The Computer Science at NC State University is very lucky to have Keith Collins, senior vice president and chief technology officer of SAS Institute, right in our back yard at SAS's Cary headquarters. His support and interest in the success of the department have been immensely valuable.
After graduating from NC State in 1982 with a BS in Computer Science, Keith spent two years at Texasgulf Chemicals where he worked as a scientific engineering programmer writing SO2 emission monitors for PCs. Keith had co-oped at Texasgulf during college and went to work there under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Honeycutt, associate Professor of Computer Science who has been with the department since 1970 except for three years, when he worked at Texasgulf and was an adjunct assistant professor.
Dr. Honeycutt played a key role in Keith's decision to become a computer science major. When he first came to NC State as a freshman, Keith was enrolled in another program. After having a bad run in with his advisor when signing up for the spring semester, Keith saw Dr. Honeycutt in the hall. Dr. Honeycutt asked him what was wrong, and Keith explained that his advisor had not signed off on his schedule for the next semester, and he could not register until he got his signature. Dr. Honeycutt told him that he would never be turned away if he was in the computer science department, and that is where Keith soon found his niche.
When thinking back on his time at NC State, Keith vividly remembers the colored chalk used by Dr. Alan Tharp in his CSC 311 Data Structures class. In the days before projection systems and other new technology, this is how Keith remembers learning best.
"As a student, Keith was always outstanding at implementing the concepts discussed in lecture," recounts Dr. Tharp. As an alumnus working with the department, Keith's memories come primarily from being a part of the Computer Science Industrial Advisory Council (now the Strategic Advisory Board). Being a founding council member has allowed him to provide input on updating the curriculum and to witness the hiring of many new faculty members, strengthening an already dynamic faculty.
Since joining SAS in 1984, Keith has found it to be a place that gives its employees the freedom to learn, experiment, and excel. He says he views himself as an example of what a person can do if he takes initiative and applies his strengths and determination to the job. He started at SAS writing ZAPs as a liaison between technical support and a development team. He went on to run the VM/CMS Development team before being given a strategy position by Dr. Goodnight to oversee improvements that were needed in research and development. Now as senior vice president and CTO, he enjoys helping to get the most out of people and maximize production. He also likes to see others achieve satisfaction in their work. One of the more challenging aspects of his job is driving change in an always-changing field and getting people to embrace change.
When asked where he sees the field going in the future, Keith responded, "We don't know and that is what makes it so fun." He sees the near future represented as a pendulum of change. The field may have to slow down while people adopt what advances have been made so quickly over the past decade. It will be important to develop for the future while keeping in mind that the customer wants a product that can work on the equipment that he or she has and that is easy to use. Keith sees voice activation and hands-free navigation as an area that is still untapped. The future holds so much potential. He plans to continue searching for the best ideas wherever they may lie because "the best ideas come from the place you least expect them."
Editor's Note: Since this feature was originally written, Collins has been selected as the first computer science alum to be recognized as a Distinguished Engineering Alumnus by the NCSU College of Engineering. He won this award in October 2003.
- posted 2002 - Ken Tate -