Chapter 11 Summary

The Happiest Place on Earth

Pausch and his family went to Disneyland when he was eight years old, and he was in awe. This was the coolest environment he ever experienced. Even as he stood in line for the rides, he thought to himself that he could not wait to make “this kind of stuff.”

Twenty years later, after he got his PhD in computer science from Carnegie Mellon, he felt perfectly qualified to do anything, so he sent a confident letter of application to Walt Disney Imagineering. In return, he got some of the nicest rejection letters he ever received. The company did not have any jobs that fit his particular qualifications. He found depressing because Walt Disney hires hundreds of people just to sweep its famous streets—but had nothing he was able to do.

In 1995, Pausch was a professor at the University of Virginia and helped build a system entitled “Virtual Reality on Five Dollars a Day.” He and his colleagues proved the so-called experts wrong when they all claimed that nothing could be done in the field for less than half a million dollars. Soon after, Pausch heard that Disney Imagineering was working on a top-secret virtual reality project for an Aladdin carpet ride. He called Disney and was passed from person to person until he ended up talking with Jon Snoddy, the Imagineer in charge of the project. After they talked for a bit, Pausch told him he was coming to California and asked to meet with him; Snoddy agreed.

Before going, Pausch did eighty hours of homework, asking every virtual reality expert he knew about the Disney project. When Pausch and Snoddy finally met, the Imagineer was impressed with Pausch’s preparation. The professor explained that he would like to use his upcoming six-month sabbatical to come work as a Disney Imagineer. Snoddy loved the idea and agreed to let Pausch write a paper on his experiences. Now Pausch has to convince his superiors to let him take such an odd sabbatical.

One dean became his nemesis, fearing the intellectual property (Pausch’s ideas) that rightfully belonged to the University of Virginia would be given to Disney for free. He was not sure if this was a good idea, and he refused to allow the appointment. Pausch took his case to the dean of sponsored research, who was willing to admit he did not know if such a venture was a good idea; however, he was thrilled with Pausch’s enthusiasm and wanted to hear more. Two men had the same view—they felt unsure about the idea—but their attitudes could not have been more different.

Pausch eventually did get permission to take the sabbatical, and his childhood dream came true. When he arrived to begin work, he drove to Imagineering headquarters with The Lion King soundtrack blaring and tears streaming down his face. He was a grown-up version of that wide-eyed boy at Disney—and he was an Imagineer.