Shareef Jackson, 32, is a database analyst for Shire Pharmaceuticals in Philadelphia who holds engineering degrees from Brown and Case Western. He’s also the author of a self-titled blog ( http://www.shareefjackson.com), where he writes about technology and society. Follow him on Twitter as @ShareefJackson. Questions and answers have been edited.
Q: How did your passion for technology start?
When I was younger, I always wanted to see how things worked. I was the annoying kid who wanted to take things apart and put them back together. I remember doing this a lot with the remote control. Occasionally I would leave it apart. When my mom came home, she’d let me know what she thought about that. I think it really came from that – them giving me space to be creative and not getting on me too much about wanting to build things and take things apart.
From a science perspective, I would definitely say that when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986. I remember our public schools in New Jersey taking a strong interest in space after that.
Q: Why do you think the explosion had such an impact on the curriculum?
It was something they paid special attention to because, No. 1, it was such a horrible incident, and No. 2, two of the people on the shuttle were very important to our community. One was the first female teacher to go into space and the other was Ronald McNair, who was an African American.
Q: You’ve attended several NASA Social Programs. What have you taken away from witnessing events like the final space shuttle launch firsthand?
It was literally a bucket list moment – I could check something off. Being around like-minded people who share the same passion just drives you to do more. All the people I met there were doing their own thing. Different countries. Different states. But they all had that same interest. It was very empowering.
It was also a mix of celebrities and regular people. While we were there, it wasn’t a diva thing. Everybody was just hanging around being geeks. It was a very sort of “We Are the World” moment.