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Retired IBMer Josh Knight Is Captivated by Astronomy

Science has always been important in Josh Knight’s family. His father taught him science in eighth grade, his aunt taught him biology in ninth grade and his mother taught him chemistry in 10th grade.

Knight grew up on a farm in northern Missouri, where he observed the constellations often with his father. Knight’s family background in science, combined with his fondness for science fiction, left him enchanted by astronomy and physics.

A Difficult Career Choice

Knight completed his undergraduate degree in engineering and physics at Cornell University. During his graduate career at Stanford, he obtained a Ph.D. in applied physics along with a Ph.D. minor in computer science.

Torn between career choices, Knight began looking for jobs in computer science. “When I finished my Ph.D., the jobs in astrophysics weren’t there,” Knight says. “I met someone who did consulting with mainframes and audited one of the mainframe courses he taught. He encouraged me to apply to IBM Research, and I got an interview in Poughkeepsie, New York.” The rest is history. Knight spent 34 years at IBM, moving from architecture, to hardware performance analysis and design, to software, to working on z/OS* UNIX* System Services—formerly known as MVS* OpenEdition.

Staying With Astronomy

But Knight was still very interested in astronomy. He often looked through the Celestron 8 he bought with his wife in 1975—a telescope which, at the time, was an incredible extravagance.

Throughout his career and into his retirement, Knight remained dedicated to astronomy. He’s attended Stellafane—one of the oldest amateur telescope maker conventions in the world—in Springfield, Vermont, every summer since 1981. “Some of the people there are hardcore amateur telescope makers, but others just like telescopes and looking at the sky,” Knight says. “That’s me. I just like to look at the sky.”

Instilling Wonder

Knight enjoys sparking others’ interests in astronomy, too. He was a teaching assistant in an astrophysics course, and after obtaining his Ph.D., he taught the undergraduate astronomy laboratory at Stanford. “One of the most rewarding things I’ve done was teaching at Stanford, along with the astronomy outreach I’m doing now,” he says. “That’s the goal. Being with people and enjoying astronomy.”

Knight also enjoys letting others look through his Celestron 8. Children are always dazzled by their observations, but this wonder isn’t uncommon. “It’s not just kids,” he says. “The first time anyone looks through a telescope at something like Saturn, they can’t believe it’s real. That’s the best part.”