1966-76: The Formative Years

The CSD was initially located on the 8th floor of the Cathedral of Learning. Orrin Taulbee was faced with a number of challenges. Besides having to recruit faculty qualified in CS, at a time when PhD holders in CS were not to be found, he had to provide suitable computing facilities for both faculty and students. Further, the degree programs themselves had to be designed and implemented. As was typical of many early, university-based CS departments, the graduate degree(s) preceded the undergraduate degree. At Pitt, the order and timing of their establishment were:

  • MS program in 1966/67
  • PhD program in 1970
  • BS program in 1974

In each case, a detailed proposal had to be written, required resources had to be justified, and approval had to be obtained from the relevant councils of the University.

Among the first half dozen (tenured/tenure-stream) faculty recruited, including the Chair himself, only three remained with the CSD for a long time: Orrin Taulbee served as the Dept Chair for 18 years (1966-1984), a remarkably long duration in that position; he died in 1987. Casimir Borkowski joined the faculty in 1967 and also died in 1987. Thomas Dwyer arrived in 1968 and retired in 1993. Among the CSD faculty still on board in 1996, the “longest timer” was Alfs Berztiss whose tenure-stream appointment started in 1970.

With regard to computing facilities, the CSD was at its outset totally dependent on Pitt’s Computer Center. The primary computers were an IBM 7090/1401 configuration and two IBM 360/50s, one of which operated under the home-grown Pittsburgh Time-Sharing System (PTSS). Keypunch machines, batch processing, and waiting in lines at the I/O desk to submit jobs and to obtain printed outputs were the norm for our students in those early years. Only some users (mainly faculty with grant support) were fortunate enough to acquire a terminal and a pair of modems to enable interactive access to the PTSS. Reliability of the systems was not close to what we experience and expect today.

The CSD did manage to acquire its own stand-alone computer. This was a DEC PDP-4 with a price tag of nearly $90k. Among its attractions for students was a “space war” game as well as the “New Tron of Minsky.” The latter moved three dots around on the screen in various elliptical patterns based on a number entered by the user via the accumulator switches. Students enjoyed playing these early versions of video games. According to Bob Hoffman (our senior technical staff member) and for trivia buffs: only 45 PDP-4’s were ever built and ours had serial no. 32.

In about 1969, certain computer users from other Pitt departments felt that the Computer Center services were less than satisfactory. They complained that CS faculty were (allegedly) accorded special, unfair privileges in their access to and manipulation of Computer Center facilities. Consequently, after high-level hearings were conducted, Pitt decided that Orrin Taulbee’s dual role of chairing the CSD while also directing the Computer Center would be discontinued. Thereafter he served exclusively as CSD Chair.

This separation meant that the CSD had to become increasingly self-reliant with regard to computing. Accordingly, in 1974, a DEC PDP-11/40 (or GT-44) system was purchased for nearly $50k. It became the hub of all hands-on, Department-internal computer use, both by graduate students (e.g. on class projects) and by faculty.

Also in 1974, the CSD moved into the renovated space of Alumni Hall, which had been occupied for many years by Chemistry. It seemed like a nice improvement. The faculty size stood at 13 T/TS faculty and things were progressing well. Little did we know what would hit us over the next ten years, starting around 1976.

1976-1986: The Enrollment Crunch »