Professor Harry D Huskey – A Tribute by V. Rajaraman

Professor Harry D. Huskey

Professor Harry D Huskey, an Honorary Fellow of the Computer Society of India, passed away on April 9, 2017, at the age of 101 at Santa Cruz, California. I came to know him in 1963 when he was visiting IIT, Kanpur. At that time, he was a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of California at Berkeley. Kanpur Indo American Programme (a contractor of the United States Agency for International Development – USAID) that had the task of assisting India to set up an Institute of Technology at Kanpur requested Professor Huskey to lead a team to establish a computer centre at IIT/Kanpur. He along with Professors Forman Acton and Irving Rabinowitz of Princeton University formed the team. USAID bought an IBM 1620, a transistorised computer that was popular in U.S. educational institutions, to be installed at IIT/Kanpur. In August 1963, the IBM 1620 arrived on campus and was very quickly installed by IBM engineers and the computer started running. Professor Huskey and his team installed the system and applications software, including FORGO a load and go version of FORTRAN II compiler that had been developed at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, U.S.A.

Professor Harry Huskey was a pioneer in computing. He was earlier a member of the ENIAC team that built one of the first computers in the World. He had also worked with Alan Turing at the National Physical Laboratory in U.K. in building the ACE computer. Besides these he designed and built one of the first computers with a magnetic drum, Bendix G15(See Wikipedia). He was a versatile computer scientist who had the breadth of knowledge, not only to build computers but also to develop complex systems software. He designed a version of Algol called NELIAC (Naval Electronics Laboratory version of the International Algorithmic Language) while at Berkeley (See Wikipedia). His PhD student Nicklaus Wirth who worked on compilers for his doctoral work later on designed Pascal. Professor Huskey was one of the early Presidents of ACM, U.S.A. and a Fellow of ACM.

IBM 1620 was the first computer in an educational institution in India and also the first computer with a high-level programming language, FORGO. Professor Huskey as the leader of the American group designed what he called the “Ten-day intensive course on Computation”, intended for the faculty of IIT and also scientists and engineers from other Universities and research establishments in India. The course consisted of Programming using FORGO, basic numerical methods, and computer logic. An important part of the course was a three hours laboratory session in which all the participants of the course wrote and executed programs they wrote using FORGO. During his stay at Kanpur the course was given four times, once every three months. There were about 50 participants in each course. The course was very popular and after he left, the faculty at IIT, Kanpur, whom he had trained continued giving the course. This course was instrumental in rapidly spreading computer education in India. He also initiated the formation of IBM users’ group with representatives of all IBM computers that were then in India, most of them IBM 1401s. The first meeting was held at the IBM education centre at Faridabad. This meeting was the forerunner of the formation of the Computer Society of India. In early 1964 he organized the first International Conference on Computing to be held in India at IIT, Kanpur. It was at the end of this meeting that a decision was taken to form the Computer Society of India (See CSI Communications, Volume 38, September 2014, page 8). Professor Harry Huskey had a missionary zeal to spread computer education throughout the developing world. He spent a year in Burma (now Myanmar) in the late 60s and visited India again to assist Delhi University to set up their Computer Centre (Delhi University had bought an IBM 1620) in the seventies. He also assisted an African country to set up a computer centre.

He invited me to come to the University of California in Berkeley and I spent 1965-66 as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Electrical Engineering department. It was there that I came to know him and his family better. He was a great teacher and I attended many of his lectures and learnt a lot from him. He left Berkeley to set up a new (now excellent) Department of Computer Science at the University of California at Santa Cruz. H retired when he was 80 and was very active even after retirement.

In his passing away our profession has lost a pioneer and the Computer Society of India one of its best friends.

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