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Android creator Andy Rubin has Utica College roots

Roger Rockefeller
Ryan Morden
Utica College Professor Emeritus Roger Rockefeller taught Android creator Andy Rubin. Ironically, this picture of Rockefeller (taken in his Rome, N.Y. home) was captured with an Android phone. So meta.

Android -- the fastest growing smart-phone operating system – has Central New York roots. Its creator, Andy Rubin graduated from Utica College with a bachelor’s in computer science in the mid ‘80s. Dr. Roger Rockefeller is a former physics professor who taught at Utica College from 1969 until 2001. In the late ‘70s, and early ‘80s, he was a big advocate for bringing microcomputers to the college to teach computer science. Rockefeller says it’s been about 25 years since he’s spoken with Rubin. The Innovation Trail spoke with Rockefeller about how those microcomputers, and Utica College, influenced Rubin. Here are some excerpts from that discussion.

What was the technological landscape at Utica College like when Andy was a student?

I thought, “wouldn’t it be wonderful to teach computer science – the basics – on a microcomputer instead of the mainframe.” The college, Utica College, bought a handful of Commodore PETs, and then within a year or two we expanded that so we had a whole laboratory of them. We probably had one of the first microcomputer labs in New York State. That was the environment that Andy Rubin walked into.

It’s been nearly 25 years since he was a student of yours, but he stood out then?

I still remember his face; I remember what he looks like. He had a wonderful personality. He was somebody that would walk into a room and just brighten it up. He was just that kind of person. Even when things weren’t going well, he somehow had a smile and had a way of looking at things and just thought, “This is a nice guy to be around.”

It’s interesting that this is someone from upstate N.Y., not Silicon Valley or Seattle.

I don’t want to characterize it as “genius” per say, but let’s just call it that anyway. Let’s say: “Genius doesn’t know boundaries, it doesn’t know geographical boundaries.” So, there has to be some nurturing environment, and I think the nurturing environment at home, to some extent, [was] Utica College.

What’s it like when you hear news stories about Android or hear commercials?

The funny thing is I didn’t realize he wasn’t involved in that sort of development until several years ago. I just didn’t know about it. I was informed of that by one of our people at the college. We have faculty and student get-togethers all around the country for the college. They got me aside; one of them mentioned that Andy Rubin had been asking about me. I thought, “Oh that’s nice.” They said, “do you know what he’s up to?” and I had no idea, then I found out. Now I can’t see one of those commercials – every time I see it I think, “Andy.”

Do you have an Android phone?

My cell phone is 10 years old and the last thing that happened to it was I ran over it with my car and I hold it together with duct tape. It was in four pieces after the car got through with it and I put it back together again, and taped it up. And it works.

(H/T to Nasir Ali with Upstate Venture Connect for pointing out the CNY connection to Android)

Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.