Oral-History:Alice C. Parker

From ETHW

About Alice C. Parker[edit | edit source]

Born on 10 April 1948, in Birmingham, Alabama, Alice Cline Parker is an IEEE Life Fellow and a member of Eta Kappa Nu. In 1991, she was elected an IEEE Fellow “for contributions to design automation in the areas of high-level synthesis, hardware descriptive languages, and design representation.”  Parker is a member of IEEE Women in Engineering as well as the IEEE Circuits and Systems Society, the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, and the IEEE Computer Society.

Parker received the B.S.E.E. (1970) and Ph.D. (1975) degrees from North Carolina State University and an M.S.E.E. from Stanford University. She is Dean’s Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Southern California (USC), joining the faculty in 1980 and becoming a full professor in 1991. She is a former Division Director for Computer Engineering, a former Dean of Graduate Studies, and a former Vice Provost for Research at USC. She was elected President of the Academic Senate in 1993. She was previously on the faculty at Carnegie Mellon (1975-1980).

Parker has received numerous awards, including an NSF Faculty Award for Women Scientists and Engineers, an NSF Fellowship, the 2009 Sharon Keillor Award from ASEE (the Sharon Keillor award), the 2008 South Central Scholars Service Award, and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering Teaching Award in 2006. In addition, she was named to the NCSU Electrical and Computer Engineering Hall of Fame in 2017.

Parker’s research focuses on biomimetic neuromorphic circuits, biomimetic stereo vision, retinal and cortical neuromorphic analog circuits, nanotechnology. Her current research is BioRC, Biomimetic Real-time Cortex. She is designing CMOS and carbon nanotube neural nanocircuits and investigating the timetable for a possible synthetic cortex based on statistical predictions. A CMOS neural chip has been fabricated. A carbon nanotube synapse has been fabricated in collaboration with Dr. Chongwu Zhou in Zhou's nanolab. She has incorporated glial cell (astrocyte) interactions in her neuromorphic circuits and is investigating the role of variability (noise and chaotic behavior) in neural behavior.

Beginning in 1975, Parker performed high-level synthesis research and was one of the earliest such researchers. She is also known for her research in design data structures, CAD databases, and hardware descriptive languages. In the early 1990s, Parker and her group used a combination of their software along with a commercial silicon compiler to produce an integrated circuit layout from the functional specification in under forty-eight hours. Her research in the immediate past focused on system-level synthesis and partitioning, including the automatic design of multimedia network hardware and data management.

About the Interview[edit | edit source]

ALICE PARKER: An Interview Conducted by Tom Coughlin, IEEE History Center, 2 March 2022

Interview #875 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement[edit | edit source]

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center, 445 Hoes Lane, Piscataway, NJ 08854 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Alice Parker, an oral history conducted in 2022 by Tom Coughlin, IEEE History Center, Piscataway, NJ, USA.

Interview[edit | edit source]

Interviewee: Alice Parker

Interviewer: Tom Coughlin

Date: 2 March 2022

Place: virtual


Coughlin:

Today is March 2nd, 2022. I am Tom Coughlin. I am with Alice Parker, and this is a recorded Zoom meeting. Alice, thank you very much, and I appreciate your time. We are going to talk a bit about your personal history, starting with your early life and education. First of all, can you state your full name and the date and place of your birth?

Parker:

My name is Alice Cline Parker and I was born April 10th, 1948, in Birmingham, Alabama.

Coughlin:

Your parents? Mother, father, and any siblings?

Parker:

My parents were Elizabeth Cline and Joseph Kalman Cline. My father was with the Medical College of Alabama, at the University of Alabama Birmingham. There was a dog, Pat; it was an Irish Setter, and some unnamed cats, and a horse at the time, and a rabbit at a time, and chickens at a time.

Coughlin:

So, were you out in the country a bit?

Parker:

Yes, it was very much countryside at that point. Dirt road.

Coughlin:

Can you tell us a bit about your education?

Parker:

My education, K-12, was fairly unremarkable, although the schools were very good. My high school was a top-ranked high school, and then I went off to NC State University.

Coughlin:

That was North Carolina, is it then?

Parker:

Yes. North Carolina State because my father was by then in North Carolina at the Research Triangle Institute, and I had gotten a fellowship, a scholarship in electrical engineering. I am not sure why, but I had had physics, and we had electricity in physics and I thought, oh, I think I could do this. I needed the money to go to college, so I took off and went to North Carolina to go to NC State.

Coughlin:

Let us see, was your dad into technology then, did you say?

Parker:

He was very much interested in technology because he used a lot in the lab, but he was a chemist. He studied things like cancer, and other things that were related. Nutrition was something he studied at that point, and he synthesized. He was the first team to synthesize vitamin B1.

Coughlin:

Oh, wow.

Parker:

Create a synthetic vitamin B1, and he was at Merck, and they paid him a dollar for the patent.

Coughlin:

Wow, okay.

Parker:

Which is what happened.

Coughlin:

Did you have any siblings?

Parker:

Yes, I had a brother who was almost a year older. He became an engineer as well, but a different type of engineer, more like industrial management.

Coughlin:

He is in industrial management. He went to the same school as you did back in high school?

Parker:

Yes, he went to the same schools, the K-12 schools, and then he went to Georgia Tech.

Coughlin:

I have got some questions here about your childhood. Where did you grow up?

Parker:

In Birmingham or outside Birmingham.

Coughlin:

Birmingham, Alabama?

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

Do you have extended family there?

Parker:

No. My father had gone there to teach and to do research in the medical school, and then we kind of got stuck there. My parents divorced. He moved to several other places, but I stayed in Birmingham until I got my high school diploma and then I went north to North Carolina.

Coughlin:

It sounds like probably kind of a middle-class type of family. Was it?

Parker:

It was kind of a mixture, because when you are a divorced family you tend to dive into poverty.

Coughlin:

It is a little tough sometimes.

Parker:

Yes, and I think the poverty made a difference in my choices later on because I saw this scholarship in engineering and my teacher in the high school, Commander Loftus, he was a Navy Commander, said, why do not you apply for this? I said, yes, I think I could do that. It is related a little bit to the physics that you are teaching me. I needed the money to go to college, frankly, and so at that time women were not career-oriented as much as men were, and my brother, the idea was to get him into a good college and get him on the right track.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

I thought, well, this is something--an engineering job could sustain me forever. This is a good direction to go. It just clicked, and it worked really well, and I had some professors who were just outstanding in the way that they mentored students, and it made a huge difference.

Coughlin:

Yes, that really matters.

Parker:

I was just on a track and I was not going to go a different direction.

Coughlin:

Can you tell me a little bit about family background, where they came from, religion, anything like that, that might be relevant?

Parker:

My mother's family had emigrated from Europe in the maybe early 1800s, and my father's family emigrated later, around the wave that came in the late 1800s, early 1900s.

But nobody had an outstanding career before they left to come to the United States, and my father's father became an attorney and so that was kind of a career track for him. My mother's family were more--my grandfather was a store owner, and then became a salesman in later life. I think the Great Depression just wiped out the store. In my mother's family, there was a thread of people who were musicians.

Coughlin:

Oh, really?

Parker:

One of them taught in the preparatory school at Johns Hopkins and was well known in Baltimore, and my father's family, everybody went to Johns Hopkins, and my mother's family, her brother got a bachelor's and Ph.D. at Johns Hopkins, so it was kind of an academic family.

Coughlin:

What in? What kind of topic? What kind of subject?

Parker:

My uncle was an engineer. My mother's brother became the first science advisor to Congress, in the Library of Congress, and then a science advisor to President Kennedy and President Johnson. He resigned from that when Spiro Agnew became his boss, and that did not work out too well. He resigned and became a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, but was well known from things he did, like he was responsible for causing the frequency spectrum to get split up into various frequencies, the broadcasting frequency spectrum.

Coughlin:

Wow.

Parker:

I have a document that he had written for Congress, describing how that was to happen

Coughlin:

That was before the FCC then, right?

Parker:

Yes. He was in the middle of everything. He designed an aluminum submarine called the Aluminaut. It had to withstand a lot of pressure, but aluminum is not particularly good at that, so it was an engineering feat. That was one of his major contributions.

Coughlin:

That was during World War II?

Parker:

I think that was after World War II.

Coughlin:

After World War II?

Parker:

Yes. He kind of was in and out of Washington for many years in the government, first in the Navy, and then as a private citizen and advising Congress, on various things. He was well known and contributed to many different aspects, including something called technology assessment. How do you determine what the impact of the technology's going to be? Should we do this or should we not do this? What are all the other implications besides technology that you need to educate Congress about, or educate the American public about, and they wrote many books about. That was one side, and on the other side, my father doing these investigations into what caused cancer. He came up with a test for prostate cancer that emerged into a slightly different approach, and then was replaced by something else later on, but he worked on aspects of that for many years. So, I had science on both sides.

Coughlin:

It sounds like it. So, good background for--

Parker:

Kind of hard to ignore it. The music was not particularly my thing.

Coughlin:

You did not do music?

Parker:

I wasn't very good at what I did, but very interested in it in recent years. I was doing a lot of volunteer work for Josh Groban's foundation called Find Your Light. Josh is a singer, and his Find Your Light Foundation helps kids with music to help them overcome all sorts of things, physical disabilities. He contributes to a school for the blind and helps them to teach music to their students.

Coughlin:

Music would important be important for blind people, yes?

Parker:

Yes, I think so, and to other groups, emotionally challenged kids, and all sorts of kids with different kind of economic struggles. He contributes to various groups to have the kids have something they can find in their lives that's positive and that maybe kind of lights a flame somewhere, and they emerge able to survive and be highly functional.

Coughlin:

I have got some questions on elementary school and high school. There is a list of questions here I am supposed to go through. There is a list from elementary school. What were your favorite and least favorite subjects?

Parker:

Oh, well, my favorite subject was books and reading, and I had a third-grade teacher who would bring books to me from her high school daughter's collection, and I just read through the whole collection in third grade because I was just so interested in reading. Mostly fiction, but in later years other things.

Coughlin:

What kind of fiction?

Parker:

It was young adult fiction. Cherry Ames, Flight Nurse, and that kind of thing.

Coughlin:

Oh, so, like about people with careers and things like that?

Parker:

Yes. Girls with science careers was a big thing. I read a lot. I read my mother's psychology textbook when I was in elementary school. She was in college studying psychology for the music degree, and I read the psychology textbook. There is a back story to that I can fill in later.

Coughlin:

Oh. I would be interested in hearing that. How about extracurricular activities? Did you do many of those in elementary school? Sports or anything?

Parker:

No, but there was Brownie Scouts and dancing. I did not care too much for the dancing, but you have to do something. I did swimming that I really liked and became a life saver. I got the lifesaving certificate and all that so I could do that.

Coughlin:

Oh, you did?

Parker:

I was interested in those things. Being out in the country we did things like just riding bicycles and that kind of thing.

Coughlin:

You mentioned a horse. Did you ride the horse?

Parker:

Yes we had a horse and I rode the horse. Having one horse wasn't particularly a good situation because one of us could ride and the other one had to jog alongside, and that wasn't so great. That was my father's effort to keep my brother off a motorcycle.

Coughlin:

Ah, to have a horse.

Parker:

Yes, and it kind of helped. Probably, yes. My brother's still around, so obviously it worked.

Coughlin:

Yes, worked well enough.

Parker:

Yes, it worked. I was active. I was interested in all sorts of things, so I did science experiments for science fairs, and I was interested in growing plants, and I was interested in different kinds of cooking and sewing. My mother wanted me to be a real girl-girl and do embroidery and painting. Painting I liked; that was something I was involved in.

No, there was nothing extraordinary about me. Nobody said to me, what do you want to dream of, where do you want to go, aim high, because I was a woman and people did not do that and they did not think of that. When I got into engineering and started seeing kind of the door open, I was less interested in a lot of the things I did before because as soon as I started doing anything with research, I started thinking this is the direction I want to go.

Coughlin:

How about hobbies when you were in elementary school? Did you have hobbies or outside interests? You mentioned a few things. Would you say those are hobbies too?

Parker:

Those were hobbies. There were little things that my brother did and I was interested in, but not particularly No. I liked to travel. I liked traveling around to national parks and seeing what was out there, and I liked activities like going fishing, and going horseback riding, and those kind of things. But, no, I was not passionate about anything except reading.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

That was a big deal. I was very passionate about that, and we bought this collection of history books by Will and Ariel Durant.

Coughlin:

Oh, Durant, yes.

Parker:

This large collection, and in high school I read through several of them. They are very dense, and I still have them. But yes, I got interested in that. Books were the main thing.

Coughlin:

Hold on. Sorry, my cat here wants attention. So, you mentioned a little bit about that you are reading books about girls in science and technology, I think. Did you have an idea when you were in elementary school what you wanted to be when you grew up?

Parker:

No, I did not have an idea, although my mother got me a little kit that was a lab technician set for girls. It said "for girls" on it, and I still have it in my office, so I can point to it.

Coughlin:

Like a chemistry kit or something?

Parker:

Just a lab technician kit, and there were little slides and a microscope and all that. But my dad had gotten me a chemistry set and I was more interested in that, actually.

Coughlin:

Yes, cool.

Parker:

He got me that when I was barely able to read.

Coughlin:

Wow. That was early, then?

Parker:

He would supply me with everything I needed to do the science projects I did for school.

Coughlin:

Oh, cool.

Parker:

He would come in with various things, describe how to use them, and then hand them off to me. I would be setting up in our second bathroom, the lab that I would run.

Coughlin:

Very cool.

Parker:

Yes. That was fun. That was kind of my introduction to science. I could have gone either way. I could have gone for the arts. I could have gone for the sciences. I think I was just thinking very practically about what was going to get me a good career. When you have relatives who are scientists and have jobs, and you have a mother who is a musician and charges 60 cents a piano lesson, you kind of put two and two together and you say, wait a minute, I think I know what I want to do.

Coughlin:

Maybe you want to do something else, yes.

Parker:

Yes. Then I really think that was the right choice. I really enjoyed it. I feel like I contributed.

Coughlin:

How about when you were in high school? What were you favorite or least-favorite subjects in high school?

Parker:

Economics.

Coughlin:

Was the least favorite?

Parker:

Economics was the least favorite. It was taught by one of the high school football coaches and it was so incredibly boring. There was just supply and demand curves and they just talked about those endlessly, and I thought that was horribly boring. I was very interested in some aspects of history, archaeology, anthropology, and why people lived the way they did. Not so much the physical sciences like physics, not so much interested in that. Very interested in biology and chemistry.

Coughlin:

Interesting; even though later on you got into electrical engineering.

Parker:

Yes, because I think it is different enough from physics. I was not interested in the very mathematical. I did fine in physics, I just was not interested in it. I minored in math as a Ph.D. student, even though looking back I am not sure that was exactly what I would be interested in now. From the beginning, from the time my mother had this psychology book, I was interested in the brain and why people think the way they do. That interest carried me completely through every aspect of my education until I got to the point where I could not find anybody to do a Ph.D. with on that subject

Coughlin:

On the brain.

Parker:

Yes, on the brain. I went into computer architecture and then into design automation and how to make chips, integrated circuit chips. I got expertise in that area and became a Fellow of the IEEE in that area. Then I just stopped cold turkey and I said I really do not want to do this anymore. I really want to study the brain. This is the hardest thing I know to do. How do you build electronics to model the brain? I stopped everything else to do that. I kind of did a second career, a kind of a stealth career, because I did not change jobs, I did not change what I was teaching, I just changed what I was researching

Coughlin:

I think we will be getting more into that stuff in just a bit here. I am just running through the questions. It is great. You can say when you want to say stuff.

In high school did you have extracurricular activities that you were involved in or hobbies?

Parker:

There were clubs like the German Club. I was very interested in it because I like languages a lot. We had a lot of mutual friends in the clubs like the Latin Club and the German Club. I was involved in those socially, but nothing that was outstanding. I did not even do a lot of charity work, I just was not interested.

Coughlin:

Did your hobbies - - think?

Parker:

None of them strike now as--no. I did things, just maybe later on. I would go back and remember, but we did some archaeology. I have got a few pieces around that we found before there was such a science to it. They are documented, and yes things like that, but--

Coughlin:

Did you work when you were in high school at all, or just basically go to school?

Parker:

No. Except, I worked trying to sell Avon products which was kind of a joke. It got me out, and I was exercising, walking around with my little Avon bag, and trying to sell to people. Selling items was not what I liked doing at any time.

Coughlin:

I remember I was delivering The Grit newspaper at one point when I was a kid. Do you remember that.

Parker:

The Grit? No.

Coughlin:

It was something called The Grit.

Parker:

I do not remember ever seeing that.

Coughlin:

Oh, okay. Goals and aspirations in high school. Did you have a better idea of the things you wanted to do when you were in high school?

Parker:

I think that I wanted to do some sort of research that involved humans, medical research, maybe biomedical research of some kind. I think it was just a bit early because biomedical engineering really sprung into being kind of toward the end of my studies, so it did not fit exactly. But I was always interested in that, and other things. I think my hobbies and everything else developed more over the years, after I had a family and watching what my son was doing. Then I got interested in other things.

Coughlin:

When and how did you get interested in technology, engineering? Who or what would you say encouraged those roles, or role models in that as you--

Parker:

When I was a child my brother had various kits. He had a transistor radio, a crystal radio kit, and all the little things that you give boys to study. I was interested because of those. I was very interested in the radios.

Coughlin:

Ah. Did he let you work on it, too?

Parker:

Yes. We were doing things together, and I was very interested. We had an electric train, so putting that together [and] refitting it with various pieces when it needed rehabilitation. We worked on our television which was probably a mistake because the capacitors could have killed us.

Coughlin:

Yes, seriously.

Parker:

Yes, yes, but we had fun. You could replace the tubes. When I was a child they were all tubes, no transistors. You could pull the tubes out and take them to the drug store and test them in the tube tester. I was interested in all those things, mostly when I was young. But, also with chemistry because I did the experiments with chemicals.

Coughlin:

Yes, and your dad was a chemist.

Parker:

Yes. I did experiments growing crystals. I was interested in that, growing crystals in a magnetic field which was a science fair project.

Coughlin:

Oh, that is very cool.

Parker:

It got me an award and that was fun. I think it was the one teacher, Commander Loftus, who had been an electrical engineer when he was in the Navy. All the Navy officers have to be an engineer, I believe, or something like that. He was a big help to me in sort of plotting my career path and giving me strategies like maybe you want to go to MIT, maybe you want to--. So, that was helpful and that was a big thing.

Then I had various teachers who were always encouraging, but nobody pushing me in the direction of a career. It just was not done.

When I got the finalist for the scholarship to be an engineer there was a panel of men who had to interview me for the scholarship. They wanted to know why I was interested in engineering. This was unusual, this was odd. What else was different about me? I said, well, I am just a normal girl. I like cake decorating and embroidering and all that, but I could do this engineering and I am interested in it.

Coughlin:

Circuits, too.

Parker:

That is what propelled me forward. Then there were professors along the way who just made a huge difference.

Coughlin:

Who were they? Do you want to talk a little bit about any of them?

Parker:

It was one of them, Wayland Seagraves [Wayland P. Seagraves], and he was retired. I think he was Navy, but he might have been a Marine. Waylon Seagraves taught the first circuit class, and he was really, really good. He would make mistakes and then he would look up with this kind of amused look in his eye and he would say, everybody agree? He hoped that somebody would raise their hand and point out to him that he had made a mistake.

One time he gave a quiz and I did not get the answer. I raised my hand and said, I think it should be blah, blah, blah, but I do not know how to do it that way. It is too complicated. He thought about it for a few minutes and in the middle of class he said, yes, I think you are right. That was my kind of introduction to him. Then he started mentoring me and got me into paper contests and various things. There was an IEEE paper contest in the region, and I was the first woman that he took to the IEEE paper contest.

Coughlin:

Wow, that is cool.

Parker:

He had taken the first African American student the year before. I was the first woman. He was the mentor all along, and he has made a huge difference.

Coughlin:

Yes, a real encourager of diversity.

Parker:

Absolutely, and it made a difference because everybody has to have somebody who has got their back. He was there for me. He was at NC State and I do not think that they really recognized what he had done for electrical engineering. He was a real educator, and I would put him top on the list. Then there were others as well, too, that were just--

Coughlin:

Are there moments when you are younger that stand out as life-changing or critical moments of any sort that you can think of when you were younger?

Parker:

When I arrived at Stanford, that was a critical moment. I started studying, and I felt I had worked so hard because here I was at this major university and everybody was talking about how trivial everything was. The first midterms came out and everybody got their grades, and I thought, ah, that was all just bluffing. It is hard.

Coughlin:

It is hard.

Parker:

It is hard. That was a revelation to me, and I thought, all I have to do is just work hard and I will be okay, and I was. I think that there is a kind of collective understanding of how things work. If you are not part of the social group, I was a woman and there were no other women except for one, and so if you are not part of the group, you do not know.

Coughlin:

You do not know.

Parker:

You do not know how people behave. You do not know if everybody is just trying to put on airs, put on a successful face. That was a big revelation, and that made a big difference.

Coughlin:

That makes sense.

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

I think we are getting into college stuff now. Undergrad, starting there, and I think you talked a bit about that. I think you also said why you selected that university because you got the full scholarship. Right?

Parker:

No, I got a scholarship from a local company outside of Birmingham, Alabama, and it was not a full scholarship.

Coughlin:

Okay, but it helped.

Parker:

It made the difference between going and not going. I was at NC State because my dad was in North Carolina, so I could get state tuition and I could be near him.

Coughlin:

Yes, that helps.

Parker:

It seemed like a plan, and I went to NC State. It was kind of not quite as good as the University of North Carolina, but it was very focused in engineering. All the engineering was great. Other things like textiles and agriculture and things maybe were not so interesting, but the engineering was very interesting and really strong. When I went off to Stanford for my master's degree, I could really excel because I had the basics nailed down, definitely.

Coughlin:

So, it was a real good core experience at North Carolina State?

Parker:

Yes, definitely, and I had humility which helped, because then when I went into these graduate classes full of people from all over the country I was able to say I am just going to work really hard and I think I can succeed, rather than saying, oh, I know everything and this is all trivial. It helped in some sense coming from the background of a humble background. Then I did not crash and burn. But I think it was more attitude than anything.

Coughlin:

It took a lot of time [and] that is what it is that gets people through. Most people, anyway. Yes.

Parker:

Attitude is everything. It makes a big difference.

Coughlin:

Yes. How did you determine your major? You kind of went into that earlier. It sounds like you would have loved to have gone into something biomedical, but there were not those things then.

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

How did you decide what you would get into in electrical engineering at the time?

Parker:

Well, for undergrad?

Coughlin:

Undergrad, yes.

Parker:

It is just electrical engineering at that time. There was not a lot of choice. I had an electric machinery lab, and I had a material science lab where you tested bolts to see how much force it took to break them and all that kind of stuff.

Coughlin:

Right, right.

Parker:

So, yes, but I was always interested in the computer and digital things, and that was the direction I went. Then as a junior in college a neighbor of ours worked for a company called Southern Services. Southern Services provided the engineering for five power companies in the south, including Alabama Power, Florida Power, Georgia Power, and so forth. There were five of them, and Southern Services, collectively, it was the Southern Company. She got me a job, an internship, at Southern Services, and the first week they sent me off to school to learn how to use an IBM 360.

Coughlin:

Oh, interesting, wow.

Parker:

Yes, and that was a long time ago. IBM 360, and the basic assembly language, and all the stuff about it. Then they gave me some materials to learn to program it in Fortran.

Coughlin:

Interesting, yes.

Parker:

Self-paced, learn on your own, and that is what I did for my summer internships from then on.

Coughlin:

Oh, cool. Wow.

Parker:

I was working for Southern Services. It was a woman neighbor that worked in the computers there at Southern Services, and she said, you need to get a job doing this, so that is the direction I went.

Coughlin:

Got you.

Parker:

It just clicked. The computer stuff just clicked, and it was a wave that I rode for many, many years, until finally the wave was gone and I jumped into the brain.

Coughlin:

Jumped into the brain, yes.

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

Why not talk more about that later?

How about any community or social activities, extracurricular stuff, or organizations? Did you do any of that in your undergrad?

Parker:

There was an engineering council where the students had an engineering council, and I was part of that. [I] might have been vice president at some point, or treasurer or something, and one year I was responsible for this big dance that we put on every year during Engineers Week. That was huge. I was in a choir, in a college choir.

The women's chorus and a men's chorus. I was in the women's chorus for I think all four years, and that kept me pretty busy besides all the other things that you have to do as a college student. Little bits of things here and there. Little bit of tennis, little bit of hiking, but not much.

When I was in high school, when I was in school all the way through, I was heavily involved in my local church, and that was probably a substitute for social activities. Yes, except high school friends, that was a different thing, but the church had kept me kind of busy.

Coughlin:

Were you a student member of the IEEE back then?

Parker:

Yes, I was a member from the time I was a freshman.

Coughlin:

Were you in Eta Kappa Nu or another honors society? Anything like that?

Parker:

Yes, I was in Eta Kappa Nu. I was in Tau Beta Pi, which was the engineering one. Then I think Phi Kappa Phi was the university one, but Phi Kappa Phi, we did not do much. Tau Beta Pi, we did more, and HKN we did more.

Coughlin:

Now a graduate student, and you've got the master's. That was at Stanford for your master's, right?

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

Can you tell me why you went there? I could guess that, but maybe tell me why you went there and how you got [crosstalk] yourself?

Parker:

There was a professor at NC State who said, oh, yes, you should think about Stanford. I went there, and he was very encouraging. I said, oh, okay, let me look at it. I looked over the brochure and I found this professor in the brochure, Michael Arbib who studied modeling the brain, so, I thought, that's very cool, I think I will go to Stanford. I liked it better than Berkeley because Berkeley seemed like there were a lot more students, and I do not know, it just did not click like Stanford did. Stanford felt more personalized, and I liked the fact that there were people who were extremely well known in the field there, and there was one guy, Fred Terman

Coughlin:

Oh, yes, I know Fred.

Parker:

Fred Terman was my uncle's master's thesis advisor.

Coughlin:

Oh, is that right? Wow.

Parker:

Yes. He knew Fred, of course, so when I arrived at Stanford I met with Fred. Then I was ready to leave because of personal reasons. There were reasons why I thought a master's is fine and I will go back to NC State for my Ph.D. He tried to convince me to stay, and he was right. One of the lessons I learned was to listen to people because sometimes at age twenty-one you do not know everything.

Coughlin:

Even though you think you do.

Parker:

Yes, and I learned my lesson after a few of those mistakes. You do not have to make too many mistakes in your life to say, okay, I think that was dumb in terms of career.

Coughlin:

Yes, hopefully you do not.

Parker:

Yes. I went to work with Michael Arbib, but when I got there Michael Arbib apparently moved on to the University of Massachusetts.

Coughlin:

Oh, so you did not even get to work with him?

Parker:

No, no. If I had gotten to work with him, I think I would have stayed.

Coughlin:

Because that was what you really were interested in, wasn't it?

Parker:

Yes, that is what I was interested in. I had some really good courses at Stanford that kind of touched on it, it launched me, and I was ready. I just could not find anybody in North Carolina who was working on it. I went to Stanford, I went to Duke, I went to the University of North Carolina, [and] I went all over looking for somebody who could advise me. I could not find anybody, so I picked an advisor on the basis of is this guy a good guy, is he going to be fair to me, is it going to be a good relationship. So, that was the basis, rather than what he was working on.

Coughlin:

Sure. How long were you at Stanford doing the master's degree?

Parker:

One year. I got a master's degree in twelve months.

Coughlin:

Wow. You hardly got to even stay in California very long then, at that point.

Parker:

No, but enough to realize that that is where I wanted to be.

Coughlin:

Did you get to do any work? Did you work for anyone when you were there?

Parker:

Oh, there was an electronics course I took in the electronics lab with a man named Jim Angell. Jim used to play the university bells, the carillon.

Coughlin:

Oh, the carillon thing, yes.

Parker:

He was very talented. He said there is an organ in the chapel, and the organ has these pipes called chiffy pipes, they make a sound, so they go "too" instead of "too," they say "ooo" and so he said, I want to synthesize that.

Coughlin:

Oh, wow.

Parker:

We built a circuit that synthetized the chiffy pipes, but we did it doing a Fourier transform of the sound to see what the frequencies were and how they changed over time. That is what I did for him in that lab, and that was memorable.

Coughlin:

Oh, that is a cool experience.

Parker:

Even though I did not continue with it, but I was interested. It was such a niche area and there was only one company, Allen Organ, that was interested. I thought, okay, yes, that is not going to be my career, but I was interested enough and I liked working with Jim a lot. He was a great professor and really encouraging, so I did the chiffy organ pipes.

Coughlin:

Well, that is cool. That is a cool story.

Parker:

That was a fun, cool thing to do.

Coughlin:

Did you work? Did you have a job?

Parker:

No, because I was full time.

Coughlin:

Did you have a scholarship or did you do loans, or--?

Parker:

I just had an NSF fellowship.

Coughlin:

Oh, a fellowship.

Parker:

I did not have to do anything except travel around and look at stuff and enjoy the California lifestyle. There were so many interesting things to learn about.

Coughlin:

I am surprised you left after a year, but anyway.

Parker:

Well, that was the personal; personal related to other people in my life.

Coughlin:

Got it.

Parker:

You get to a certain point where all of your choices are not made just with you in mind.

Coughlin:

Sure.

Parker:

Leaving was one of the mistakes, I think. It was where I wanted to be, and I traveled to California as a child and I always wanted to go back.

Coughlin:

Yes, I am not from California originally either, but I did like it out here, and eventually ended up out here.

Parker:

Well, there is a lot of advantages to being other places, I just always wanted to be in California.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

North Carolina is a great place to be for a lot of reasons, but California was - - .

Coughlin:

You went from Stanford, one year you got a master's degree, and then you went back to North Carolina. Was it at State or was it somewhere else in North Carolina?

Parker:

NC State. Yes, I just went back to NC State and I got my Ph.D. The semester that I started applying for positions, all of a sudden affirmative action broke and everybody wanted to interview me. I got a bunch of interviews, and there was a chance to go to Berkeley, the University of Florida, but I circled on the map where I would not go. One of the places I said I would not go is Pittsburgh because Pittsburgh is gloomy, smoggy, industrialized.

Coughlin:

At that time, yes.

Parker:

I do not know.

Coughlin:

It is no Carnegie Mellon for you.

Parker:

I contacted somebody at Carnegie Melon to get a copy of his thesis, and he said, I will send it to you if you send me your CV, so, I did. It turned out that the department chairman at Carnegie Mellon, Angel Jordan, his wife was the first woman Ph.D. in engineering in Western Pennsylvania and he wanted to bring in women.

Coughlin:

Wow.

Parker:

There I was, courtesy of Angel, at Carnegie Mellon. I was there for five and a half years and I met my current husband. My husband-to-be at that point graduated and there were not really any jobs in Pittsburgh for what he was doing, so that was a good time to look around.

Coughlin:

How long were you in North Carlina, then, before you moved to Pittsburgh?

Parker:

Four years. Maybe four, four and a half.

Coughlin:

So, you got your Ph.D. in North Carolina, and then you went to Pittsburgh, at the university there, to work.

Parker:

Yes. Then I became an assistant professor there, and I was looking at a couple more years. I would have been tenured, possibly, but we decided, and I really wanted to go to California. I really, really wanted to go to California.

Coughlin:

So, that is when you came to California?

Parker:

Yes, it was the winter when, the storm door was shattered, it was so cold. The glass in the storm door shattered, and that was it. I said, I think I am done. I cannot do this anymore. It is minus 17, the car will not start, so yes, I was ready.

Coughlin:

I will ask you a few more questions about the Ph.D. time again, if you do not mind.

Parker:

Okay.

Coughlin:

You end up in electrical engineering?

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

Did you have another fellowship there?

Parker:

No, I was teaching at that point because the National Science Foundation fellowships that were so generous and so beautiful more or less disappeared. I won't say which president got rid of them, but he was not a favorite for many reasons, and he eventually resigned.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

Yes, I did not have the funding. I was teaching. Then, finally, I was not doing anything, just taking my savings, and saying I am going to get through this so I can get out and go for a living and be a real person.

Coughlin:

Get through this, yes.

Parker:

I pushed pretty hard, because most people do not graduate in four and a half years, but I did.

Coughlin:

No. That is excellent.

Parker:

I was always pushing through to do things quickly.

Coughlin:

What was your thesis on?

Parker:

It was a computer architecture thesis. It was a system that you could program to emulate any input/output device you wanted. It could talk to an IBM 360, it could talk to a disc drive, it could talk to a tape drive, it could talk to a serial link, and the disk drive was really hard. That was difficult because there were timing issues. In order to program this thing, you had to micro-code the elementary operations that you could then program, and the thing that survived was the programming language for this, became a hardware description I guess later on in my next life.

Coughlin:

Oh, I see, okay. Are there any teachers or mentors from that period of time when you were doing your doctoral program, you can remember?

Parker:

Well, my advisor, Jim Gault was more than flexible. It was whatever I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it. Then he advised me on, okay, this is what you want to do, these are the things. He was very, very helpful, and did not get in my way. He did not say no, you cannot do that, you have to work on this because that is what I work on.

Coughlin:

Yes, yes.

Parker:

It was enormously helpful.

Coughlin:

That is very enabling, isn't it?

Parker:

Yes, and unusual, apparently. I did not realize how unusual it was. If you follow academic Twitter, the grad students tend to group together in various tweets. They have real problems not doing what the advisor exactly wants them to do, and there are advisor/student problems.

Coughlin:

Not much flexibility with some of these people?

Parker:

Well, they have funding, and they have certain goals. Everybody has their own goals. I had my own goals.

Coughlin:

Yes. When you were in the doctoral program did you have any hobbies, outside interests, or recreation you did then?

Parker:

I liked to do crafts. I had a friend who worked in the department as a secretary, and she and I would just spend weekends doing crafts. We would learn how to make stained glass which was really hard because we had to cut the glass.

Coughlin:

Wow, interesting. And, then the leading it and everything.

Parker:

We did not do the lead. We did fake lead because I was afraid of the lead stuff.

Coughlin:

Yes, seriously.

Parker:

Later on, she did leaded glass, she did the real thing, but I made things out of leather. I just did a lot of craft work because that was fun and taking hikes.

Coughlin:

Different from school, yes?

Parker:

But mostly in a college environment, there is so much to do just being around the college, and all the concerts, and all the sports. Gosh, you do not want to turn down being able to go to the football games and being a part of the environment. It is just so much fun, being part of that, at least in various times and various places. Yes, I like to say that I got to see Jim Plunkett play quarterback of the football game, and that was a big deal.

Coughlin:

Wow.

Parker:

So, things like that I enjoy, yes.

Coughlin:

The next things are the career side. I think you said after you graduated from North Carolina State with a doctorate, you went to Carnegie Melon for, was it, five years?

Parker:

Yes, five and a half.

Coughlin:

Then you went to California? Did you go to UCLA?

Parker:

No. I went straight to USC.

Coughlin:

I am sorry, USC.

Parker:

Yes, I went straight to USC because I knew a professor at USC. He had asked me in a conference, do you have any students who are graduating because we are looking. I said, nope, I do not have anybody this year, but I am looking, and that was it. It was one of those serendipitous things because I had thought I was going to go to industry. There were a couple companies that kind of already had my name on my cubicle or on my desk or on my door because they thought I was going to go. One of them was this company in Massachusetts called Digital Equipment Corp.

Coughlin:

Oh, I have heard of them.

Parker:

Yes, you have.

Coughlin:

Oh, yes.

Parker:

Okay. So, Gordon Bell was, as I said, with Carnegie Mellon, and he and a couple of his colleagues kind of twisted my arm, and I really thought I was going to go to DEC. The pieces fit together a different way, and I thought I was leaving the university, but I felt like Southern California was where I should be, so I went there and did not look back.

Coughlin:

So, you guys moved out there, yes.

Parker:

It was just done, and USC's been a great experience, so I could not imagine it being any better.

Coughlin:

You have been teaching most of this time, doing research and teaching, then?

Parker:

Yes. Once in a while I take a sabbatical, but that is all.

Coughlin:

Do you have any patents? Sorry.

Parker:

No. I had one provisional patent. The work required to get to the patent stage, I just looked at it and said, do I want to do this, or do I want to spend my time on other things. I just was not that interested in going forward with it. Something never motivated me.

Coughlin:

Yes. You have got lots of papers, I think.

Parker:

Yes, too many.

Coughlin:

Oh, by the way, I have your book, the one that you edited. I have not had a chance to read it yet, but I do have it.

Parker:

Well, if you look at the chapter that I wrote about my research, the beginning of it talks about growing up in the South and my family background.

Coughlin:

Oh, it does? Oh, I will have to take a look.

Parker:

There's less there than I would like, but I put a little bit just to paint the picture.

Coughlin:

I got it just a couple of days ago. I have not had a chance to look at it yet, but I will look that over. Thank you.

Parker:

It turned out a different way than I thought it was going to turn out, and I was really pleased at how open the women were to describing challenges and issues. It was really helpful. But there is a back story that did not get told.

Coughlin:

Oh, what's that?

Parker:

Well, not from me necessarily, personally. Yes, maybe for me personally, the difficulties of being a woman and not so much the sexual harassment as the bullying and harassment to try to just push whatever they were working on to make that the thing and to keep whoever was around them who was competing to shut them up, and that shows up in the book in some of the other chapters.

Coughlin:

You think they particularly did that with women even more than with men, right?

Parker:

Yes, definitely, because it worked. I do not know that it would work with men so well. It would not work quite in the same way, I think.

Coughlin:

Do you think things have gotten better than they used to be?

Parker:

Maybe. If you look at the numbers, they have gotten better, there are less people like that, there are less people who are intimidating, there are less people, but they are still around, there are just fewer of them, fewer and fewer. As soon an engineering father has a daughter, things change, so things have changed as a result.

Coughlin:

Yes. Well, it is hard to ignore 50 percent of the population, and you know the intelligence is pretty evenly distributed, I think.

Parker:

It may be different, but it is definitely. There are competitors on both sides who have maybe a different viewpoint how to proceed. But I think engineering is the richer for having multiple views.

Coughlin:

Oh, I think the more perspectives you can bring to engineering problems, oftentimes the better. In fact, I have heard about studies of companies, at least, if they have women as managers, or at least a higher proportion of women as managers, they tend to be more successful and more innovative. I think it makes a big difference.

Parker:

I think there is a different way of approaching things, and it is not always male/female, but there is also a difference culturally.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

When we have students coming in from different cultural backgrounds we see a difference. A difference in how they perform, what they are interested in, and how they push their careers forward

Coughlin:

I should get back to the questioning on this. Before you left for USC when you were at Carnegie Mellon, what kind of projects did you work on there? What sort of work did you do there before you went to USC?

Parker:

I had a lot of different projects and they were all fun and different. Like one project was to make a VCR, a Sony Betamax, record fetal heartbeats.

Coughlin:

Oh, wow. Wow.

Parker:

Professor Dick Longini wanted to do that, so I took my electronics knowledge and my students' knowledge, and we built something that sort of worked. But there were a lot of problems with it. It was the first time we had ever done something like that, and if we did it a second time we would do it better. But the VCR had such a short lifespan that it was not as useful as it would have been. But it was like using the cassette tapes. People used to use cassette tapes to record computer information, and it was like that. It was kind of clunky and they were fragile and difficult to handle and so forth.

Coughlin:

It is what you had at the time; you know?

Parker:

Yes, it is what we had at the time. That was one project.

I had one student who studied how to make the force and speed with which you push the keyboard on an electronic device, how to change how the sound came out. He got a Ph.D. in music and was a professor at North Texas State University for many, many years, until he retired.

Coughlin:

Is that like synthesized music?

Parker:

Yes. He did that, and he had a professor in computer science. The two of us co-advised him, and then he had an official music professor because he was in music.

Coughlin:

Cool.

Parker:

I did that. Then we did computer analysis of liver tissue to try and figure out whether you can automatically spot liver disease like cirrhosis. We pushed that, and I was interested in that, but most of my time I spent on how do you build CAD tools to support digital systems.

Coughlin:

Computer-aided design.

Parker:

Yes. I spent time on how do you build tools that synthesize systems from higher-level specifications. I spent my career on that until I jumped ship.

Coughlin:

Right. But that was back in USC. So, in USC you came and you were still working on CAD. Other things you were working on, or interesting stories?

Parker:

Well, I was mostly working on CAD because I had been advised, if you really want to get tenure here you need to focus a little more. It was probably a good idea.

Then there was a point where I think, if you've got the idea that you kind of have done what you came to do, so I started spending more and more time doing things like [being] president of the faculty senate, and I served for a day. But I spent a lot of time on faculty senate stuff.

Then I got an offer from the administration to be Vice Provost for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, so I did that. I do not think that was what I was cut out to do, but I spent some time putting together interdisciplinary ideas. One of them was on violence studies. I was very interested in how do you deal with violence, and what do you do about violence, so I spent a little time on that.

Then I had family matters to take care of, and so when I came back to research I just said I do not want to do this design automation anymore. I really wanted to study the brain. I have done everything I have got to do, so, let me just fiddle around in my old age with brain stuff, and so fast forward, that was 2005.

Seventeen years ago, I got money from NSF, and then I got some money from DARPA later. I graduated, I do not know, twelve Ph.D. students, maybe, or more

Coughlin:

Working on this?

Parker:

Working on this. It was just what interested me. Once I started it, the students liked it, [and] I just could not stop.

Coughlin:

Cool. Are you still doing that? Do you have students, still?

Parker:

I just graduated one student in the end of December, and I have one student and it is not clear what he is going to do.

I think that I have produced a lot, and I am writing a book about all the electronics that has gone into the brain. I am really interested in nanotechnologies and how do we use, for example, carbon nanotubes to model. We went to the lab and we used carbon nanotubes to model a small neural synapse, and --

Coughlin:

What do you think about the spike in neural network stuff since that is kind of trying to emulate the brain, right?

Parker:

Yes. What we are doing is we are looking at how the brain works biologically, and we are pushing it down a level and saying what can we emulate. Can we emulate schizophrenia? Can we emulate various things that are biological? That's been a lot of fun as we push down deeper and deeper.

This latest student who graduated is looking at what is called the neural code. The neural code is the fact that it is not just a spike and then absence and then spike. It is like there might be a cluster of spikes, or there might be spikes closer together, spikes further apart. There is a code there, and if you are an information theorist then you know there is a code. All of that is information that is getting sent from neuron to neuron. It is not just a spike. That is what the last student worked on. That will probably be the last big thing that I work on.

Coughlin:

Now, now you have a family. How many kids do you have?

Parker:

One.

Coughlin:

One kid, okay.

Parker:

You only have to have one to prove the system works.

Coughlin:

That is true, and each one of them is a fair amount of work.

Parker:

It is exponential, I understand. Yes. Yes, my son is sitting right beside me here.

Coughlin:

Oh, he is? Okay.

Parker:

He is a Ph.D. in Theoretical Computer Science.

Coughlin:

Oh, cool.

Parker:

In spite of my wanting to go in the brain direction, he went in the opposite direction. He has full-time employment working.

Coughlin:

Did you ever find any pressure balancing professional and personal family life during your career?

Parker:

That was extremely hard.

Coughlin:

Was it?

Parker:

It was hard for a variety of reasons. It is hard just because there is not enough time, but it is also hard because it is a very emotional commitment to a family. It is hard to turn things on and off, so that is difficult.

Then it is hard to deal with people in your child's life who may know less than you about what should happen with them. It is hard. I used to write on my little notepad, smile and say nothing. I would just write it down because sometimes you just have to zip it and say, oh, that is not what the psychologists say, lady, you are wrong. But you have to

Coughlin:

But it is not worth fighting about, right?

Parker:

Yes, not worth fighting about with somebody who has spent their career making ten-year-olds sit in their seats all day, every day. They have a different temperament.

Coughlin:

Oh, gosh, yes. They have a hard time sitting there, that is for sure.

Parker:

Yes, keeping order in the classroom is the number one priority of two-thirds of the teachers, according to surveys.

Coughlin:

When you were starting here, there were some things you wanted to bring up later on. I do not know if this might be as good a time as any to talk about that. Do you remember what those were? You said, I will talk about that later.

Parker:

Well, the brain stuff.

Coughlin:

Oh, the brain stuff. Okay, good.

Parker:

Yes, and we have covered that.

Coughlin:

Okay.

Parker:

It is hard to talk for a very long period of time and not bring up that.

Coughlin:

Oh, yes, that is a theme. It sounds like you have been interested in that your whole life. I am glad you finally got a chance to work on it.

Parker:

I think one thing that we should put on the recording is the role that IEEE has played.

Coughlin:

That was my next thing to ask about, so go ahead.

Parker:

Okay. So, IEEE, from the beginning there were all sorts of publications. There were student publications, there was computer magazines, there were all the things that I would read and follow and subscribe to. The students used to laugh when they came to my office because they would see the bookshelves full of journals because I could not abide it if I wanted a particular journal and the library did not have it, or somebody had checked it out and rudely had not returned it, or whatever had happened. IEEE played a huge role, and then I did so much volunteer work for them. I was Treasurer for SIG Micro and then so forth, and then I moved over to SIG DA, I guess, the design automation SIG. Coupled with ACM, I did a lot of volunteer work.

Coughlin:

So, which IEEE society is that in?

Parker:

I think SIG DA is the Computer Society, but it might be Circuits and Systems.

Coughlin:

That is what I am saying. It sounds like it might be, yes.

Parker:

Circuits and systems.

Coughlin:

Yes, okay.

Parker:

It was a little bit of a weird thing because of ACM being involved as well. The articulation between the two was messy, but still is, probably. But I spent a long time, and I developed leadership skills. I ran conferences, and I ran a conference for SIG Micro, Micro 11, and we got this huge amount of money. We made a big profit, and so the SIG Micro people rode on that profit for years, because of course a lot of it got held closely by ACM and IEEE, and so the money was used for many, many years. But everything I did I tried to do as well as I could. Just like the Moon Shot - - , so why not? If I am going to spend the time, it is got to be memorable or I do not do it.

Coughlin:

Yes, well, if you are here you might as well be doing something useful, right?

Parker:

Yes. The opportunities afforded and everything were great.

Coughlin:

I was going to ask you when you became an IEEE Fellow, because you shifted in 2005, so I was just wondering.

Parker:

It has been a number of years, because I was an associate professor, so it was before 1990.

Coughlin:

Oh, before 1990. Okay.

Parker:

What was interesting was some people who knew me well thought that that might spur the university on to promoting me to full professor. It may have, but one of my students actually nominated me, because he was in industry, my former student, and he said you have to do this. You cannot just let it sit. IEEE allowed people to nominate who were not members, they were not fellows themselves.

Coughlin:

They were not fellows.

Parker:

But the letters had to come from fellows, so he pushed and got it.

Coughlin:

Right. Yes. Congratulations.

Parker:

Yes. Thirty-some years ago. But it changed a lot of things for me because it changed the way people viewed me, because my colleagues kind of viewed me as that's the weird person who does research that is different from everybody else, and everything about her is different because she is a woman. And so, it changed things, and it made a big--it was like IEEE putting a stamp on me changed everything. It was incredibly helpful.

Coughlin:

Did you get any awards or medals or anything over your career?

Parker:

Yes, there was an award for women scientists and engineers, or women engineers from ASEE that I got.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

USC Engineering gave me an award for teaching, and then there was an Engineers Council award from Orange County Engineers Council, and then a broader Engineers Council award for being a mentor. So, there were several things like that, and then I got an award from Josh Groban for the work I did for his charity and for his associated charities.

Coughlin:

You were talking about that.

Parker:

Yes. They gave me an award, and that was very touching and unexpected.

Coughlin:

I got a last category of things that they want me to ask you. Part of this is documenting your history and the general history of IEEE and the people in IEEE. [Another part is] reaching out to fellows, in particular, life fellows. Do you like history? Are you interested in history?

Parker:

I am interested in certain aspects of history.

Coughlin:

Has it impacted you?

Parker:

Sadly, only through exploring how history repeats itself. That is sort of the main thing that I am left with from history. But I relate back to what have we learned and then how can we build on it, and so I am interested in some aspects of electrical engineering history, especially the computer age.

Coughlin:

Your favorite job position, would you say it is the one you have had at USC because you have been there awhile.

Parker:

Yes, I think that would be my favorite. Although, I loved the aspects of being Vice Provost for Research because parts of it were great and parts of it are just horrendous. You have to do things you cannot talk about, but in general, yes. And I love teaching and I love the students; that helps enormously.

Coughlin:

That really comes through, by the way. How could your experiences, do you think, help someone else just entering or thinking about getting into a STEM field? Especially, I hope you write your book that you are talking about.

Parker:

I think that developing a passion for what you really want to do in life is energy-giving and it pushes you through no matter what. Up until this last semester here I was working full time, and at seventy-three; so, people do not do that unless they are driven. There has to be something pushing you, so I think developing something like that is just so important. If all you do is think, oh, I am not getting recognized for my work and I should be, and I do not really like this and it is not very interesting, that is a miserable way to get through the decades you are going to get through. But if it fits, and even if you are not doing what you really want to do, you make it somehow be what you want to do. You turn it into something that you want to do. So, even when I would do consulting, sometimes it would be very boring, but there were always young students and interns that I would mentor. We just kept in touch for many years, even though the consulting went away twenty years ago or thirty years ago.

Coughlin:

That is very impressive.

Parker:

There's a former intern from Taiwan and he was on a consulting job with me. I was consulting, he was full time, and he still keeps in touch with me.

Coughlin:

Oh, that is awesome.

Parker:

That was the interesting part of it to me. They were the producers of what the company needed, so I was mentoring and I was there for them.

Coughlin:

Very cool. How do you define success in life? You know, what is your feeling? What is that in general?

Parker:

Success in life?

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

If you are happy.

Coughlin:

That is a good one.

Parker:

I think that is it.

Coughlin:

Satisfying? Yes.

Parker:

Yes, if you are satisfied, if you are happy.

Coughlin:

What are steps that young people could take to prepare for their first job? I think, particularly, in a technology area.

Parker:

I think that they should carefully examine their attitudes and pick something that is a really good match with their temperament and their attitude so that they can be enthusiastic and helpful and dedicated and all the other things that you look for. Their careers--I watched the careers just take off when they are like that, and I have watched students with other issues, attitude issues, who just stall out, and they can never get anything going. It might be thirty years and they are still trying, and they are still searching, and they are still bumping from job to job and spiraling down. There is a downward spiral in people when they are not moving upward. They are moving downward. Nobody is static.

Coughlin:

Hard to do that, yes.

Parker:

I think it is really important to match temperaments and to find what they feel like they are driven to do. If they cannot find anything that sets them on fire and wants them to move forward, then maybe they have to find something else, or else they have to ask why is there nothing.

Coughlin:

Yes. Follow your bliss, I think, was what--

Parker:

Yes, but it is hard because it might be that your bliss is to watch YouTube all day.

Coughlin:

It could be. That is not very productive, either.

Parker:

Yes, so that does not help. I think it has to do with why am I here.

Coughlin:

Yes. So, sort of an existential thing, in a sense.

Parker:

If the world comes to an end tomorrow, if my life comes to an end, why was I here? What difference did I make? And, having that, searching for that, and doing that kind of self-seeking, that makes a huge difference.

Coughlin:

Yes, that is a good point. If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be? I think I know what this is but let us see what you say.

Parker:

If I could go back and change one thing?

Coughlin:

Yes. You mentioned going to Stanford and then leaving, so I thought that might be it.

Parker:

Let us see. Let us limit it to career things.

Coughlin:

Yes, fair enough.

Parker:

Yes, because everybody should have eaten more [crosstalk] and everybody should have exercised more.

Coughlin:

Exactly.

Parker:

So, okay, let us limit to career. I would have understood better how important it is to be self-motivated and to be self-directed and to choose my path and just shoot for it.

Coughlin:

Yes, okay. What are your goals in the coming years?

Parker:

Career-wise? I am still interested in consciousness and how you would even model it, so that is a goal. I am really interested in gene expression, and how a neuron tells its synapse I want you to grow a certain way, and I want you to connect the other neurons, and I want you to do things. That is not completely straightforward. Somewhere in the genes, in the DNA, but it is not clear how that happens. I am very interested in that and how you would model that electronically.

Coughlin:

And is there anything that we did not talk about that you would like to add or you think we should put into this recording?

Parker:

Gosh. I have given more advice than I do in a year or so. I am not sure I have anything else to say. I mentioned names.

Coughlin:

Yes, you did.

Parker:

I think it is really important to remember people and what they did and why they were instrumental in your life. I think that there were those people, there was Jim Angell and Waylon Seagraves and Gordon Bell, and people like that who just made a difference that you never forget. I think that is important, and it is sad in a way that a lot of the history of computing is kind of lost. Now it gets resurrected here, here, and here, because they stumble on here are some women who did something, or here are some African American women who did something.

Coughlin:

Yes, but there are a lot of histories.

Parker:

But there is a lot of history there, and everybody thinks of it as kind of boring subject, and I think it is. But what is important is that there were people there.

Coughlin:

People did it.

Parker:

There were people who had some guts and some courage and did some things that everybody said, that will never work and that I cannot fund you to do that, you will never make money off of that. So, I think it is useful. The other thing is that there is a lot of credit that does not get distributed in a good way, and my example is Xerox

Coughlin:

You mean in terms of--okay, go ahead.

Parker:

In terms of the technologies that came out of Xerox Park.

Coughlin:

Oh, amazing. Palo Alto, yes.

Parker:

Yes, the mouse.

Coughlin:

The mouse, yes.

Parker:

Stuff that got to Apple and other places, but Xerox could not make it work for some reason.

Coughlin:

They could not do it. They could not make it economical. Yes.

Parker:

Well, and at some level of management it turned into a product, and when it did, it was boring and not very interesting.

Coughlin:

Not like when Apple did it.

Parker:

Yes, and Apple picked up on it and said, hey, this is great stuff. So, I think that that history has to be understood because these are the people that are running the industries of today and tomorrow. They do not want to look a gift horse in the mouth and say, no, I am not interested in this. They want to realize when something good comes along, maybe you should figure out what is so good about it. Why do people like it?

Coughlin:

I am up in the Bay area, and we have that Computer History Museum there. They have got some things on that. I have also been involved in an IEEE, a local Santa Clara Valley section group called the Technical History Committee, and we found some recordings, and people who are involved in, say, some of the Xerox products and giving talks, both at the History Museum or at our local events. If you are interested in checking that out sometime, those might--

Parker:

I get the mailings for the talks.

Coughlin:

For the Computer History Museum? Okay, yes.

Parker:

Yes, because that is Gordon Bell's museum or his wife’s museum.

Coughlin:

They moved it from Boston.

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

Well, thank you, Alice. I really appreciate being able to spend the time and chat with you a bit.

Parker:

You are welcome. I did not get to know who you are or what you do, but--

Coughlin:

Oh, oh, okay. I will tell you very briefly. I am up in the Bay area. I am actually a storage and memory guy. I am also an IEEE Fellow. We talked about hard drives earlier, so I was involved in designing, hard disk drives for many years, and--

Parker:

Oh, then you know what I mean by how difficult they are to interface to.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

If you get the timing exactly right.

Coughlin:

Yes. I was working on the heads and media, a lot of what I did. A lot of the physical phenomena in reading and writing the information was what I was engaged in, and I have worked in a lot of different companies. My background is mostly in industry, actually, pretty much all in industry. I was an adjunct professor at Santa Clara University for a while. They had an information technology center and we were doing some stuff on magnetic recording there, but I have been consulting for about twenty-five years now. I have done consulting of all different sorts. It has been very much fun. I have gone all over the world and done a lot of really interesting things.

I have also been putting on events in storage and memory. I did an event that was a partner event to the Consumer Electronic Show for many years called Storage Visions that was looking at developments in storage, particularly how they related to consumer products.

Also, I have been writing stuff. I do a blog at Forbes.com on storage and memory called Storage Bytes, B-Y-T-E-S, of course. I also write some market and technology reports.

I have been an active IEEE volunteer. I was Chair of the Santa Clara Valley Section and Director of IEEE Region 6. I have been VP of Operations and Planning for the Consumer Electronics Society—what is now the Consumer Technology Society. I have written a bunch, been involved with a bunch of IEEE conferences, as well as my own, and I was also President of IEEE USA. I am one of the candidates for IEEE President this year, so--

Parker:

Wow.

Coughlin:

That is a bit about me.

Parker:

That is cool. You would have appreciated this VCR that we used to record the day - - because the VCR is recording the scan line of the TV.

Coughlin:

The spiral scan.

Parker:

And, then it traces and scan line retrace, and then at the end it gets to the bottom it is a big delay for retracing. So, you have got to match that techno—timing to the fetal heartbeat that is coming in.

Coughlin:

Oh, yes.

Parker:

There were two clocks in the system, one for the heartbeat timing, digitized, and the other one for the VCR. So, the clocks--

Coughlin:

Probably had to have buffers to try to get the timings right, yes?

Parker:

Yes, and so there had to be a master clock that was faster than either clock.

Coughlin:

Right, right.

Parker:

And on multiple--yes, which was probably the reason why it never went anywhere because it was too complicated.

Coughlin:

I am originally from the upper Midwest. I was born in South Dakota. I went to school in Iowa, South Dakota, and then I went to college. Actually, I had an offer to go to Stanford, but I ended up going to the University of Minnesota, so I have a story kind of like yours. Then I worked in Minneapolis for a while, and then I went to Boston and worked at Polaroid. I have a story kind of like that, that I was brought over there to work at Polaroid for a digital storage device for an electronic camera in 1985 which was the early days. We were going to try to make a little floppy disk, about 5 MB on it, about that big and it did not happen.

Parker:

[Crosstalk] had a chance.

Coughlin:

Yes, but it did not happen. Neither Polaroid nor Kodak ended up doing the electronic cameras before— They were late in the game even though they were early on the development. They could not kill their products, current products.

Parker:

Yes, they missed the boat. Kodak really missed the boat.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

There was a guy at the University of Minnesota, no he was at a company. What was the big computer company in Minneapolis?

Coughlin:

Well, there was 3M, there's CDC at one time.

Parker:

I think 3M--yes, I think he was at Control Data. His name was Doug something, and I visited there a couple times to talk to him about computer architecture - - long, long before.

Coughlin:

Yes, and one time I had an offer to work at DEC too, and I did not.

Parker:

I did not say that was a mistake because, of course, we all know what happened to DEC.

Coughlin:

Yes, DEC did not make it.

Parker:

One of the guys that is on Twitter who tweets a lot is probably the last PDP 10 programmer in the world.

Coughlin:

Wow, flip the switches?

Parker:

He runs a large computer museum somewhere in Massachusetts. Yes, so there is a group on Twitter that do retro computing, but he is one of the originals.

Coughlin:

Oh, yes, yes.

Parker:

He is not retro. He is not a young guy just interested in playing around with it.

Coughlin:

He is one of the originals?

Parker:

He is one of the originals, but there are a lot of people building, rebuilding the computers, so that is interesting.

Coughlin:

Oh, yes, yes, yes.

Parker:

That would be some project you guys do an article on sometime.

Coughlin:

It would be, yes.

Parker:

The retro computing that people are doing because they rebuild computers that used to work. They have rebuilt the KIM 1 teaching computer, and a bunch of things.

Coughlin:

I think there have been some Spectrum articles on things like that.

Parker:

There could be because when I look at Spectrum I have blinders on and I am looking, is this related.

Coughlin:

Is there any brain stuff here?

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

Thank you, Alice. It is a real pleasure to get to know you a little bit and be able to do this recording so IEEE can have your history.

Parker:

Yes, I think it is a great idea. I hope you have already done Gordon Bell's, right?

Coughlin:

I am sure that they have; I did not do it. This is the second one of these I have done. There is a guy I did, he lives up the Seattle area, who I have known for many years, Joe Decuir [Joseph C. Decuir]. He is an IEEE Fellow and he was involved in Atari and the early games.

Parker:

Oh, cool.

Coughlin:

Yes, and I have known him for a while, so that was a fun one to do. I have really enjoyed doing this with you, too, Alice. Thank you.

Parker:

Yes, I liked playing the Intellivision computer game. That was fun.

Coughlin:

Ah, yes.

Parker:

Yes, I think I still have one somewhere.

Coughlin:

Was that the Odyssey?

Parker:

No, the Intellivison was Mattel.

Coughlin:

Mattel, yes, yes, because I met the guy who was involved in the original Odyssey one. That was Ralph Baer.

Parker:

Oh, yes.

Coughlin:

Yes.

Parker:

That name is very familiar.

Coughlin:

Yes. In fact, I nominated him for the IEEE Edison Award and he got it. It was pretty cool.

Parker:

That is very cool. Thank you for doing this.

Coughlin:

Oh, my pleasure. It is great to get to know you. You take care, and good luck in your brain research. I hope that you find everything that you wish to find, or approach as close as you can to it.

Parker:

I think maybe I am going to find some silicon on the beach and just go kick back.

Coughlin:

Have a margarita.

Parker:

Yes.

Coughlin:

All righty. Take care.

Parker:

Bye.