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Q&A: RISC and Reward

David Patterson of UC Berkeley

"We need new challenges to drive our technology," says David Patterson of the University of California at Berkeley.

Credit: AMPLab / UC Berkeley

Though his entry into computer science was somewhat accidental—enrolling in a computing course by chance after a college math class was canceled—the University of California at Berkeley's David Patterson has left a deep mark on the field. The Reduced Instruction Set Computer, or RISC, project that he led at Berkeley inspired the Oracle SPARC architecture, as well as the ARM architecture (the "R" in each stands for RISC) that powers most mobile phones. RAID—redundant arrays of inexpensive disks—offered a powerful new way to prevent data loss. More recently, Patterson has turned his attention to interdisciplinary research, collaborating with bioinformaticists and clinicians to better understand cancer genomics.

Tell me about your childhood and what drew you to the field.

I was the first of my family to graduate from college, and I was a math major because I did well in math in high school. In my junior year at UCLA, a math class was canceled, so I took a computing course as a lark. It was love at first sight. There was no computer science major at the time, so I just informally took all the computing courses that I could.


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