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David Bradley '71 offers tips on achieving technological fame.

How to be a rockstar without playing an instrument

12:34 PM  Oct 1st, 2012
by Sara Dorn '12

David Bradley ’71 helped invent IBM’s first personal computer, but his claim to fame is the invention of the three-key shortcut to restart a computer — control-alt-delete. It’s made him a keyboard rock star in the computer world, where he’s befriended fellow computer whizzes like Bill Gates and regularly signs autographs. He offers tips on achieving technological fame.

1. Give it your all, all the time  While working on the System/23 Datamaster, IBM approached him to help develop the PC. “You never know when the best opportunity is going to come along, so always make sure you’re doing your best.”

2. Take shortcuts  Bradley was fed up with restarting the personal computer every time it malfunctioned, and so control-alt-delete was born. “It took all of about nine steps and five to 10 minutes to code.” Initially meant for programmers, the keystroke caught on with the public.

3. Bring a Sharpie Bradley prefers Sharpies — both black and silver — for autographing computer keyboards for his fans. “A guy from IBM has me sign 10 of them at a time that they give away as prizes during patent contests.” Students also request his autograph.

4. Spread your knowledge  In the last 30 years, Bradley has taught at Florida Atlantic University and North Carolina State University, and his daughter, Sara Higgins, is carrying on the Bradley legacy as an electrical engineer at IBM.

5. Reward yourself  Bradley took an early retirement from IBM in 2006 and has been traveling the world with his wife since, but play was always a priority. “I would take three to four weeks off for trips every year. I like to think I struck a reasonable balance between work and family.”

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