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Sunday, May 28, 2023

The Portrait Artist – IEEE Spectrum

Solely a handful of engineering luminaries know what it feels wish to get “The Name” from IEEE Spectrum senior editor Tekla S. Perry. It’s a ceremony of passage, an important a part of the method of being chosen by IEEE as a Medal of Honor recipient. This 12 months it was Mr. Web himself, the inimitable and all the time dapper Vint Cerf, and you’ll learn Perry’s profile of him right here.

Perry wrote her first article for Spectrum in 1980. She was first assigned the duty of profiling a few of the most influential and consequential engineers of the final quarter century in 1995, beginning with the MOH recipient Lotfi A. Zadeh, the daddy of fuzzy logic.

“I bear in mind being relieved that he might clarify fuzzy logic in a means I might simply perceive, as a result of I didn’t actually perceive it beforehand,” Perry recollects.”That made future MOH interviews much less irritating stepping into, as a result of I had religion that the medalists would have the ability to make me perceive their applied sciences.”

There’s an artwork to writing a great profile, and all of it begins with the interview. Perry prefers to satisfy in particular person as a way to develop a human connection. That rapport lets her topics open up, giving readers a glimpse of their personalities, motivations, and attitudes.

Tekla S. Perry


Palo Alto, Calif.


B.A., journalism, Michigan State College


Eric Nee (husband); Alex, Nadya, and Mischa Nee (kids)

First job:

Neighborhood datebook author at WBRW Radio in Somerville, N.J., at age 16

Oddest job:

Boardwalk barker

Favourite composer:

Bruce Springsteen

Leisure actions:

City climbing, acrylic portray

“A lot of journalism is a fast hit—getting a particular piece of details about a particular subject—it’s an actual deal with to have the ability to have the time and alternative to let the dialog go down a really lengthy and meandering path, with these little lightbulbs that go on alongside the best way after I hear an incredible anecdote or a revealing remark,” Perry says. “I typically depart feeling I truly related with the particular person, that it was greater than only a Q&A.”

Perry normally begins her interviews with questions that vary from issues that occurred within the distant previous to issues that occurred final evening. The nice and cozy-up is geared toward opening drawers within the reminiscence that maybe haven’t been opened shortly. “Then I begin the extra chronological a part of the interview by asking about their mother and father and their careers, which makes me really feel like I’m beginning to get to know them past their achievements,” she says. “It’s additionally seemingly one thing they haven’t talked about in a very long time, so I don’t get a rehearsed response. However that’s why the interview normally takes a minimum of three hours.”

Whereas Perry normally will get MOH recipients to disclose issues about themselves and their contributions, she often learns one thing about herself, too. Nick Holonyak, MOH recipient in 2003 for the event of the crimson LED, truly modified the best way Perry thinks about her ethnic roots.

“My household recognized as ‘Russian’ though the language my grandparents spoke was a really distinct dialect. My grandparents emigrated below the label of “Austrian” within the early 1900s, and the city they got here from now’s in Poland, close to Ukraine and Slovakia,” Perry says.

“Holonyak began asking me about my origins due to my identify, and rapidly up to date my ethnic understanding: He and I are each Carpatho-Rusyn—together with Andy Warhol and Sandra Dee, he instructed me—and we had been seemingly extra intently associated to one another than both of us was to anybody else in southern Illinois on the time. He beneficial a couple of books, I adopted up on these, and my considerably complicated household historical past fell into place.”

And typically she will get a memorable meal out of the deal. Final 12 months’s recipient, Asad Madni, instructed Perry she needed to strive his spouse’s cooking. “She ended up making lunch for us,” Perry recounts. “It was a revelation. I’ve all the time appreciated Indian meals, however nothing I’ve ever tasted earlier than or since comes anyplace near that meal.”

In the event you’re lucky sufficient to get The Name subsequent 12 months, gird your self for a journey of discovery that may take you again to locations you haven’t considered in years, with a companion who will deliver the remainder of us alongside for the experience.

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