Growing up in Albany, Oregon, the youngest of three brothers, Joseph Jess had many opportunities to learn about electronics and computers. He and his brothers worked together on projects like adding speakers to their stereo system. And his oldest brother had a particular interest in computers, so he had computers and web design materials around that Jess could experiment with.
“The biggest thing my brother did for me was intrigue me with how computers were physically and digitally put together. He did that by helping me with a used PC that was passed on to me by a friend. We spent some time finding and installing compatible parts to get the computer started,” he says.
Jess has pursued that interest whole-heartedly ever since — starting with taking all the electronics and computer courses he could in high school and becoming an aide for the programming class in his last year.
“I just like the ability to create things, and I think computer science is great because you can make something quickly that actually works,” he says.
With encouragement from his mother and teachers, he continued on to get a computer science degree at Western Oregon University, becoming the first of his immediate family to finish a college degree. Then he went on to Portland State where he got his master’s degree.
He has not veered too far from his roots — both physically and academically.
“I love the Willamette Valley and I love computer science,” he says.
And a source of some teasing from his friends, he also married his 8th grade girlfriend. “All of our friends think it's kind of sappy,” he says of having already spent half his life with his wife.
In a way, it was his wife who led him to his position here at OSU. They returned home so she could help out with the family construction business in Corvallis. Jess was teaching at Linn-Benton Community College (LBCC) when he applied for an instructor position at OSU, which led to a unique position as the first instructor assigned to the new online computer science degree program for the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at OSU.
Starting his career in teaching seemed a natural fit for him since he was a teaching assistant through college and graduate school.
“I’ve always liked helping people and teaching seems to be the easiest way to help people in a way that allows them to stand on their own,” he says.
Although some of his spare time is spent on playing computer games, he likes to continue learning about computer science by reading and experimenting with computer hardware.
“Finding something that motivates you to learn is the key,” he says.
In a reversal of roles, his brother, six years his senior, who initially helped motivate Jess’s interest in computers, ended up as a student in several of his classes at LBCC. After first pursuing a career as an auto mechanic, his brother returned to his interest in computers and started on a degree in computer science.
“It was odd,” Jess says of having his brother in his class, “but we’ve always have a really good working relationship, and he respects what I’ve done with my life.”
—By Rachel Robertson