The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

Sort Interviews by Affiliation or Theme

Tom Yates Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

February 10, 2016


“The Early Years of Computing at Oregon State”  February 10, 2016  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Yates provides an overview of his family background and upbringing in Washington state and the Bay Area, noting his memories of the attack on Pearl Harbor, his love of reading, and an early job that he held with the Hartford Insurance Company. He then describes his military experience as an enlistee in the Navy near the end of World War II. From there, he discusses the circumstances that led to his enrolling in undergraduate studies in Mathematics at Willamette University, his first job following college at Scott Air Force Base, and various other jobs that followed.

The session then turns its attention to Yates' career in computer programming. In this, he recalls his initial employment as a statistician for the Oregon Highway Department, his move to Boeing to work as a computer programmer, and the enormous IBM 704 computer that was then in use at Boeing. He then recalls his return to Oregon, where he was among the first people to be hired by the state as a computer programmer.

The remainder of the interview is primarily devoted to Yates' years of service to Oregon State University. In providing an overview of this period, Yates touches upon the state of computing on campus at the time of his arrival in 1962; the imperfect process that finally resulted in automated class scheduling in the late 1960s; a sabbatical that he took to Australia in 1975; and his memories of being named director of the OSU Computer Center in 1976. Yates likewise notes the major expansion of the computing infrastructure at Oregon State that occurred during his term as director, and touches upon a few mistakes that he made during his administrative career. The session concludes with notes on family and activities in retirement.