Letter: Clarifications from one of the first graduates in computer science

By Denton Yoder '85 | July 20th, 2015

Denton Yoder

Denton Yoder ’85 works in I.T. at Virginia Tech.

In the fall/winter 2014-15 issue of Crossroads, I read that a computer science major wasn’t available when a particular alumnus graduated in 1985, so he minored in the subject. Actually, the university awarded two bachelor’s of science degrees in computer science in 1985. Dale Hartzler and I were the program’s graduates. Dale had just finished the two-year program when EMC (at that time) added the four-year program in the summer of 1983. I transferred from Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina when I heard that the BS was added.

It was difficult to get all the credits, because the classes were not taught yet. I remember going over my transcripts with [professor] Joe Mast, needing three more credits. Joe noticed that I had not had the basic programming language class. I told him I had been programming in Basic for about five years. Joe said, “It’s not on the transcript.” He didn’t make me attend the course he taught, because my work-study job was at the same time. Joe always let me take the quizzes in his office, and would give me my assignments during my 8 a.m. class. And then the other students were surprised when I showed up for the final.

Crossroads mentioned that in 1985, the PDP-11 “died.” I don’t think the PDP broke; instead nobody wanted to use it. The PDP computer was (I believe) only a 64K machine, with four terminals, splitting the memory up into 32k, 16k, and two 8k sessions.  We used it for Fortran and RPG programming. It did not have the capacity to do both. You had to boot a different disk pack, to switch programming languages, and that affected all four terminals.

Each Apple computer (used for Basic, Pascal, Modula-II, Lisp, Apple Logo) could be independently booted with whatever program a student wanted to use. The Apple was as powerful as the entire refrigerator-sized PDP.

In the fall of ‘84, the only thing I remember the PDP being used for was printing the large “Mennonites do it for relief” MCC banner that hung across the front of the chapel to advertise the relief sale. But the PDP line printer that dumped green bar continuous sheet paper was pretty awesome – when it didn’t jam.

The previous Crossroads dated the arrival of personal computers at EMU to 1987 when the business computer lab received 18 IBM-type computers. However, in the fall of 1983 when I arrived, I remember using Apple computers. In 1984, there was an IBM PC in the science center, which I used to run Turbo Pascal, a tremendous improvement over the Apple Pascal. The Apple machines had 64K memory, but the IBM PC had 640K. The 5.25-inch floppy drive was double-sided and could hold 360K per disk. It was still a few years before the 720K 3.5-inch disk was invented, and the 5.25-inch high density 1.2Meg, and then the 1.44Meg 3.5-incher. Wow, exciting changes!

After graduation, I worked on flood studies, walking every creek in Caldwell County, North Carolina – modeling the terrain on the computer, entering rainfall data, and estimating 50-, 100-, and 500-year storm water surface elevations. I then transferred to Roanoke, Virginia, as a CAD programmer, and then taught CAD for 15 years at EDSI (Engineering Design Systems, Inc.).

I have worked here at Virginia Tech since 2003, maintaining backup servers and print servers, working on web database automation, monitoring project servers or data and classroom environments, maintaining the permissions list in active directory or through Google groups, setting up group calendars… whatever is needed. I also teach the Civil-3D CAD class for our department, integrating surveying techniques from 30 years ago with civil engineering software that I have customized and taught for 25 years.