Remembering Pioneers

I find myself in Vancouver at SIGGRAPH 2014. This was the same location of my first conference back at OOPSLA 1992. I was still an undergraduate student in Computer Science at the University of Victoria, Bjorn Freeman-Benson was my professor of a topic course in Object-Oriented Programming and had invited us to be volunteers at some conference in Vancouver.  Little did I know that this would lead to me volunteering with OOPSLA, SIGPLAN and the ACM from 1994 through 2007 as a member of the conference organizing committee.

Strange how one small event leads to so much in life. I could write volumes about how OOPSLA has impacted mine.

Simula 67

Dahl and Nygaard
The fathers of Object-Oriented Programming

Kristen Nygaard left us on August 10th, 2002. I bring up OOPSLA because that is where I had the great pleasure to meet the co-inventor of object-oriented programming.  Kristen was invited as the keynote speaker for the educator’s symposium at OOPSLA 2001 in Tampa Bay, Florida.  That was just a couple months after the events of 911 and the anthrax scare local to the area of our event. As it turns out, our attendance was much lower than a typical OOPSLA conference.

Small Conference, Big Contacts

A conference with less people at OOPSLA that year led to a “tighter” feeling for those of us that made the journey. Kristen gave an inspirational talk for us educators. I do not remember the details of his presentation but he uttered one quote that still sticks in my mind and I repeat to my students often: “Computers were made to help me work, not make me work”. This was spoken in the context of why Kristen was using a Mac instead of a PC.  Remember that in these days a Mac was a rarity in a room of educators, quite opposite to what we experience today.

After his conference I had the pleasure to share drinks with Kristen in the hotel lobby and he invited me to lead the charge in Latin America for his COOL (Comprehensive Object-Oriented Learning) project. He wanted to change the way we taught computing and I was excited to play a part in that.

Projects are led by People

Unfortunately Kristen left us in 2002. I brought up my emails from Kristen from that time this morning and was pleased to find many familiar names on the list he was sending it to. Many people I respect but had forgotten were on the list for this grand project. I think many projects die with their leaders, it is sad that way.  I wonder what would have happened with COOL if Kristen had remained another decade to see it launch. We’ll never know.

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