Dr. Mitchell is a Sun Fellow and Vice President of Sun's High Productivity Computing Systems Research project under contract with DARPA. Prior to this, he was Vice President in charge of Sun Microsystems Laboratories. Before that he was Chief Technology Officer, Java Consumer & Embedded products, which followed his time as VP of Technology & Architecture in the JavaSoft Division. Prior to his involvement with Java Technology, Dr. Mitchell was in charge of the Spring distributed, object-oriented operating system research in Sun Laboratories and SunSoft.
Before joining Sun in 1988, Dr. Mitchell was head of research and development for Acorn Computers (U.K.), where the ARM RISC chip was designed, and President of the Acorn Research Center in Palo Alto, California. In 1980-81 he was Senior Visiting Fellow at the Cambridge University Computing Laboratory. From 1971-84 he was at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and was a Xerox Fellow.
Dr. Mitchell has been working with computers since 1962 at the University of Waterloo where he and three other undergraduates developed the first WATFOR compiler. He has a Ph.D. from Carnegie-Mellon University and has worked on programming language design & implementation (Mesa, Euclid, C++, Java), interactive programming systems, dynamic interpretation & compilation, document preparation systems, user interface design, distributed transactional file systems, and distributed, object-oriented operating systems. He has also worked on the design of hardware for computer graphics, high-level language execution, and audio input output.
Oral History interview with Dr Jim Mitchell
Conducted by UW Ph D candidate Cheryl Dietrich
In this portion of the interview, Cheryl Dietrich has asked Jim Mitchell to comment on Wes Graham's "focus on computers and education."
Mitchell: Actually, I think what Wes really appreciated and I don't know where he got this or when he got it, I like to think he got it at Waterloo, he appreciated how talented people really made the difference. There have been a fair number of anthropological studies done on computer programmers, and Barry Beam was one of the guys who has measured this the most, and between, let's call it an average programmer and someone like a Bob Zarnke or Gus German there is a factor of five to ten difference in productivity. Huge. And I don't know what it is; you don't tend to see it in other industries so much. There are folks that just stand out above everyone else and they are the folks that do the best things, or they are the folks that can get something done when no one else can... Wes understood that very early on, even without any of the actual scientific data. He knew that getting talent here was extremely important. He started, even before I left, they had started doing one of the early programming contests or having high school teachers coming in initially and so on so he had in his mind that he was going to start doing this to attract the best talent to Waterloo. I would say , probably Ralph Stanton also; they were pretty close I think. I didn't see that very much because I was just a mere student, but Ralph had a sense of elitism about him. The smarter students were the ones he spent time with and there was an intellectual, almost competition going on among the students.
Dietrich: Was that [sense of elitism] something then that was valued by the student?
Mitchell: It permeated the culture. I give Ralph a lot of credit for that, in attracting the best professorial talent to Waterloo as well. I would say it started with Ralph. You know, what probably got Wes started was Ralph, so that was something that they shared as a value and I don't even know how all the educational stuff, the outreach to high schools and everything really started, but I know Wes was involved and understood how important it was. I would say of all the things that Waterloo has done, at least in the Engineering and the sciences and math, that's the biggest thing. That is why Waterloo is as known as well as it is. That is why in Maclean's it keeps coming out as top university and everything. I saw one kid who won all the high school math competitions in Vancouver being interviewed and the guy says, "Where are you going to University?" and he's got a huge poster of Waterloo behind him and he says, "There." And he says, "Why?" "Because it is the best school." That may be the biggest legacy of Ralph and Wes. It's why[at Sun Microsystems] I hire co-op students now. If you are going to go to a single place in Canada to find good students, the ore is much higher grade here than it is anywhere else. Hands down.