garycase: Experts Exchange’s Most Interesting Man

Posted by · November 7, 2012 3:47 pm

If Experts Exchange gave an award for “Most Interesting Man,” Gary Case (known to the Experts Exchange community as garycase) would win it.  Not only is Gary quite literally a technology genius (he has earned four Genius certificates on Experts Exchange in Miscellaneous Hardware, Hard Drives and Storage, Windows XP Operating Systems and Computer Hard Drives as well as six Sage, seven Wizard, five Guru and 23 Master certificates in various other technologies), but he attended college at 15; worked on projects for the National Security Agency; has eaten lunch with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer; and most importantly, been married to the same woman for 38 years.

“I like unsolved problems. I think about them until I finally drift off to sleep,” Gary says. “I’ve been solving them since I was a 15-year-old college student wiring plugboards for an IBM 407 accounting machine.”

Yes, you did read that right. Having skipped first grade and scored very high on the college board exams when he was a junior in high school, Gary went to college when he was only 15 years old.

“I was pretty focused on the academics in college, so being younger than everyone else didn’t bother me,” Gary says. He received a dual-major bachelors degree in Math and Physics at 19, a masters in math when he was 20, and he finished his coursework for his PhD in math when he was 21.

“When I turned 21 I was about to get drafted to go to Vietnam, so I accepted a commission in the Air Force, with the intention of doing 4 years and then finishing my PhD.  Four years later I was having a lot of fun, so I stayed a few more years.  Ultimately I ended up staying for a 28-year career, so I never did complete the doctorate.”

It was during his early years with the Air Force that Gary solved his most challenging—and interesting—problem: developing a pattern matching algorithm at the National Security Agency to find specialized patterns in certain intercepted foreign communications.  The project was completed in the 1970’s using Cray Supercomputers.  Not surprisingly, the details of the project are still classified.

His career in the Air Force also allowed him to share meals with three very interesting people: Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates.

On meeting Steve Jobs:  “In 1994 I was giving a speech at the National Security Agency on a major DOD initiative I was in charge of. I was the first speaker in the afternoon, followed by Steve Jobs, who was running Next at the time. We had lunch together, then I gave my presentation. Steve was a very impressive guy to chat with — he was clearly a “believer” in what Next was doing. His energy was contagious. He was convinced the paradigm of Next was going to be the long-term trend in computers; and although he never achieved that with Next, I suspect that the lessons learned with Next in terms of touch-screen GUI’s were the genesis of the ‘I’ series of products he would eventually conceive and implement when he returned to Apple.”

On meeting Steve Ballmer: “In 1993, Steve gave a presentation at a Software Technology Forum the Air Force had in Montgomery, Alabama.   After his presentation, a few of the senior officers and I took him to lunch. Throughout his presentation and the luncheon, he was full of ‘bubbling energy.’ I remember a story he told about how he’d been in a bar in Vienna when the results of a major Air Force contract (in which Microsoft was a key member of the winning bidder’s team) had been announced. He spent the entire lunch outlining how Microsoft was going to make this an amazingly successful contract — and in fact that’s exactly what happened over the next few years.”

On meeting Bill Gates:  “In 1997 about a half dozen senior officers were invited to dinner at Bill’s home on Lake Washington during a visit to Microsoft. The thing I remember most about that dinner (other than the amazing home)  was Bill’s passion for his foundation. He wanted to talk a lot more about what he was doing philanthropically than what Microsoft was doing.”

Still serving

These days, Gary is retired from the Air Force and enjoying the perks of retirement with his wife, four kids and nine grandchildren in Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas.

“When I’m not helping folks on Experts Exchange, I do a lot of hands-on work in the neighborhood to help our community,” Gary says.  “I also enjoy reading adventure, mystery and spy stories or legal thrillers and playing bridge. I used to be an avid runner –I ran the Pikes Peak marathon along with a couple less grueling ones– and played a mean game of racquetball before my legs and knees dictated an end to those activities, so now I spend a lot of time walking on my treadmill in order to stay active.”

Speaking of activity, Gary says that he’s slowed down on his Experts Exchange activities since first becoming “addicted” to the site in 2004.

“I still spend more time on the site than my wife likes, though,” he confesses, and you can almost hear the mischievous grin in his voice. “Experts Exchange is a great venue for helping others—something I’ve always enjoyed–while simultaneously learning a lot from the diversity of the issues posted.    I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a couple of Core Conferences, and REALLY enjoy the camaraderie and the ability to meet many of the other experts I’ve interacted with on EE.    If I get the chance to go again, my wife has already made it clear that she’s coming too.”

(We’re guessing she won’t be THAT upset about the time he spends on the site then.)

As evidenced by the large number of certifications he has amassed on Experts Exchange, solving problems and helping others is more than just a hobby—it’s a way of life–for Gary. So what advice has kept him going throughout years of schooling, a storied career and a successful marriage?

“My 7th Grade teacher (Mrs. Richardson) once told me that anything was possible as long as you maintained focus and didn’t give up. That advice has served me well throughout my career, our 38-years-and-counting marriage, and in solving problems of all sorts, whether technical or otherwise,” Gary says.

If the length of some of his Experts Exchange question threads are any indication, never giving up until a problem is resolved is something Gary takes quite seriously.