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Computer Engineering A Historical Perspective

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1997 Annual Conference


Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Publication Date

June 15, 1997

Start Date

June 15, 1997

End Date

June 18, 1997



Page Count


Page Numbers

2.106.1 - 2.106.6



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Martha E. Sloan

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2632

Computer Engineering - A Historical Perspective

Martha Sloan Michigan Technological University

I. Introduction

The development of computers in the last half century plus has, by any criteria, been one of the major technologies impacting civilization. Electrical and computer engineering departments have shouldered much of the burden of preparing professionals to make use of this vital technology. Many of today's current faculty have lived through the entire period of the evolution of digital computers. Others, newer to the profession, have always had computers available to them but have witnessed their growth and distribution. This paper reviews the history of the changes in electrical engineering departments in the United States to incorporate computers. It ends with projections into the next century of the challenges ahead.

II. The Early Years (Before 1960)

The early years of computers coincided with rapid growth in many other areas of electronics to which electrical engineering departments, as they were then almost universally called, had to adapt. World War II saw great advances in radar and a recognition of the need for more research and graduate education, which greatly impacted electrical engineering departments in the 1940's and 1950's. The need for education in electronics gradually crowded out education in power in many departments. The 1950's was the decade of the emergence of the transistor and solid-state electronics, primarily in analog applications. [1-3]. Computers were secondary to electronics as a subject for education. In fact, computers themselves were just entering universities for administrative calculations. As the end of the 1950's , few electrical engineering departments owned or even had access to digital computers.

III. The Sixties

The 1960's saw the widespread expansion of digital computers and other digital systems. This expansion created demands for two types of computer professionals--those who could design and build computers and those who could program them. Electrical engineering departments provided courses in logic design for computer designers, but courses in computer programming and numerical analysis were usually taught elsewhere on campus, first in mathematics departments and then in the emerging computer science departments [4-5].

Despite the underlying importance of electronics to computers, electrical engineering departments were relatively slow to start offering courses on digital computers. A survey of 53 large engineering schools in 1963 found that a higher percentage of industrial engineering departments than electrical engineering departments taught computer courses. In fact electrical engineering departments required fewer semester hours of computer courses than did the average engineering department. [6]

The Ford Foundation funded a project to improve the use of computers in undergraduate

Sloan, M. E. (1997, June), Computer Engineering A Historical Perspective Paper presented at 1997 Annual Conference, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 10.18260/1-2--6458

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