John E. L. Peck

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John Edward Lancelot Peck (August 14, 1918 – November 6, 2013) was the first permanent Head of Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia.[1] He remained the Head of Department from 1969 to 1977.

He was one of the editors of the original Report on the Algorithmic Language ALGOL 68 and a contributing editor to the Revised Report on the Algorithmic Language ALGOL 68. He has written an article outlining his personal account of being part of the design team.[2] Prior to taking up his role as the Head of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia he was the first Head of the University of Calgary's newly built Math Department.

Many of his publications are indexed on the DBLP Computer Science Bibliography site[3] and the Computer History Museum, software preservation group site.[4]

Early Years[edit]

John spent his early years in South Africa receiving a B.Sc in Mathematics and Physics at the University of Natal, after which he received a M.Sc. in mathematics. His first teaching position was lecturing in mathematics. In 1946 he took a scholarship to Yale where he obtained a Ph.D. in 1950 with a thesis on the topological semigroups. He then went on to teach at Brown for three years before returning to the University of Natal. In 1955 he emigrate to Canada and taught at the University of New Brunswick followed by four years at McGill University. He left McGill to form the Mathematics Department at the University of Calgary.

His interest in computers began in the year 1959 when he responded to a request from McGill's mathematics department to learn to program a Datatron, and his first programs were written for it. As a result of this experience he visited the University of Oklahoma to learn to program and IBM 650, another drum machine, which had an optimizing assembler called SOAP. Fortran came into the picture at this point as the translation was from Fortran to IT to SOAP to object code, where IT stood for Internal Translator. His programming at the time was in assembler code. When an IBM 650 was acquired in 1959 by McGill he was one of the few individuals who could program it. Around 1961, after arriving at the University of Calgary, the university acquired an IBM 1620. He became the computing centre director, while carrying on his duties as head of the Mathematics Department. On this machine he explored the list processing techniques and then used these to write an ALGOL 60 compiler. This led to an invitation to attend the IFIP congress as Canada's representative. At this time revisions were being made to ALGOL 60.

After his role as department head, circa 1978-1979, he continued to teach at UBC. He was seen reaching the computer centre's terminal room early morning each weekend on his old-fashioned solid bicycle beating many graduate students who headed to the terminal room to use the Amdahl mainframe in less crowded morning hours. He reached there around 9:00 o'clock weather permitting. Presumably he was working on an algol 68 compiler system. That a professor of his status was sitting and typing at the terminal at each weekend gave some unspoken lessons to the future researchers.