- BS Computer Science 2003
Alumnus: Honor and Duty, Faith and Work
Raphael Mudge has had two salient experiences in his adult life: service in the military and success as an entrepreneur. His service lent him pride; his work “self-actualization.” Mudge , 30, who was in Tech’s ROTC program, graduated in 2003 with a bachelor’s in computer science. He served in the air force until March of 2008. He speaks in a heartfelt way about “the honor of putting on the uniform.”
His service has served him well. “I would never have pictured how many doors it opened for me,” he says. “I became more than I thought I could be. I learned to take risks, work hard, and be a leader.”
He was stationed in Germany for two years. “I loved it,” he recalls. “It was fascinating. I visited twenty countries. My favorite lesson from that experience was, ‘If you treat people with respect, they will treat you with respect back.’”
After Germany, he worked at the Air Force Research Lab in Rome, NY, where he was involved in computer security—protecting the military network from hackers. That work fit him well. “It set the stage for my career,” he says. As did his education. “Tech brought me out of my comfort zone,” he says. He sums up his computer science studies as “a lot of theory and a lot of systems work”—what he calls “a broad swath” through the field. He was in the Enterprise Program and, in one of his courses, he made a compiler. “A tough project. I learned I could attack hard problems in the real world.” He recalls his college days fondly. “I loved the UP. It was an adventure. I still consider myself a Husky.” He also earned a master’s degree from Syracuse University.
As a lad he wanted to be an astronaut, but he didn’t have the eyesight. He also toyed with being a journalist. A high school mentor steered him to technology, of which he says, “The biggest takeaway is discovering what’s possible.” He enjoyed that benefit after his military service, when he crafted a software program, After the Deadline, a writing check for web users that finds errors in spelling, grammar, and style. It took nine months to fashion. Mudge describes other tools for writers as “poor.” His conviction was: “I can make a better one.” It was a practical endeavor. “I invented the tool because I needed it,” he says of his own writing.
He launched the product in June of 2009 and sold it a month later. The man who bought it was Matt Mullenweg, the founder of Automattic, a software company with operations in the US, Europe, and Asia. Mullenweg says, “When I first tried After the Deadline, I was blown away. It was so much better than other checkers I’d used, and it was by one guy building this thing that solves problems other folks have a team of PhDs trying to solve.” Less than a year later, his software is checking more than three million documents a month.
Mudge now works for the Automattic in Washington DC. It’s his first regular job since he left the air force. He oversees further development of his software, including making it available in other languages. “I love creating stuff,” he says. “I like the feeling of seeing it work and having people use what I make.”
His abiding guideline in his software endeavor was: “Certum quod factum—We believe what we build.” Nevertheless, his doubts were thorny and many. “I had no idea if it would see the light of day,” he says of the project. “I wondered whether the world would ever notice my work.”
He asked himself: “Why do I keep doing this?”
He told himself: “Get a job.”
“I fought with myself,” he recalls.
His faith proved irrepressible. “Believe in yourself,” he says. “It’s never easy. In fact, it’s really hard. But I kept pushing through it. I wanted to create something that benefits people. That’s very important to me. I thought of the possibilities—the impact it could have. It doesn’t always work out, but you don’t know ‘til you try.”
He tried and succeeded. Now he reaps the reward of his resolve. Meanwhile, how does he get away from it all? “I don’t,” he says. “I’m one of the fortunate people—my work is my hobby.”