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Meet Curt Boyce


Software Development Lead

Who I Am
As the lead software engineer for the data systems development group, I oversee the activities of a team of software engineers who enhance and maintain the functionalities of the software that collects and displays the data for the NFAC (National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex). The programs we write enable the researchers in the tunnel to see selected tunnel/model measurements and computed resultant data in real-time via displays in the control room.

This same software also allows the user to take extended samples (on the order of 30 seconds) of the measurements and archive them in a database for later analysis.

Because there is a different collection of instruments used to measure conditions in the tunnel and on the model for each test, we must modify our software to match that collection of instruments. For the Wright Flyer test there was software which had to be modified for computations and displays, as well as a software enhancement to provide a new interface to a Macintosh computer which was separate from the data acquisition system.

My Career Path
I decided to go into computer science when I was in high school back in the early 1980's. Personal computers were just becoming available and affordable at that time; I was able to save up to buy a Commodore Vic-20 which hooked up to our TV. I always liked puzzles when I was growing up. Mazes, 3-D wooden block type puzzles, Rubik's Cube, and I'd become particularly fond of logic puzzles. Learning to program that first computer was like a continuous logic puzzle for me. The thought that one could get paid for doing logic puzzles sounded like a winning proposition.

I went to community college before attending the University of California, San Diego, then I completed my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at San Diego State University in 1989. I went to work for Unisys Corporation in San Diego writing software for Navy shipboard training and simulation exercises. I was able to get a transfer within Unisys to a NASA contract at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in late 1990. I spent 5 years in Houston writing software in the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL) where we did testing of space shuttle flight software with a complete shuttle simulator. I met my wife Sarah while we were both working in SAIL, she too is a software engineer. I made it back to California by way of a 1 year stint at Lockheed Martin on the Milstar satellite contract. I have been a software engineer for the NFAC data system here at NASA Ames since December of 1996.

Why I Like My Job
One of the obvious positive aspects of my job is getting to participate on cool projects like the Wright Flyer and the Space Shuttle. A friend of mine pondered just the other day "who would have thought that programming computers would let you work on things like the Space Shuttle and the Wright Flyer." Computers are everywhere these days; knowing how to use them can take you just about anyplace you want to go. Of course there are also the downsides of sitting in front of a terminal all day, and occasionally there is that late night phone call when something has gone wrong during a test. I consider those drawbacks minor compared to the history that I get to see happening right in front of me on a regular basis.

Take plenty of math courses; if you understand the mathematics you can learn to write the programs. If you want to get into the things that NASA does, then you had better take some physics as well. You don't have to be a genius at these things, but the more exposure you have to different scientific disciplines the better. If you want to be a software engineer, then classes in data structures, programming methodologies, and algorithm analysis will best serve you in the future.

Early Influences
My parents, who were both teachers, gave me all the support I needed to meet my goal of becoming a software engineer. The decision to select computer science as my major in college was mine alone, but my parents always provided encouragment and support for me to continue on that path to its fruition.

Future Goals Sarah and I will likely be relocating to North Carolina sometime in the future. We hope we are more able to afford a house with some land back there, and we both intend to pursue post graduate degrees at either the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill or North Carolina State University. Unfortunately, there is no NASA site near Raleigh, but I consider myself fortunate to have enjoyed over 7 years of work on NASA projects.


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