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Stuart Laughton ('96)

Alumnus Stuart Laughton

Stuart Laughton
Principal Engineer / Software Project Architect at Schlumberger
Class of ’96

I grew up in Austin, Texas and earned my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from the University of Texas. While completing my master’s degree specializing in artificial intelligence, I did an internship with Schlumberger at their Austin technology center. Upon graduation in 1986, I was hired as a software engineer. I am now a principal software architect with Schlumberger. In my 35-year career (so far!) I have worked at five different Schlumberger software centers, in five different cities, and three different countries – Austin, Paris, Oslo, Montpelier, and Houston. But, one of the most important periods of my career was an educational leave of absence (1992-1996) when I earned a Ph.D. in computer science and applications at Virginia Tech in the field of human computer interaction working under faculty member John M. Carroll.

How did the department equip you for the ‘real world’ …

I had already worked full-time in the ‘real world’ for nearly seven years when I came to Virginia Tech. But, the experience of completing a doctoral program was an amazing growth experience for me. Assembling a committee of professors, selecting a topic, conducting research, and writing a dissertation were quite beyond the more prescribed activities I was accustomed to as a software engineer. In fact, I found these tasks to be incredibly difficult. Without the calm, nurturing guidance of my mentor, Jack Carroll, I would probably not have succeeded. When I returned to work at Schlumberger, I brought new software development skills derived from my deep study of human computer interaction. But, perhaps more importantly, I brought a new sense of resilience and confidence that I could manage big, and not yet clearly defined, software development problems.

Being a Virginia Tech alumnus means …

My time in Blacksburg was the first time I had lived outside of my hometown in Austin. Some 25 years later, having lived 12 years outside the United States, I still feel a strong bond to Virginia Tech and Blacksburg. Some of these include recruiting for Schlumberger at Virginia Tech and  feeling pride whenever I hear about Virginia Tech research in the news. I still root for Hokie athletics and I will always consider Blacksburg one of my favorite homes.

My fondest memory from my time in the department is…

In addition to studying human computer interaction, teaching introductory computer science courses played a significant part of my energy and joy while at Virginia Tech. My fondest moment was at my computer science department graduation ceremony when Verna Schutz (who had been my teaching supervisor) presented me with an award for scholarly performance in graduate study. She emphasized that, in my case, the award was not only for research, but also for teaching. This was incredibly satisfying for me as I had loved teaching Virginia Tech undergraduates those four years.

My favorite part about living and working internationally was …

One of the great benefits of working for Schlumberger has been the opportunity to work abroad. My favorite part has been the realization that even across different countries, cultures, and languages (and, it’s the differences that made it so much fun), in the most important respects, people are the same. In each new location – Paris, Oslo, Montpellier – after working through the initial culture shock, I came to see that my work colleagues (and my neighbors) had the same principals and desires as me and my friends back in the States: love of family, and commitment to quality in their work, humor, and compassion.

I am a 35-year veteran at Schlumberger because …

I’ve stuck with Schlumberger all these years for reasons already noted in the words above. Not only being diverse with an international culture, there are the engineering challenges, my super-smart colleagues, and the opportunity to live and work abroad. But perhaps the most relevant, and for me the most appreciative, is that the company supported my mid-career decision to take a leave of absence when I went to Virginia Tech and became a life-long Hokie!