When Sarah Sharp was in first grade, she had trouble reading and was enrolled in an extra speech class. By fifth grade, she had become a “big bookworm” and was teaching algebra to her second-grade sister. Sharp’s path took her from a childhood in Rainer, Ore. to Portland State, where she was among a handful of women enrolled in the computer engineering program.
When Sarah Sharp was in first grade, she had trouble reading and was enrolled in an extra speech class. By fifth grade, she had become a “big bookworm” and was teaching algebra to her second-grade sister.
Sharp’s path took her from a childhood in Rainer, Ore. to Portland State, where she was among a handful of women enrolled in the computer engineering program.
After graduating from Portland State in 2007, Sharp was hired by Intel as a software engineer.
Her latest project is working as the Linux representative on a new USB 3.0 file transfer system project, working with giants in the open source software community to shape the future.
USB 3.0 is projected to be 10 times faster than the current USB 2.0, reaching roughly 600MB per second. The format for how to implement USB 3.0 is expected to be released later this year and commercial products are expected to arrive in 2009 or 2010.
Sharp is working on making USB 3.0 compatible with Linux, the open source series of operating systems that are low or no-cost alternatives to the Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh operating systems.
“[Sharp’s] success is especially impressive considering her occupation,” Dr. Bart Massey, one of Sharp’s advisors during her work at Portland State, said. “Only a third of the faculty in the computer science department are women; the student population less than that.”
In a department dominated by males, Sharp had to find ways to make not only professional connections but personal ones as well.
Eventually Sharp ended up bonding with two different groups of what she calls “geek women.”
“The first is PDXGeekChix. It’s a group of women who get together for lunches occasionally,” Sharp said. “The mix of technical and personal is a nice change. With guys, it was always just technical stuff.”
The other group is Code ‘n’ Splode, an all-women technical project discussion panel. In addition to these groups, Sharp also was a gardener for the PSU Community Garden and was a member of the Portland State Aerospace Society (PSAS).
Sharp helped rebuild the community garden after it was damaged when the Adeline student housing building was torn down. She was also the webmaster for the garden’s Wiki Web site.
“It was important to me that the garden be expanded, since I lived in the Adeline when they found structural damage and gave us 30 days notice on New Years Day,” Sharp wrote in an e-mail. “It was a chance to enjoy and grow green things in the middle of an urban environment.”
The PSAS counts Sharp as one of their most valuable members. Sharp started working with PSAS in 2005 and after an incident involving a crashed rocket, decided to pursue getting the club official sponsorship from PSU.
In 2006, the club gained sponsorship with Sharp as the president for the 2006-07 year. Part of Sharp’s Capstone project came from her work on software-defined radio rocket telemetry with PSAS.
“One time, we had someone contact us who was interested in working on our rocket. He said he worked for Korea,” Sharp said with a light giggle. “We were really freaked out and politely declined, and then turned everything over to the State Department.”
Growing up, life at Rainer High School was “a breeze” for Sharp, at least academically.
“I took a lot of advanced math and English courses, although I couldn’t take math my senior year because they only had five students for my pre-calculus class,” she said. “I ended up being one of five valedictorians to graduate with a 4.0 GPA [out of a graduating class of 107].”
Sharp said that she took a lot of computer courses because she knew she wanted to do something with computers in college. While still in high school, Sharp earned senior elective credits by working on a project started by Greg Kroah-Hartman, a Linux expert employed by software company Novell.
“One of the things I love about PSU is that you don’t have to be a grad student to work on projects that are really interesting and meaningful in your field,” she said.
One summer, Sharp took a Saturday Academy class on computer programming.
“My mom was really dedicated and drove me 70 miles [from Rainier to Wilsonville] every Saturday,” she said.
High school turned out to be slightly more difficult for Sharp on a personal level. Her mother was an art teacher for the school district, and Sharp got tagged as a teacher’s pet. It was at Portland State that she finally found acceptance.
“I ended up getting teased by some of the popular guys a lot,” she said. “I didn’t really feel like I fit in until I went to college and discovered the geek culture there. I understood and felt accepted by the people in my engineering classes and the members of the Portland State Aerospace Society.”