do you have for teachers or counselors who are assisting
students who are interested in STEM career?
As John Dewey said, be cautious about stressing
preparation (you need to do this so you’ll be prepared later to do the
REAL work). Try to find appropriate ways students can be doing the REAL
work now. My sons are doing this in Lego Robot clubs, for example.
Making toy robots is a great way to learn about what engineering is
really like… and they are having a blast doing it.