2018 Alumni Award Spotlight: Bill Strecker
Carnegie Mellon College of Engineering alumnus Bill Strecker loves to build things, and his life’s work has been putting things together in novel ways that solve problems.
Strecker’s love of building began at about age 12 when he learned that surplus WWII electronics were being sold for practically nothing. He bought a brand new radar system for $7 and tore it apart, along with other surplus communication systems, using the parts to build electronics of his own design.
Electronics remained his passion and he planned a career in electrical engineering with a focus on communication systems. As it turned out, he pursued a bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in electrical engineering at CMU with a focus on computing.
Strecker recalls many Carnegie Mellon professors who had a profound effect on the evolution of his career plans, especially the late provost and professor of electrical and computer engineering, Angel Jordan.
It was Professor Jordan who invited Strecker as an undergraduate to join both his and a Westinghouse research group, both of which had been unsuccessful in building special test systems. Strecker built successful working test systems for both groups using, curiously, WWII technology! Those experiences taught Strecker, when confronting seemingly unsolvable problems, to “think out of the box.”
“So much of my career was driven by what I learned at CMU,” says Strecker. “I want to have an impact on Carnegie Mellon in return.”
After graduation Strecker had a brief tenure with RCA Laboratories, and then spent nearly 30 years with Digital Equipment Corporation where he worked in many areas of computing, including processors, semiconductors, software, networking, and storage. Notably, Strecker led the design of the VAX computer architecture, the basis of the most influential and successful super minicomputer systems of the era.
He later served in leadership positions at Compaq Computer Corporation and Flagship Ventures. Now retired, Strecker’s last position was with In-Q-Tel, a nonprofit that identifies and works with technology startups in support of U.S. intelligence agencies.
During his career, Strecker amassed 16 patents in computer architecture and design. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the Association of Computer Machinery and recipient of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers’ W. Wallace McDowell Award, given for outstanding contributions in the field of computing.
“I am humbled to receive the Alumni Achievement Award,” he says. “I recognize that my achievements are invariably the result of team effort. Little is accomplished alone. You work with multiple people to get things done.”
To honor CMU and the CMU professors who influenced the course of his life and to support exceptional young faculty, Strecker and his wife, Nancy, endowed the Dr. William D. and Nancy W. Strecker Early Career Professorship in 2013.
“Every kid should be lucky enough to have the kind of educational experience that Bill had,” Nancy agrees. “We think innovative young faculty are key contributors to that experience.”
Bill Strecker will receive a 2018 Alumni Achievement Award for exceptional accomplishment and leadership in his field on May 18 during Commencement Weekend.