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Gittleman, Art
California State University Long Beach
Long Beach, California
 
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Art sometimes feels like a living museum of electronic digital computing. As a child, he remembers reading a Ripley’s Believe It Or Not piece on the hand calculation of pi to 707 places. By contrast, he recently reviewed a book that treated calculations of pi including some to over 200 billion digits. As a student at UCLA, he marveled at the primeval SWAC computer, one of two in the US, installed in the late 1940s and tested with numerical computations by his dissertation advisor-to-be, Magnus Hestenes. This beast filled a large room with giant tubes, and looked very much like a fictional super brain should. The computing curriculum at UCLA at the time he started consisted of a one-unit class programming the SWAC.

Art’s first technical job involved FORTRAN II programming on an IBM 1620. His numerical computations led to joint publications in the Astrophysical Journal. When he started teaching at Long Beach State College, students in the introductory programming class submitted batch jobs with a turnaround time of at least 24 hours. Trivial syntax errors took that long to fix. Now COBOL is a symbol of the past, but when he taught the introductory class, he found room for five COBOL weeks at the end of the semester to give students an additional career opportunity. Over the year, he added Pascal, LISP, Ada, C++, Java, and C# to the curriculum, as well as artificial intelligence, object-oriented design, and other courses. After these many years, languages seem relatively less important. A recent Communications of the ACM issue on service-oriented computing identifies his current interest.

Although his advisor was a computing pioneer, Art wound up completing a theoretical dissertation in optimal control theory. Rather than continuing in this area, he pursued an avid interest in history, taking over the history of mathematics course, and wrote his first textbook in that subject. He loves teaching and has taught over 60 different mathematics and computer science classes. His students have often been his teachers. In the mid-1980s when interest in object-oriented programming was starting to grow, his student wrote and implemented an object-oriented language for his Master’s thesis. He taught Art the meaning of polymorphism. In 1995, another graduate student was taking a directed study course in the Standard Template Library. Art had heard of Java, but had not looked into to it. His student gave him the white paper, and suggested he read it. Java seemed like more fun than C++, so Art started teaching it and wound up writing several Java textbooks. Appropriately, his most influential student went on to divinity school. This was not the brightest student in a number theory class, but the one who did the best project because he enjoyed it and put himself into it. Seeing the joy this student had was a revelation to someone brought up in the do-what-is-good-for-you school.

Over the years, Art has had other publications and presentations. His latest textbooks cover C# and .NET. He is currently a professor of computer science at California State University Long Beach. He has no plans to retire, as long as he continues getting paid to have fun.

 
 
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