Randy Henne on the Rigors and Rewards of Computer Science
Degree and graduation year:
M.S. Information and Computer Science, 1974 (Biomedical Computing Specialty)
Other education (school names, degrees, dates):
Southern Illinois University, B.A. Math, 1973
Where do you live (city & state/country)?
What do you do for a living?
Senior Systems Engineer for Scitor Corp., supporting the Missile Defense Agency’s European Component Project Office in Huntsville, AL
What was your first job after leaving Georgia Tech?
Biomedical Computing Technology Information Center (BCTIC) and Software Development, Union Carbide Corp., Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn.
What do you like best about your current job?
Applying the systems engineering and project management skills I’ve developed over many years supporting the CIA and National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) to a whole new domain.
What do you like the least?
Not being retired!
How did CoC prepare you for the working world?
Gave me a solid foundation in engineering and computer science!
What do you consider the single greatest advance—technological, sociological, economic, etc.—in computing since you were in school?
The vast amount of information instantly available to any individual via the internet
Operating system of choice:
Which professional associations are you a member of?
What do you remember and/or value the most about your time at Georgia Tech/CoC?
Good friends in my program, “pre-med” classes at Emory in cooperative program sponsored by National Institutes of Health.
What faculty or staff member had the greatest impact on you?
My graduate adviser, Dr. Mike Kelley, whom I encountered again in later years with BDM Corp. in Northern Virginia, working in my own field supporting the intelligence community. [When I asked him what computer language my graduate software project should be written in, he said, “Why ALGOL, of course!” To my dismay, I had never used ALGOL before!]
In your spare time, what do you do for fun?
Spending quality time and traveling with my lovely wife of nearly 10 years (Italy next!), building personal computers, photography, and sailing (whenever I get the chance!)
If I had it to do over again, I…
…wouldn’t change much at all!
Do you stay in touch with other computing alumni? If so, who?
No, unfortunately I lost track of most of them!
Anything else you’d like to share? Here’s your chance!
I “bailed out” of a three-year biomedical information and computer science Ph.D. joint program with Georgia Tech and Emory with a masters’ degree in 1974, after many in the class ahead of me had their dissertation proposals turned down because they “weren’t theoretical enough”—even though biomedical ICS was obviously much more practical than theoretical. I went to work at Oak Ridge National Lab and helped establish the Biomedical Information Computing Technology Information Center (BCTIC). Soon learned, however, that medical doctors at the time had little use for computer scientists who weren’t doctors, although being a doctor who was interested in computers was acceptable! This didn’t change much until years later when the big companies like General Electric finally got into the biomedical systems business.
A highlight of my time at Oak Ridge was helping with one of the first projects to image the beating heart in motion with nuclear medicine (now a standard diagnostic technique), which required building a custom hardware interface and software for a DEC PDP-8 computer. This project was led by Dr. P.R. Bell, who had earlier headed the Apollo 11 Lunar Receiving Laboratory and was quite a character in his own right!
Left ORNL and the biomedical world in 1977 to join a high-tech firm in Texas, subsequently spent nearly 30 years in the D.C. area (and a couple in Northern California) in both government and contractor roles supporting the Central Intelligence Agency and later the National Reconnaissance Office. At one point during that period, I had the honor of serving as technical director for retired USAF Lt. Gen Edward Heinz, then a Vice President of Martin Marietta / Lockheed Martin, and had the privilege of serving as the company’s campus coordinator for recruiting at Georgia Tech. I was very pleased to see how far Tech had come in developing coop programs and otherwise focusing on the “practical” instead of just the “theoretical!”
I had a very rewarding 30-plus years supporting the intelligence community, but my wife and I finally decided to leave the D.C. area in 2006 to escape the traffic and the high cost of living. For the last few years there, we split our time between our 10-acre “farmette” in the Northern Virginia countryside and a condo near work to mitigate the commute (up to one-and-a-half hours each way!), but even that finally got to be too much for us to bear!
We relocated to Madison/Huntsville, Ala., where I am now supporting the Missile Defense Agency’s project to expand our missile defense capabilities into Europe. Relocating to Alabama cut my commute to just a few minutes, and allowed my wife to retire. I hope to follow her lead in just a few more years!