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Challenges During College Become Learning Experiences for Alumnus Bob Goldberg

Alumnus, Bob Goldberg, had a lifelong interest in understanding how things work, in large part due to his father, a physicist. After growing up in Silver Spring, MD, his decision to come to UMD came from the department’s honors program, proximity, courses and faculty. Unfortunately, like many students, his confidence was challenged his freshman year after enrolling in PHYS 181.

“In my first semester, and later also, I worked very hard to solve all the assigned Physics homework problems,” said Goldberg. “ Sometimes, I would have to spend hours to work out a solution to one or two of the more difficult problems, and I felt that I must not have been very good at Physics, and not intelligent enough in general.”

At an end of semester party, Goldberg was approached by the class TA, who revealed that his homework was used as the key for the entire class. To his great surprise, the TA praised his understanding of some of the most difficult problems. Needless to say, this taught him a lesson. It would not be the only time his confidence was tested.

Goldberg graduated from the Physics honors undergraduate program in 1981 and then attended Rutgers University to obtain his MS and Ph.D. in Computer Science. After years of working for both large and small companies, he has recently started a software company, RD3 Software Corporation. The company’s mission is to develop technology related to a new computer language (DASL), which Goldberg, along with colleagues from Sun Microsystems Laboratories, helped to create.

Although he doesn’t use Physics in his work, his background has greatly influenced his approach to computer science. The study of physics has given him insight into understanding large computer software programs, including how to model them by simplifying some of the details, as well as how to design them so that their behavior is predictable and easy to understand.

“Physicists often create abstractions to help understand and simplify complex systems, such as the notion of gravity acting on a point mass,” said Goldberg. “That ability to find higher level and/or simplified abstractions, to help understand and simplify abstractions that accurately predict how things work, turns out to be one of the key differences between simply writing computer programs vs. designing effective computer systems and languages.”

The current position requires Goldberg to participate in several different activities. As co- founder, he has the responsibility of figuring out how to make the company successful. Additionally, he is responsible for teaching and conveying the capabilities of the [DASL] language to others, both inside and outside of RD3, as well as, leading the software development of RD3.

“I have always managed to find ways to make my jobs interesting and creative,” said Goldman. “By looking for positions that were ‘off the beaten path,’ I have been fortunate to find positions that allowed me to invent new ways of doing things, which satisfies my creative nature. I’ve also made the choice, early on, to choose jobs that contributed in some way to make the world a better place, at least in some modest way.”

These positions along with Goldberg’s journey have provided excellent learning experiences. His advice to current undergraduate students is to find a summer job or part-time job to gain real world experience. After graduation, he recommends finding a position that offers flexibility. These positions enable you to contribute by being creative. Additionally, he strongly encourages networking and using friends, teachers, family, peers and colleagues to find a good starting position. In fact, all of his jobs were found by networking.

“The study of Physics is challenging,” he recalls. “It takes a lot of work, but it is worth it if you persevere.

The biggest blow to my confidence occurred at my undergraduate oral exams for the honors program, my senior year. A very arrogant young professor, whom I had never met before, succeeded in intimidating me by openly judging my performance as ‘disappointing.’ Unfortunately, the professors who knew me didn’t arrive until later, at which point I felt devastated. I limped through the rest of the oral. It took me a long time to recover from that experience. Unfortunately, there are some arrogant smart people in the world. After many years, I have learned that when someone is arrogant and critical of me, it isn’t about me at all…this turned out to be a learning experience, though I didn’t realize that it was part of my education at the time!”




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