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Mark Hampton: Capturing a Vision, Continuing a Journey



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He isn't a Michael Vick, or TI; he's not in trouble, so there won't be a front page story in the media, touting the stereotypical negatives of the black man. In spite of his stellar accomplishments, Mark is a very humble person. He just recently received word from the committee reviewing his doctorate thesis that his argument had been accepted and of course – as most sons do – made that call to his parents, Ann and Arnold Hampton. Family and friends were cheering and congratulating him as word spread across the country. He was awarded his doctorate from the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts and will take his final walk in June 2008.

His thesis subject -- Reducing Exception Management Overhead With Software Restart Markers – flies far over the head of the average person. Being able to integrate high performance processor designs into the software and hardware technology of the average consumer is an over-simplified, but understandable description of his expertise and field.

His field focuses between the hardware and software genres of computer science; somewhat like a bridge. The trends in recent years indicate this is the key to the future of computer architecture. Faster and faster processors were the initial trend. That came to a halt as the paradigm shifted to figuring out ways to get performance by using software techniques and structure. In the past, software architecture was not the emphasis. Going forward, high performance designs rely more upon the programming and compilation.

Hampton’s post-doctorate objective is to turn his thesis into an actual product. His vision for his future most likely lies in a startup or newly formed company versus a large established corporation.

"In large corporations: you end up not getting what you want to accomplish done, management may not have your focus, you get lost in the shuffle, not really making a difference," said Mark. "I have friends who took that route and are frustrated by both the bureaucracy that comes with the territory and the inability to get an idea past a given superior who has no real idea of what they are trying to do."

His initial plan was to become a part of a startup company that was being formed in California, but the company’s formation has been put on hold until funding can be acquired. Having been contacted by headhunters from various concerns, Hampton will not have a problem formulating a Plan B for this aspect of his future.

"My job selection must meet a certain criteria -- how my position is defined, so that I have the freedom to create ideas freely and bring them to fruition, salary/benefits/employee culture, and physical location. I want a good income, obviously, but I also want to enjoy what I’m doing and where I’m doing it," states Hampton. "My vision of my future varies. I am very involved in my church and actually give sermons on a regular basis. My father – Arnold Hampton – is a full time minister and when I was young, he did not want me to follow his footsteps into the ministry. But in recent years, he has become open to the idea. Now that I have completed my formal education, I may dedicate more time to speaking more often, perhaps as I travel I can speak to the congregations my church has throughout the country, a traveling minister, if you will. Ten years from now I envision myself as a minister, having spent some time in the computer architecture industry, having done a handful of things in respect to that. I want to fill a particular need in the industry, then get bought out in a way that I benefit financially and long term. I want to be able to say that I did that; then I can shift more to spiritual matters.

Hampton, who is a member of the Hampton family – one of the largest families of musicians in the country -- has other talents and goals in his personal life.

"My vision, for the personal part of my life, is not quite clear yet; I don’t necessarily have any specific vision for myself, except to settle down and marry. I have been so consumed with school and church, that most of my thinking has been focused there and all else has fallen by the wayside. I don’t even play chess anymore and I want to get back to that, get to master rank at least. I would like to travel; there are some places I still want to visit. Looking back, I am somewhat wistful for the experiences I had like being on stage acting and singing as I did in high school. I always had a fascination with martial arts, specifically in Wing Chun; I do want to get back to that. I regret that I didn’t continue with that. But I haven’t really worked all that out for myself yet. I have interest in a lot of different things."

For those who have not yet realized what makes this story unique, Mark Hampton is an African-American man.

"I tend to see my field as colorless. I am not sure that it is related to the industry at large or what. My friends have had issues in their particular fields, but I have not had any covert or overt issues here, specifically in my group. I was the sole black person in my group. I never feel that it is a distinguishing factor, even when I go to conferences in my field -- which are held globally. The issue is always about what you can do, not the color of your skin."

For aspiring high school and college students who are looking to successfully attain their respective goals, Hampton has this advice:

"Have a clear vision of who you are, what your priorities are and stick to them. Develop a support network, particularly in grad school, because you are isolated. I had a group ACME -- Academy of Courageous Minority Engineers; we actually had a paper published as a group. It’s important to have others with whom you can identify and understand the challenges you face."

For more information about Mark Hampton, visit his website: www.cag.csail.mit.edu/~mhampton

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