Peter Pacheco: Professor Emeritus

Professor Peter Pacheco joined the math department of the University of San Francisco in the Fall of 1989. Professor Pacheco took time out of his day to reconnect and revisit his USF journey.

When did you join USF and the Department of Computer Science?

I joined the USF math dept in the fall of 1989, but I had been teaching computer science on a postdoc at UCLA before I came to USF.  So I occasionally taught classes for the CS dept.  In 1997 I received a joint appoint to USF’s CS dept.  Michael Kudlick (of the Kudlick classroom) was retiring as chair of CS, and I was elected to replace him.

Why did you choose to become a professor?

After I started college, it didn’t take me long to realize that both my talent and my inclination were in mathematics.  Back then, if you got a Ph.D. in pure math, there were very few alternatives to becoming a professor.  There’s also the inescapable fact that if you’re not terribly greedy, the life of a professor can be very good.  Your research can focus on what interests you, and you get to teach.  Teaching is wonderful.  I think the Nobel laureate, Richard Feynman, said something to the effect that you don’t really understand something unless you can explain it to a complete novice.  I *love* trying to figure out how to explain things.

What do you feel are the highlights of your career?

Retrospectively, I think that the biggest highlight was working with some truly wonderful students.  I don’t think that at the time I realized how wonderful many of them were.  But now that some time has passed, I can see how hard many of them worked and what great ideas they had.  I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to work with them.  This might sound like the usual BS that a retiring faculty member might spout, so that his former students will give generously to the university.  But they really were wonderful, and I know that those that I’m still in touch with still are.

Some other highlights are:

  • Working on funding and design of the Kudlick classroom. (This was joint work with several other faculty and administrators).
  • Prof Benson and I got a grant from the Keck Foundation to build a parallel computer and do research with students.
  • The MPI book and the parallel programming book.

Tell us about the book you are working on with Professor Matthew Malensek.  When will students be able to buy a copy?

This will be the second edition of my book on parallel programming.  The biggest difference between it and the first edition is the addition of a chapter on programming graphics programming units (GPUs).  We hope to finish the manuscript in January.  So it should be published by the fall of 2020.

In what ways has the field of computer science changed since you first joined the discipline? How has USF CS changed?

The changes in computing since I first started are dramatic.  When I started programming, we would write our programs using a card punch machine, and we would run our programs by submitting a deck of cards to an operator who would feed the cards into a card reader attached to the mainframe (an IBM 360).  When the program completed (or crashed), an operator would give us a print-out.  We would edit the deck of punched cards by throwing away the erroneous cards and punching new cards.  A single “round” of edit-submit-run-output could take hours if the machine was being heavily used.  It didn’t take long before we learned that 2-6am was the best time of day to do program development.

There was no internet, no email, no personal computers, no cell phones.

When I first came to USF, we had access to two very clunky Data General mainframes.  Things had progressed to the point that we could work from a cathode-ray tube terminal instead of a card punch.  By the time I officially joined the CS department, I had an SGI workstation and a PC, and the department had acquired SGI and IBM servers. One of the CS labs was equipped with multiprocessor PCs.

When I first came to USF, there was still no internet access, and it was painfully slow in coming.  After a year or two, I used a dial-up modem to access the WELL (Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link) in Sausalito.  This had some very limited access to the nascent internet.  After three or four years, USF finally got a regular connection to the internet, but the university’s own network was still very primitive.

If a student in computer science were considering becoming a faculty member, what advice would you have for them?

You should get as broad a background as possible in CS while you’re an undergraduate.  In graduate school find an advisor who has an interest in teaching and doing research *with* the students.  Too many faculty treat graduate students as cannon fodder:  as far as they’re concerned the sole purpose of a graduate student is to get papers published for the faculty member.

Do some teaching while you’re in grad school, and once you’ve gotten some experience, think *very* carefully about the kind of institution you’d like to work at.  Are you primarily interested in doing research?  Do you want to teach very talented students?  Do you want to teach students from disadvantaged backgrounds?  Then do some careful research on the schools that are hiring.

What are you looking forward to most in your retirement?  Do you have any big plans for retirement that you would like to share?

Currently I’m focused on finishing the book.  Until it’s done I probably won’t be making any major plans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.