David G. Hart
(aka Professor Hartless) Data Processing 1972-2008
Two of the great Weber State Educators
In 1972, I was living in Connecticut and working in the Computer Education Department of Aetna Life and Casualty, a large insurance firm that did all of their IT training in-house. I had just earned my M.S. degree in Computer Science at night from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and decided it was time to relocate to the West where I was raised, where my extended family lived and some of my wife’s family. I loved teaching IT courses for the Aetna and had applied to teach at Weber State College but had heard nothing from them. On a Thursday, I received a telephone call from the chair of the Data Processing Department at Weber State asking me if I could fly out for an interview on the coming Saturday 2 days later. I did so and interviewed with the Data Processing Chair, Charles Crittenden and the Dean of the School of Technology, Wendell Esplin. They hired me on the spot and informed me that classes would begin 2 days later on Monday! Apparently, a faculty member had quit suddenly because of his wife’s health and I would be his replacement. I, of course, indicated that I would need two weeks to give my current employer notice and to pack up and move my family (wife and 2 children). They agreed and a member of the non-academic IT staff, Lowell Jensen, would cover my classes for 2 weeks. All went as planned and we were able to move into a house 2 blocks from Weber State (where we lived for the next 48 years which included my 36 years of employment). It was a bit awkward stepping into my classes at the beginning of the 3rd week but I survived and my experiences at the Aetna and in my M.S. degree program definitely helped.
I began my employment in October of 1972 in the Department of Data Processing which was housed in the School of Technology. I soon learned that my position as an Assistant Professor was not final until I interviewed with the Academic Vice President, Helmut Hoffman, whom I was told was a stern, all business, German who liked to ask a lot of hard questions. I greeted him in German (from my LDS mission) and that seemed to help. I guess I passed because he gave his OK for my employment as an Assistant Professor with a starting salary of $12,000 which was a little less that the $14,200 I was making at the Aetna in Hartford.
I started my employment at the same time that Joseph Bishop became the President replacing a very beloved and long-serving President William P. Miller. President Bishop got off on the wrong foot by immediately firing all the Deans. They were able to remain employed but in a lesser role. Kent Randall eventually became the Dean of the School of Technology. He was very amiable but many felt that he favored the Department of Manufacturing Technology (where he taught for many years) when it came to resources and equipment.
At first, I taught mainly programming language courses such as FORTRAN, COBOL, PL1, and RPG. Students would have to put their programs on punched cards using the Hollerith code and student lab aids would carry the cards over to the Computer Center where they would be read by a card reader into the IBM 360 computer which handled both academic and administrative computing. Students would get one run a day! If they left out a comma or if a card jammed in the card reader, that run failed. There were only 2 or 3 card punch machines which students had to fight for so that made the environment contentious. At about this time, the college was able to buy another 32K of core memory to supplement the existing 32K – at a price of $40,000 (today, 16 GB of memory is $5).
At this time, the process for students to register for classes was very archaic. As faculty, we would sit at a table in the Union Building with a tray of punched cards for each of our classes. Students would line up and ask for a card for a particular class. The number of cards for a class equaled the allowed enrollment for that class with a few extra cards if we as faculty felt the student was a hardship case and deserved to enroll. Prerequisites were on the honor system. Students learned how to cry and beg for one of the extra cards. The usual argument was “You know that some students will withdraw!” When a student had collected all of their cards for each class they wanted, they would turn them in for processing by the main frame computer and they would be registered. These are the days when a class schedule would be printed listing all of the classes for every department. On-line registration came later and was heaven sent.
Sometime in the 1970’s, the Department of Data Processing was moved to the School of Business and combined with Accounting to become the Department of Accounting and Data Processing. The Chair was Alan Simkins who did a good job and was fair with resources for the two areas. At this time, business computing was becoming more prevalent so it seemed to make sense but the Data Processing faculty were concerned that the scientific portion of the curriculum might be compromised. It was proposed that we have a Business Option and a Scientific Option which was approved and preserved many of our courses. Students could follow the path of their choice which was pretty much the same for the Associate level but diverged for the last 2 years.
Around 1978, tenure reared its ugly head and I was found deficient having only a Masters’ degree without any research or publications. Computer Science Phd degrees were still in their infancy and mostly very theoretical and not related to our curriculum. Degrees in Data Processing did not exist. There was a new national Certification available called the CDP (Certificate of Data Processing) which required knowledge in many areas of Computing. I studied for it, took the test and received that certification. I hoped it would carry the same weight as the CPA in Accounting but that was not to be the case. An accounting professor, Robert Lewis, approached me and asked if I would be interested in co-authoring a business programming textbook as he also needed a significant publication for tenure. We started a 3-year project writing “Business Fortran – a Structured Approach”. Structured programming was the new methodology for software development so we hit it at the right time. The book was published in 1981 by Wadsworth Publishing Company. The college had just purchased a new computer from the fast-growing company, Digital Equipment Corporation. The new DEC-10 computer had a word processor which was very archaic compared to current word processors but it helped speed up the writing process. The DEC-10 facilitated remote work stations which allowed us to work on our book from our offices and provided our students more than one run a day. In our computer lab room, the punched card machines were replaced by 5 remote work stations which was “heaven” to our students. There were sign-up sheets for the work stations to minimize wait time. I was also the sole author of the text “DEC-10 Supplement to Lawlor’s Basic” also published by Wadsworth which helped students use a well-known text in Basic Programming and adapt it into a DEC-10 environment. Because the publications were not yet completed, I was refused tenure at first but appealed the decision and Dello Dayton, Academic VP, finally gave me approval. Soon after, I was promoted to the rank of Associate Professor.
In the early 80’s, a fellow faculty member, Leonard Nicholas, and I decided to take up racquetball and enjoyed playing each week. Later, a new faculty member, Ron Peterson, joined with us and we spent many hours playing. Ron and I continued playing from the mid 80’s to beyond retirement, a period of over 30 years!
With a family of 7 children, finances were a little tight so Leonard Nicholas and I decided to form a consulting company called Hart Associates and then later Computer Solutions of Utah. We had already started to help an Ogden company who did medical billing for doctors and clinics. Their current system had problems and limitations so we sold them a new computer system and developed the software for it according to their specifications. It was a real learning experience but successful. We learned that Park City was looking for a new Municipal computer system so we sold them the same type of computer and developed a municipal software package. Telluride, Colorado became interested in our system since they are very similar to Park City. We sold them the same computer and software but due to lack of adequate documentation, we were notified that they were going to sue us (documentation was not our strong suit!). We hired an attorney and he was able to smooth things over for us for $250. We were able to provide additional training and documentation and we all lived happily ever after.
Around this time, I started to experiment with an automated gradebook system which ran on the DEC-10 computer. I used it for several of my classes as did professor Robert Lewis. We traveled to Billings, Montana and made a presentation of the system at a Computer Aided Instruction conference. That was my first (and maybe only) experience presenting at a conference.
In the spring of 1983, I was teaching a night class at Hill Air Force Base as our department often did - catering mostly to civil servants and military contractors. After class one night, a student approached me and introduced himself as Phil Nelson, a program manager for TRW, a defense contractor working on the Minuteman Missile system. He said that they were looking for software developers and wondered if I would be interested. I was getting a little burned out in my teaching duties and knew that some real-world experience would enhance my teaching but didn’t want to sever my employment with Weber State. I applied for and received a one year Leave of Absence without pay so I could pursue work with TRW. I was assigned to work on the “Execution Plan Program” related to the Minuteman Missile which required a few trips to SAC Headquarters at Offutt AFB in Omaha, Nebraska in order to test our software on actual Minuteman computers. The work was very rewarding and interesting and so I asked for an additional year of absence without pay from Weber State and was granted it. I did help the department out by teaching a few night classes during this time. In the following years, I was able to continue my work with TRW on a part-time basis.
One year during the 1980’s, the state budget was very tight so it was announced that there would be no salary increase – no cost of living or merit. This would be the first time that I could recollect and, of course, everyone was very unhappy. A few weeks later, our administration announced that they would try and compensate for the state’s lack of money by paying each employee’s share of their TIAA-CREF contribution. This amounted to a nice raise after all. But it gets better! They continued to do that in the following years. This resulted in 14% of our salary being contributed to TIAA-CREF, all paid by the college/university (over 20 years for me).
Under President Stephen Nadauld, Weber State College was granted University status by the State Legislature. On New Year’s Eve of 1990, I remember walking with several of my children up to the far west side of campus for the midnight ceremony. A big brick wall was unveiled which displayed “Weber State University” and the celebration included fireworks. It seems it was about this time that the transition was made from quarters to semesters which required a lot of curriculum work. Most of the campus went to 3 credit hour classes which meant a full load would be teaching 4 classes. Computer Science argued for 4 credit hour classes (and won) which allowed a full teaching load of 3 classes. It was beneficial having students in class four consecutive days and having no classes on Friday made a valuable preparation day.
In the early 1990’s, I was asked to serve as Department Chairman which did not excite me but perhaps it was my turn. Warren Hill was now the Dean of the School of Technology which was renamed the College of Applied Science and Technology (COAST). Dean Hill was very fair and easy to work with but personality clashes within the department were sometimes difficult. I tried to be a peacemaker and somewhat succeeded. Our number of majors was soaring towards 1000 and we were expanding our curriculum to the Davis Center and Salt Lake Community College. This required several adjunct teachers and full-time advisors. Allocating budget monies for labs required lots of my time. Our curriculum was very dynamic with the field changing so rapidly. Students could now choose between a Software Engineering option or a Networking option. The Networking option was mostly hosted on Unix based computers for which Professor Robert Capener was a strong advocate.
It was decided that we should teach our full Bachelor’s Degree at SLCC so as Department Chair, I made several trips there to arrange for classrooms and computer resources and instructors. Advising became a challenge but it also became part of the equation. Sometimes our classes there were denied access to computer labs and so that required some diplomacy.
At this time, computer graphics was becoming very popular with the prevalence of Disney animated movies and video games and so I volunteered to teach a Computer Graphics course using a software package called DI-3000. It required higher level math which I had, including matrix algebra. It was fun to see the student projects. I also volunteered to teach the Compiler Design course which was very interesting and somewhat theoretical. Both courses required a lot of preparation but were very gratifying.
At this time, distance learning was becoming popular and I was one of the first, if not the first, faculty to teach a class originating on campus and the class itself in a remote classroom at the original Davis Center (Northwest corner of Main and Antelope streets in Layton). I taught the class in a small studio in front of a camera and the class could see me on a screen in the classroom. As I recall, they could ask questions but I could not see them. Two or three times during the semester, I visited the classroom and taught there so they could see me in person and have a more intimate experience.
Online courses became very popular using no classroom – students receiving instruction and assignments on their home computers and professors teaching on their office computers. I also taught a few of those courses which proved challenging given the nature of many Computer Science courses.
In the 1990’s, a federal government sponsored computer language, ADA (named after Lord Byron’s daughter), became popular for military software applications and I became familiar with it and taught several courses both on campus and at HAFB. I was asked to go back to New Jersey and teach a 2-week course to military people. I enjoyed the experience, especially one weekend when I traveled to New York and saw “Phantom of the Opera”!
Over the years, my office moved from Building 2 to Building 1 to Building 4 to the new Engineering Technology building and finally to the Technical Education building. The Technical Education building was a challenge at the outset because Cosmetology was located next door and the smell was quite offensive. It moved to the ATC shortly thereafter.
With the year 2000 approaching, there was world-wide concern that most computer systems would fail raising havoc and disaster. The reason was simple – in most computer data bases, the “year” datum was stored as two digits so 1995 was stored as “95”. The year 2000 would be stored as “00” which would look like 1900 which could make a mortgage payment appear to be 100 years late! I was asked to serve on the University Y2K committee and we met once a month for a couple of years. Various IT departments reported on their plans and precautions for coping with this challenge. Most IT systems made simple corrections prior to January 1, 2000 and so the Y2K problem proved to be a non-event pretty much world-wide.
The day of Tuesday, September 11, 2001 started off pretty normal – watching the “Today Show” with Matt Lauer and Katie Couric while eating breakfast. Suddenly, their news feed video switched to the north tower of the World Trade Center and an airplane that had just crashed into it. At first, it was attributed to a careless, perhaps inexperienced, pilot who had lost control of their aircraft. But moments later, a second aircraft was shown crashing into the south tower which brought suspicion of a possible terrorist attack. I went to work and taught my 8 am class. With radios blaring everywhere, I learned that the twin towers had collapsed perhaps killing thousands of people. After another plane crashed into the Pentagon, there was no doubt that it was a terrorist attack. I canceled my classes for the rest of the day and also a department meeting I had scheduled. The University president, Paul Thompson, canceled all classes the rest of the day. Certainly, a day that we all will remember! There seemed to be a pall over my classes for the next few days.
About this time, I served a second term as Department Chair. A big task was to transition classes to the new (and current) Davis Center. The goal was to have students be able to earn a complete degree at that location. In order to bring more unity into the department, I solicited the help of Ann Millner (not President yet) to conduct a team-building workshop for a complete day. Stu Boyd also helped with curriculum development strategies. They both worked in the Continuing Education area. At this time, our majors numbered close to 1000 and job opportunities were plentiful. Our department met with an Advisory Council regularly consisting of managers from industries that hired our students. They gave us valuable feedback on what their needs were and the skills they were looking for. We made modifications to our curriculum accordingly in some cases.
I attended the annual SIGCSE (Computer Science Education professional society) conference on a regular basis. It was held in cities all over the USA. Workshops were held on how to teach various Computer Science classes/topics and many textbook publishers were there displaying all of the latest texts (back in the day when students bought textbooks!) that were popular. We were able to order for free the ones that we thought we might adopt. I would receive 20-25 books in the mail and display them in our conference room for faculty to peruse.
On one occasion, we had an opening for a new faculty member and were going through the interviewing process. An employee from Iomega named David Ferro was a candidate. Despite some excellent credentials and experience, he was not our first choice. The first choice withdrew and so we hired Dave and now he is the boss!
On the lighter side, I became known as the department prankster specializing in April Fools jokes. I lived very close to campus and would enter the department offices around midnight and wreak havoc – tape desk drawers shut with masking tape, jig telephones so they wouldn’t work, mount cups of water over office doors so they would spill on those entering, etc. The next morning, April 1, was filled with good-natured drama.
Graduation ceremonies were always a highlight. It was very rewarding to see our graduates and their spouses and families at commencement/convocation and to mingle with them. Most were very gracious towards faculty who had helped them over the years. I wished that more faculty would have participated in these events.
Another highlight was Christmas and semester breaks which gave me a much-needed rest and time to prepare. I felt that I had worked hard during my career. I always tried to be very prepared for class and my exams were rigorous. For programming courses, I required segments of program code to be written which were not easy to correct. I really enjoyed testing and correcting and grading – not always a favorite for most faculty. I taught summer whenever I could to support a family of nine persons!
Overall, it was a very enjoyable and satisfying career of 36 years. Demanding, yet flexible, with lots of good people with whom I was able to work and associate.