Prof Sebastiaan Hendricus von Solms is the longest serving University of Johannesburg (UJ) employee – with four and a half decades (45 years) of Information Technology (IT) innovation! Prof von Solms was awarded a certificate of long service, together with other UJ employees with 40, 35, 30, 25, and 20 years, on Thursday, 4 February 2016, held at the Johannesburg Country Club.
The University annually celebrates its long serving staff members at a gathering where employees and their families are invited to share the memory with their loved ones. Second to Prof von Solms is Prof Christoffel Petrus Hendrikus Myburgh with 40 years in the Educational Psychology Department at the Kingsway Campus.
Making the list were Executive Leadership Group (ELG) members: Prof Amanda Dempsey (30 years), Executive Dean: Faculty of Economic and Financial Science (FEFS); Prof Sarah Gravett (25 years), Executive Dean: Faculty of Education; and Senior Director: Campuses, Dr Joe Manyaka (25 years). Prof Rory Patrick Ryan (20 years); Prof Elizabeth Marie Ehlers (35 years); Mr Jurgen Hendrik Greeff (35 years); Prof Lorraine Greyling (35 years); Mrs Magdelina Strydom (35 years); and Prof Grietjie Verhoef (35 years) were among the people receiving acknowledgement for their long service at the University.
A huge portion of the employees receiving their long service acknowledgement were concentrated in the 20 years category. A total of 126 people were celebrated at the event.
We asked Prof von Solms a few questions about his work journey at UJ. Here is a timeline on how and when he started working at the University of Johannesburg in 1970:
MEMORY: “My journey started early and is coming to its end, but the future lies open for the present generation to develop applications that we cannot even envisage at this stage.”
I started my journey at the Rand Afrikaans University (RAU) on 1 October 1970 where I was appointed as a Lecturer in the newly established Department of Computer Science, which was formally approved by the Senate in June 1970. The first courses were offered from January 1970.
In 1972, I completed my PhD in Computer Science (one of the first in SA), and was promoted to Senior Lecturer. In 1978, I became the Chair of the Department of Computer Science, a position I filled until I stepped back in 2006.
During those early years there were basically only big mainframe computers, and students had to prepare their programmes on coding forms, and the programmes had then to be converted by a punch card machine into a set of punch cards. These cards were then submitted to the mainframe and the student received an error list which had to be corrected and the whole process repeated again. There were no such things like desk top computers. These first years were very challenging, especially as far as teaching Computer Science was concerned. No real text books and syllabi existed and had to be created from scratch.
In the early 1980s, the University created its first hands-on laboratory for Computer Science students consisting of Burroughs B20 mini computers – one of the first such labs in SA. Students could now work directly on these computers and had a much greater experience of actually using a computer.
That time, the Internet was still far away! A few years later, the IBM Personal Computer (PC) was announced, and labs were refitted with these new ‘wonder machines’. Still the idea of portable computers did not yet exist, neither the concept of public networks. Remote access to the mainframe computers was the exception.
In the late 1990s, computer networks developed faster and the Internet gave it first steps.
I was privileged that my academic journey in Computer Science started at the dawn of the discipline, the start, and I could have been part of and experience the massive developments in the IT fields over the years. This excitement of trying to keep pace with the development from these early days, and create a solid academic environment in Computer Science, was extremely rewarding. I am proud that I could, over the years, be part of establishing Computer Science and Informatics as an academic discipline, and be part of the internationally acclaimed Academy for Computer Science and Software Engineering we now have at UJ.
The IT field, and especially the concept of Cyber Space, will be the big challenge for new students, but will provide unbelievable opportunities in coming years. It is acknowledged globally that the demand for expertise in the cyber field is among the highest, if not the highest, amongst all professional disciplines.
My journey started early and is coming to its end, but the future lies open for the present generation to develop applications that we cannot even envisage at this stage.
My academic career was very rich and rewarding, and I thank the University of Johannesburg for giving me this opportunity. In the last instance I thank the Lord Almighty who made this all possible for me.