Training a Jedi
Fulfilling a personal childhood dream is satisfying, but Pausch eventually learns that helping others’ dreams come true is even more rewarding. As a teacher at the University of Virginia in 1993, a young man named Tommy Burnett is interviewing to be on Pausch’s research team. In the course of their conversation, Burnett reveals his childhood dream to work on the next Star Wars movie.
The last Star Wars movie was made in 1983. There are no concrete plans to make another one, so Pausch tries to temper Burnett’s aspirations with reality; however, the young man is adamant that more Star Wars movies will be made and he will work on them. It is his plan and it has been his passion since he was six and the first Star Wars movie was released. Others wanted to be Han Solo; he wanted to be the guy who created the special effects, and he read every technical article he could find on the subject.
As Burnett talks, Pausch remembers his first awe-inspiring visit to Disneyland which birthed his desire to create those kinds of rides one day. Pausch knows that having such a goal, even if it is never realized, is a strong motivator, and he knows he can use such a person on his research team.
Burnett believes Pausch was hard on him, but he also had his best interest at heart. One of the things Pausch taught him is that it is not enough just to be smart, since everyone on the team is smart. An effective research team is composed of people who will help everyone else feel happy to be part of the team, and Tommy becomes that kind of person.
When Pausch moved to Carnegie Mellon, his entire research team came with him—everyone except Burnett. He had been hired by George Lucas to work at Industrial Light & Magic on the next Star Wars movies. They did not hire him because of his dreams; they hired him because of his skills as a programmer in the particular language they were using. Sometimes it is luck that gets people where preparation and opportunity alone cannot.
Several years later, Burnett invites Pausch and his students to visit Industrial Light & Magic; he is “like a god” to students who dreamed of such accomplishments for themselves. Burnett and several other former students sit on a panel and Pausch’s current students ask them questions. Many of them are still adapting to Pausch’s demanding and quirky ways and are still somewhat wary of their professor.
One student asks how hard it is to get started in the movie industry and what role luck plays in such things. Burnett answers this by saying these students are already lucky having Pausch as their teacher. Burnett credits his former mentor for his current position.