Lifetime Achievement Awards | 2019

J. Wesley Graham

J. Wesley Graham

From the 1960s to almost 2000, Professor J. Wesley Graham’s pioneering work and leadership changed the way programming and other computer-related skills were taught at the University of Waterloo, across Canada and internationally. Thousands of copies of the software produced under his direction were used in over 60 countries, and influenced the teaching of hundreds of thousands of students as well as encouraging dramatic improvements in software development for business and government. His impact on Canadian and international computer science education and software development practices has been dramatic.

Wes Graham recognized that commercial software was not designed for teaching,  as a program-run took a minimum of 30 seconds, while an error produced an incomprehensible pile of paper. Teaching large groups of students with this software would not work and so, in 1965, Wes led four students and a junior faculty member in building WATFOR (Waterloo Fortran Compiler) for the IBM 7040 computer to solve the speed and error problems. This software made the University of Waterloo a leader in teaching undergraduate students about computers. WATFOR was re-implemented with the advent of the IBM 360.

Tens of thousands of copies of this software have been used in over 60 countries, influencing the teaching of hundreds of thousands of students. Recognizing that these techniques could make dramatic improvements in software development led to use of WATFOR and WATFIV by business and government.

Recognition that FORTRAN could be improved led to WATFIV (Waterloo FORTRAN IV), and the introduction of structured programming (WATFIV-S). Many of these enhancements were incorporated into the FORTRAN standard. Wes Graham and two colleagues wrote two texts, “FORTRAN IV with WATFOR” and “FORTRAN IV with WATFOR and WATFIV,” which sold millions of copies.

Wes Graham led the development of other educational software, including software for COBOL, Pascal, Basic, APL, and local area networks called Waterloo MicroNET, Waterloo JANET and MacJANET. His research also created early versions of word processors, spreadsheets and databases.

Computers were needed to support this education and in the early 60’s Wes Graham convinced the University of Waterloo to invest in an IBM 7040 computer. With the creation of the Faculty of Mathematics at Waterloo, Wes Graham again provided leadership to obtain an IBM 360/75, the largest computer installed in Canada. Because of the widespread use of Waterloo software, Wes acquired over $35,000,000 from major computer companies such as IBM, Digital Equipment and Hewlett Packard.

Wes Graham also influenced computer studies in Ontario secondary schools by helping to build the first curriculum and leading development of hardware and software for secondary school students.

By the late 70’s, many University of Waterloo students wanted to be entrepreneurs in computing. Wes Graham sought a solution in which the University and students could jointly benefit. The first opportunity occurred in 1981/82 when three of his former students started WATCOM, now a division of SAP, to produce educational software. Wes worked with these students, this spin-off company and the University to establish a model for a mutually beneficial relationship. This approach has been applied many times to create University of Waterloo spin-off companies. Other successful spin-offs such as Waterloo Maple and Open Text, employed the model pioneered by Wes Graham.

To recognize the contributions of Wes Graham, the University of Waterloo created the J.W. Graham Medal in Computing and Innovation in 1994, a medal awarded annually to a University of Waterloo graduate who exemplifies many of Graham’s qualities. In 1978, Wes Graham received the Distinguished Teacher Award from the University of Waterloo and in 1999, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Wes Graham also contributed to professional organizations. He was President of the Canadian Information Processing Society (CIPS) for two terms, and was made an a CIPS Honorary Fellow in 1977. As Canadian Water Ski Association President, Wes pioneered automation of the scoring of water ski tournaments, first used in 1979 at the World Water Ski Championships. Wes Graham received a Builder Award in 1989 from Water Ski Canada.

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