George V. Reilly

Leaving Ireland, part 1

Irish Famine: Passengers waiting to embark on the trans-Atlantic voyage

On the 9th or 10th of January 1989, I flew from Dublin to New York. That was the last day that I ever lived in Ireland.

I came to the U.S. on a tourist visa. It was no lie. I had a round-the-world ticket and I would go on to Australia in early March. In June, I left Australia and traveled to Bangkok and Hong Kong. Sometime in July, I landed back in Ireland to settle up my affairs. I fit in a trip to the South of France with some old friends.

In August, I would return to America to attend graduate school. I have lived in the U.S. ever since.

I graduated from Trinity College Dublin in 1987 with a B.A. in Computer Science. The Celtic Tiger was not yet on the horizon. Un­em­ploy­ment was high, as it had been for years. There were some software de­vel­op­ment jobs to be had in Ireland, but the pickings were slim.

After a couple of months, with some help from my former academic advisor, I got a job at In­ter­Con­ti­nen­tal Pho­to­Com­po­si­tion (ICPC), a small scientific type­set­ting company on the northside of Dublin. It didn’t pay much, but I got to write a text editor from scratch—un­for­tu­nate­ly, in Vax Pascal.

My father urged me to go the United States and get a Master’s degree, arguing that it would open more doors for me. He was willing to fund it so I was willing to go.

I knew very little about American uni­ver­si­ties at the time. The World Wide Web had yet to be invented. I had managed to wangle Usenet access for myself sometime in ‘86 or ‘87 on the Maths department computer at Trinity. (The Maths department had a student-run PDP with Usenet access via UUCP. The CS department only let its un­der­grad­u­ates use an un­con­nect­ed Vax.) From reading the technical newsgroups, I began to notice that certain uni­ver­si­ties were well rep­re­sent­ed. This, es­sen­tial­ly, was how I decided where to apply.

The first step was to arrange to take the Computer Science GRE. This wasn’t held very often in Ireland, but I think I took it in Dublin in the autumn of 1988.

I applied to six colleges. I presume that I had the GRE results back by then, but I can’t remember. I recall applying to Brown, Georgia Tech, UC Davis, and Harvey Mudd. I believe the fifth was CMU. I think the sixth might have been MIT or Yale.

More to come.

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