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Columbia Spectator Staff

When Thomas Reardon, GS '08, started studying at Columbia in 2004, he gave away his computer. Reardon, a computer programmer who created Internet Explorer, chose to write his papers on the computers in Butler Library. "I felt I needed to break with the past," Reardon, 43, said. "Knowing how to program wasn't going to make me a better Latin scholar." General Studies students follow nontraditional educational and career paths, and Reardon, who will speak at the GS Class Day ceremony May 14, was no exception. Reardon received an email from GS Dean Peter Awn several weeks ago inviting him to deliver the keynote address at the Class Day ceremony. Reardon said it was "a great honor" to be asked, although, because he graduated only four years ago, he was at first nervous to accept because many GS students are his former classmates. "I love Columbia and think GS is a crazy important, under-hyped engine of modern culture, so ultimately I accepted the invitation," he said. Rather than attend college after graduating from high school, Reardon, a New Hampshire native, moved to North Carolina and started his own software company. By the time he was 21 years old, a chance meeting with Bill Gates had landed him a job at Microsoft as a program manager, where he worked on the Windows 95 and Windows 97 operating systems. Soon after finishing Windows 95, Reardon came up with the idea for Internet Explorer as a component of Windows 97. He was 24 years old at the time. "It's always groups of people. It was a huge group of people" working on Internet Explorer, Reardon said. "I got the project started." During his nine years at Microsoft, Reardon spent a lot of time locked in legal battle with Netscape, which filed an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft in 2002. In the preceding years, Internet Explorer had quickly replaced Netscape Navigator as the top Web browser. Netscape argued that, by bundling Internet Explorer with the Windows operating system, Microsoft had acted anti-competitively, creating a monopoly designed to crush other Web browsers. "We won fair and square. I have a lot of passion in this issue," Reardon said. "What we did was completely ethical, and we won because we had a better browser." Ultimately, Microsoft and AOL—which owns Netscape—settled, coming to a seven-year agreement that gave AOL royalty-free use of Internet Explorer and greater access to Windows operating systems. Microsoft also agreed to pay AOL $750 million. Reardon said that this lawsuit, and others, became very tiresome and eventually convinced him to leave the tech industry. His "entire job had become to be a professional witness," he said. "I didn't like the set of ethics people use in that world," he said. "I'm very cynical about what happened at Netscape. I know they lied under oath." Reardon also felt that most of the architecture of the Web was already set by the time he left the industry, and he doesn't think much has changed since 2002. "I like to be surprised. The Web doesn't offer me surprises anymore," he said. After talking to a physicist he admired, Reardon decided to head back to school. The physicist told him that he should read Homer's "Odyssey," and he followed up by asking the physicist about Herodotus. "I had already known some Latin, and I thought I could read some Latin. I didn't realize that Herodotus was Greek," Reardon said. "Then I got embarrassed and realized I should learn it properly." He applied to GS, which "was the only place I thought I would be successful as a student, since I didn't go to school until I was 30." "I took all four years in GS, and intellectually, those were the most important years of my life," he said. A literature and classical languages major, he wanted to study something far removed from computer science. Four years after graduating from GS, he's now pursuing a doctorate in neurobiology at Columbia. "The faculty really embraces the nontraditional student. I just felt embraced by people that had much more skill than I had," Reardon said of his time at GS. "I made great friends in GS, and made great friends with the kids in CC, and some Barnard friends. I didn't have a GS experience. I had a Columbia experience." And going back to school to study wasn't the only way Reardon broke with the past—he's now a Mozilla Firefox user.

General Studies Class Day computer science Classics