Skip To Main Content

Our department, with your help, is developing a written history. If you have any favorite memories or photography you would like to share, please feel free to email our communications specialist, Stephanie Jones, with the details.

First Recipient of Ph.D. in Computer Science from Texas A&M

When I took my first computer science course at Texas A&M University in the summer of 1967 the computing courses were taught within the industrial engineering department, which was led by Dr. A. W. Wortham. When investigating the feasibility of pursuing a doctorate with Wortham and Dr. Dan Drew, I was told I could pursue it in interdisciplinary engineering with an emphasis in computer science. This was not exactly what I wanted, but I soon found there were no such programs in Texas. During the spring of 1968, while I was teaching mathematics and computer science courses at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU), which was called West Texas State University then, I had the opportunity to visit with Wortham again. He informed me that a proposed Ph.D. program in computing science had been submitted to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), which was called the Texas College and University System Coordinating Board back then. He was confident that it would be approved and encouraged me pursue the degree. Consequently, I returned to Texas A&M as a full-time student in the summer of 1968 and followed the degree program as it had been submitted to the board.  Dr. Gene Pulley was the chairman of my committee as my primary interest was numerical analysis and simulation. Dr. Glen Williams was a new faculty member when I started. Dr. Udo Pooch was a new faculty member in the fall of 1969.

As I started the spring semester of 1970, all my coursework had been completed, my dissertation topic had been approved and I was well along with my research. However, the THECB had still not approved the proposed degree program and, needless to say, I was getting anxious. In April 1970, the THECB finally approved the new Ph.D. in computing science degree as proposed with no changes. I defended my dissertation in early May and graduated on May 23, 1970 as the only person, and therefore the first person, to be awarded the new degree. Incidentally, I also received the Distinguished Graduate Student award that year.

Fifty years later at age 81, having experienced a long career as professor, manager in industry, consultant and programmer, I am winding up my affairs. I am still an emeritus professor of computer information systems at WTAMU where an endowed professorship has been established in my name.

— Dr. Philip J. Gensler '70 (Emeritus professor at West Texas A&M University)

While getting my master's in computing sciences with a major in computer science from 1968 to 1969, I worked as a computer operator at the data center on the IBM 360/65. I started earlier as an operator by operating the IBM 1401 in another room. When students wanted their schoolwork bumped in the queue after loading their card decks in the reader, I would tell them if they got me a hamburger and a shake with my money I would bump them in the queue so their program would run sooner than other students. This way I was able to get food brought to me while working the midnight to 8:00 a.m. shift.

— Dr. Alan Maples '66 (Professor at Cedar Valley College)

I graduated from Texas A&M on May 23, 1959 with a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering. When I left Texas A&M, all computer work was taught in the electrical engineering (EE) department. The one or two courses available were electives in the senior year. The instructor was Robert L. Smith. I believe he had an IBM 650 Computer, an IBM 407 Accounting Machine, and assorted keypunch, sorter and interpreter machines.

So when I returned to Texas A&M in January 1963, I planned to continue my electrical engineering studies for a master's degree and to concentrate on computers. However upon arriving on campus, I learned that Mr. Smith and the computers had moved to the industrial engineering department. A rift had occurred.

During my first semester back, I took several refresher courses (EE 214 Electrical Circuit Theory, EE 325 Electronics, Math 307 Advanced Calculus, and Math 308 Differential Equations) while I prepared my master's degree plan. Dr. Glen D. Hallmark was the head of the EE department; he was also the chairman of my committee. He looked over my plan and noted that I wanted to take several computer science courses from the industrial engineering department. He then told me that he would not give me credit for any of these courses toward my EE degree. I changed my major to computer science because I was more interested the application of computers than their design.

In the early years computer science was only offered in graduate school at Texas A&M. The philosophy was that you had to already have an undergraduate degree in something in order to know how to employ the new technology. The course work was very heavy in math, science and engineering.

The computer center building was there. The hardware was all IBM: 709 Computer (later replaced with a 7094), 1401 Computer and 650 Computer, a 407 Accounting Machine, and many keypunch, sorter, and interpreter machines. We learned to program and operate them all. The programming languages we used were: FORTRAN, COBOL, SOAP, FAP, MAP, TAMP, and AUTOCODER. Our principal computer science instructors were Dan Drew, Jim Nash and Bob Smith. I took all the numerical analysis and statistics courses I could get my hands on along with all the computer science courses offered. I ended up with 47 hours not counting the 13 hours of refresher courses. My thesis was entitled “Radiant-Interchange Configuration Factorsâ€. I graduated on January 16, 1965.

I caught the crest of the computing wave and during the next 40 years I had a fabulous career in the military, in private industry and in government service. I was never unemployed and had many successful, exciting projects to pursue everyday. In the end I know I made a difference and my computer science degree from Texas A&M prepared me for that.

— Thomas E. Reddin '65 (BSEE, MSCS)

Memories of Computer Science at Texas A&M in the Early 60's

The computer science master's degree was first granted in 1962. It was thought that the only reason to have a degree in computer science was that you had a discipline such as engineering or statistics that needed the computer for your work. Computer science was in the industrial engineering department under Dr. Burgess.

There were about 10 of us working on our Master of Science (Computer Science) (MS/CS) or Master of Computer Science (MCS) degrees. The difference between the MS in CS and the MCS was that the Master of Science required a thesis, and the MCS required more hours in place of a thesis. In addition to the "normal" students, there were about 25 or so Air Force officers pursuing the MCS degree.

It was not so much a computer science degree as it was computer usage degree.

We used FORTRAN for problem solutions. Those of us pursuing a computer science degree learned to code the IBM 650 (2000 10-digit bi-quinary words), the IBM 1401 (1000 bytes) and the IBM 709 (32k words) in assembly language.

The computers were vacuum tube machines. There was a procedure in place that if the lights went out, the staff rushed to the 709 room to remove the panels from the 709 units so that they would not overheat.

Mr. Robert Smith was the director of the Data Processing Center (DPC). He was quite a wheeler-dealer and worked the deals with IBM for us to have those computers.

The IBM 650 had been in the electrical engineering building (Bolton). It was on the third floor - a crane was needed to remove it for transport to the Data Processing Center, the DPC.

The DPC is now called the Computer Service Center.

The bulk of our course work was in engineering or mathematics; there were only a few "computer" courses for operating systems and languages. Drew was the primary professor for those. Drew was a very serious man. He was very intent about his teaching.

Students in numerical analysis courses and various engineering courses would prepare their FORTRAN card decks for submission to the 709. Several students had jobs at the Data Processing Center. They gathered the card decks from the front desk and took them back to the 1401 where the cards were loaded to magnetic tape by the 1401 for execution on the 709.

The 709 read the programs and data from the input tape and wrote program output to the output tape. The tape was taken back to the 1401 for printing. A multitasking 1401 program written by Ed Anderson could both write cards to tape and print all at the same time. The output was paired with the card decks and wrapped with a rubber band for return to the student to the front desk.

Ed was our resident genius. The IBM 1401 Autocoder language required a 4-tape 1401. Our 1401 only had 2 tape drives. So Ed wrote a 1401 assembler that needed only 2 tape drives. He was an excellent role model for us.

The 709 was later replaced by a 7090, then by a 7094. The 709 was moved to the Cyclotron facility.

There were various card handling machines: sorters, collators, card printers in the 1401 room. Various university business functions used those machines.

One of the tricks to getting all the computer time you wanted was to volunteer to take the Saturday or Sunday night shift of one of the student workers. That way you could submit your program as many times as you needed. There wasn't any accounting done on student computer usage in those years.

Since the 709 had magnetic tapes as its storage medium, it took a while to execute a FORTRAN program. The compiler had to be loaded from tape, and then the input deck was read compiled and executed.

Lynn Braswell's thesis was a breakthrough. He designed and wrote a program that compiled FORTRAN programs, executed them, and then read the next program without the compiler needing to be reloaded. Lynn assigned several subprograms to some of us to help with the coding. It was quite an improvement for throughput.

Preparing a thesis was a challenge: there was no such thing as a "word processor." The thesis had to be typed with specific rules for margins and footnotes. Then the candidate took it to the A&M Press to have it printed and bound. Quite a process.

But then, that's what all Master of Science degree candidates were required to do; it was not unique to computer science.

— Bill Pry, '67 (MS)