Old Friends

rbd-tpt-close

Roger Dannenberg

There is a perfectly good explanation as to why a few weeks ago Roger and I sat in my office fighting back tears. We met in 1979, the first year for both of us at Carnegie Mellon’s Computer Science Department. It was a department back then. He was a first year Ph.D. student and I was special faculty, brought in to teach freshman how to program. Roger, introducing himself as a musician who also was a computer scientist, impressed me like no other.

Anna Cecilia Arreaga

Anna Cecilia Arreaga

In the 34 years that followed Roger held true to who he is. It turns out that he was amazing. I loved the Carnegie Mellon Department of Computer Science. People invented things, like parallel computing and artificial intelligence and machine learning and robotics. It spun my head around. Grad students were held in high esteem. The system of education encouraged, nurtured and demanded. In a day when grad students often required 4 or 5 years to pass all Ph.D qualifying exams Roger polished them off in one. In the fall of 1980 Roger demonstrated

roger-dannenberg

RBD with one of the synthesizers he has known and loved

SDC

Software Developer Certification, Nairobi, Kenya 2012

a system that he built.  It listened as he played his trumpet and accompanied him. He speeded up. It speeded up. He slowed down. It slowed down. He skipped ahead a few measures. It skipped ahead a few measures. And, oh by the way, he implemented this on a tiny, first generation home computer. That little trick vaulted him to the top of the computer music field. We worked on things together over the years and have enjoyed each other’s company but nothing stands out so much as when I became involved with the missions and needed help. There have been a few times when things were bad and Roger always  helped with cash and a kind word.

Roger is working with me on a project to certify entry level software developers. As we discussed his participation in my new company,  he noted he would only be able to contribute about a day each week. I told him that I would always be interrupted by the missions and that it is fulfilling to help the poor leave poverty behind. I thought how just two years before Anna Cecilia needed help to stay in school. When I could not; Roger wrote a check that covered Anny’s tuition.  I told him the impact of Anny’s diploma was transformational; that her family had been desperate – mother and

Great Uncle Pedro

Great Uncle Pedro

father so ill that work was not possible; that her great uncle, shown here shortly before his death, had walked the 12 kilometers from his village, Panibaj, in search of a little help. Now Anny had a job with the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging and everything was different. A modest

job earning no more than two or three thousand dollars a year allowed an entire extended family to go from begging me for help to simply being my friends. I was overcome with emotion, thinking of need that is so great; of how just a little of the right help can change things; of how much I fail to do and how wonderful it is be a friend of Anny and her mother and to have known her great uncle. Roger was right there with me. Soon enough there  would be time for computer science and exams that serve deserving but marginalized young people. This was a time to remember lives we had touched, a time to be thankful and a time for tears.

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