Working as a computer scientist at the University of California, Tom Kilsdonk got a taste of writing software that served the needs of research. For several years, he kept his eye on the activities of the SETI Institute, as here were clearly research programs that combined challenging data processing with an extraordinarily interesting goal: finding intelligence out there. When, nearly a decade ago, the Institute advertised for a software engineer, Tom auditioned – and got the part.
Today, he works on the control software for the so-called SETI “back ends”. These are the parts of the system that break up the incoming cosmic static into many millions of frequency channels, and search them for the type of signal that another society might be sending our way. He’s part of the team that coded up the software for the New Search System, the successor to the Targeted Search System used in Project Phoenix, and is a player in the construction of the third-generation system, SONATA (SETI on the Allen Telescope Array). For Tom, it’s more than just writing code: it’s a multfaceted subject, combining computer science with the appeal of astronomy, and the adventure of searching for what he calls the “big cheese” – intelligent life in the cosmos.