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 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 kids 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 too. 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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