Randolph Frederick "Randy" Pausch was an American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University. He's known for founding the Alice project and for his lecture titled "The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" which became a popular YouTube hit.
If Pausch's story in all its forms achieves anything for the field of HCI, it can be seen to humanize computer science, to reveal the passion at heart of our work. We wouldn't be doing this if we didn't believe that we could make living in this world better, easier, more rewarding; that good design can make technology less intimidating (see Pausch's VCR-smashing story), can ensure that the research we perform makes more usable products, that the products we create are useful, usable, and desirable. Because we believe, like Randy—with deep and authentic passion—that ultimately it's not things that make life worth living, it's the people on whom we have some impact.
In March of 2008, just days before he was scheduled to testify before Congress, Dr. Pausch was hospitalized for 3 days with renal failure and congestive heart failure, all side effects of his ongoing treatment. Nevertheless, he was determined to be discharged from the hospital in time to make it to Capitol Hill. Though physically weakened and in pain, Dr. Pausch made it to Washington, DC on March 13 and delivered extremely powerful testimony on behalf of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network to the U.S. House of Representative’s Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education Related Agencies.
Randy reminded students that even in dangerous waters, one penguin had to be brave enough to take the first dive. The design of the Pausch Bridge pays tribute to all the “penguins” of the world with abstract penguin cut-outs.
"Don't tell people how to live their lives; just tell them stories, and they'll figure out how the stories apply to them," Pausch said in the lecture. So his book is all stories, some brief, some longer, all making a point. Maybe that's part of its appeal: The reader can digest it in bits and pieces, pausing when a passage hits a little closer to home...Pausch himself revealed at the end of "The Last Lecture" that it was not about his audience, it was for his children; and ultimately, it was not about living your dreams, but living your life in a way that allows your dreams to come to you: karma.
An innovative researcher and devoted teacher, Pausch is best known in his field for his pioneering work on the Alice Project, a sophisticated computing environment that teaches students how to program through an intuitive graphical interface. His passion for storytelling deeply informed his work on Alice, which enables even middleschool-age children, after just a few hours of online training, to create 3D animations. As students concentrate on making games and movies, Pausch discovered, they forget they’re also learning how to program…Alice was the foundation of Pausch’s popular course on building virtual worlds, which drew students from numerous departments to collaborate on interactive animations. It also paved the way for CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center (ETC), a joint program created by Pausch and Don Marinelli, a professor of drama and arts management. The ETC offers a two-year master’s degree so technologists and artists can collaborate on projects in digital entertainment.
After Pausch earned his bachelor's degree in computer science in 1982 from Brown, [Andy] Van Dam encouraged him to get a Ph.D. and become a professor. In addition to brains, "he had the gift of gab. He was such a good salesman that I told him he might as well be selling something worthwhile, like education," says Van Dam, who advised Pausch to apply to Carnegie Mellon, where most of his best students went...After finishing his doctorate in computer science in 1988, Pausch left Carnegie Mellon for the University of Virginia, where he would hold a teaching position for nearly a decade. He spent the last two years of his career at UVA on sabbatical at the Disney Corp., helping the company to develop virtual-reality entertainment. Pausch had dreamed of working for Disney ever since childhood, and he would serve as a consultant to the company his entire career. At one point, the company offered to hire him full-time, but teaching was too much of a lure.
"He lived for the students," explains close friend and fellow Carnegie Mellon professor Don Marinelli.
Randolph Frederick Pausch was born on Oct. 23, 1960, in Columbia, Md., a middle-class suburb of Baltimore. His father, Fred Pausch, was a lawyer and insurance-company executive. His mother, Virginia, taught English. Like author Annie Dillard's childhood home in Pittsburgh, Pausch's was full of books. "Growing up, I thought there were two types of families," Pausch wrote in his memoir, "those who need a dictionary to get through dinner and those who don't."
“I knew what I was doing that day. Under the ruse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. If I were a painter, I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured. I lectured about the joy of life, about how much I appreciated life, even with so little of my own left. I talked about honesty, integrity, gratitude, and other things I hold dear. And I tried very hard not to be boring.”
Some colleges have adopted the idea of a "last lecture" to teach students life lessons that aren't necessarily included on a syllabus. But Randy's situation has brought a whole new meaning to the term...Most of us would slip into a deep depression, but Randy used the experience as teaching material. And thanks to YouTube, his lecture doesn't require any tuition checks. His scenes from his life are punctuated with humor and humility. He deadpans, "My mother took great relish in introducing me as 'This is my son-he's a doctor but not the kind that helps people.'"...Randy's message is about following your dreams, dealing with the ones that don't come true and having fun along the way. And it has expanded far beyond that lecture hall. His talk has been viewed by more than 6 million people. He's a co-author of a best-selling book and has testified before Congress about pancreatic cancer, a disease that kills 33,000 Americans each year.
On Sept. 18, 2007, only a month after doctors told him that he had three-to-six months to live following a recurrence of pancreatic cancer, he presented a lecture called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" to a packed auditorium at Carnegie Mellon. The moving and often humorous talk recounted his efforts to achieve such childhood dreams as becoming a professional football player, experiencing zero gravity and developing Disney World attractions. In the process, he shared his insights on finding the good in other people, working hard to overcome obstacles and living generously.