Jane’s initial encounter with SETI was low profile. She started as a part-time programmer, coding up signal detection algorithms. When the NASA SETI program began to ramp up in the late 1980s, so did Jane – becoming a full-time employee working on control system software. That’s the all-important computer code that lets the scientist actually run the telescope. While it might seem easy in principle, this system now comprises as many as 500 software routines and, as Jane whimsically estimates, “billions and billions” of lines of code.
Somewhat more dramatically, the system software recognizes and logs all incoming signals, and decides if they’re likely to be ET or just more radio noise from Homo sapiens. Today, as Project Manager for the next generation of SETI software – known as the SONATA system, for “SETI on the ATA” – Jane feels confident that if the aliens are discovered, her software will be the first to know.