Programming

Courses in programming commenced when CSIRAC arrived at the University in 1955.

In the 1940s and 50s programs were written in low-level machine language specific to the particular computer system being used.

CSIRAC was used by postgraduate research students and academics as well as external parties such as the CSIRO. In 1960, Geoff Hill wrote and implemented an early high-level language, Interprogram, to be used with CSIRAC. Geoff Hill’s 1961 PhD thesis titled Advanced Programming of Digital Computers is probably the first computer science doctorate awarded in Australia.

In the 1960s the availability of the IBM 7044 and PDP-8 greatly increased the scope of the computations that could be carried out, and Fortran IV programming was introduced. These early computers were operated via control panels, and programs were input via punch cards and punched paper tape.

I remember thinking I finally found something I wanted to do — programming! Mind you it was on a system called SCUBA which were punch cards but instead of keypunching them they were marked with a pencil… nonetheless, it was new territory, all great fun!

Peter Garriga, student, 1970s

The first Theory of Computation subjects back in the 1960s aimed to give students an understanding of the fundamentals of programming, enabling them to adapt to a variety of languages, and this concept still forms the basis of current teaching.

During the early days of the department, it was difficult to give all students a ‘computer experience’. One computer was shared between a large number of students and many programming subjects were undertaken without spending any time on an actual computer.

Until the availability of PCs in the early 1980s, many students who started with the department had never seen a computer up close.

I remember waiting for results of a program compilation or test run overnight. And then the frustration when a missing full stop or mis-spelling caused the whole job to fail. We couldn’t have imagined the instant responses of today’s devices!

Cathie Jilovsky, student, graduated 1971

In the 1980s the C language was added to the curriculum. Prolog was also taught, introducing students to the concept of a logic-based declarative language.

The mid-1990s saw the introduction of C++ and the functional language Miranda, later replaced by Haskell. In the early 2000’s the object oriented language Java became a second year subject.

Languages taught within the department continue to change and cover the different imperative, functional, logical and object oriented programming paradigms.

Watch an introductory video from the early 80s: Getting Started, Department of Computer Science, University of Melbourne, 1982. This video introduces computer-science students to the practical component of their course. Using the key-board, some UNIX commands and a laboratory session are covered. Voiceover by Ed Morris.

Early Internet

Roy Muncey inputting programming into CSIRAC, 1960. Image courtesy CSIRO.
John Russell at the Flexowriter, reading output from CSIRAC, c1959. Image courtesy CSIRO.
Punch tape, c1960. MSE-CIS Heritage Collection.
Interprogram English Language Programming Manual for CSIRAC by Geoff Hill, 1960. MSE-CIS Heritage Collection.

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