The result was one of the most well known key combinations around: Ctrl-Alt-Delete. It forces obstinate computers to restart when they will no longer follow other commands.
Bradley, 55, is getting a new start of his own. He's retiring Friday after 28 1/2 years with IBM.
Bradley joined the company in June 1975 as an engineer in Boca Raton, Fla. By 1980, he was one of 12 working to create the IBM PC. He now works at IBM's facility in Research Triangle Park.
The engineers knew they had to design a simple way to restart the computer should it fail. Bradley wrote the code to make it work.
"I didn't know it was going to be a cultural icon," Bradley said. "I did a lot of other things than Ctrl-Alt-Delete, but I'm famous for that one."
His fame depends on others failures.
At a 20-year celebration for the IBM PC, Bradley was on a panel with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and other tech icons. The discussion turned to the keys.
"I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous," Bradley said.
Gates didn't laugh. The key combination also is used when software, such as Microsoft's Windows operating system, fails.
Bradley, whose name was once mentioned as a clue in the final round of the TV game show "Jeopardy," will continue teaching at N.C. State University after retirement.
His office is filled with memories of his time at IBM and the keys that brought him fame in the tech world. He says he has almost every cartoon that featured Ctrl-Alt-Delete. There are video clips of the "Jeopardy" show and the panel with Gates.
"After having been the answer on final 'Jeopardy,' if I can be a clue in 'The New York Times' Sunday crossword puzzle, I will have met all my life's goals," Bradley said.