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TUT’s education in computing races to the forefront

Tampere University of Technology established a professorship in computer science and engineering in 1980.
Under the leadership of Professor Reino Kurki-Suonio TUT’s education in computing raced to the forefront.
Under the leadership of Professor Reino Kurki-Suonio TUT’s education in computing raced to the forefront.

Professor Reino Kurki-Suonio, who had worked for 15 years as Professor of Computer Science at the University of Tampere, was invited to take the position. Many were surprised that the new professorship was of interest to Kurki-Suonio, who was widely regarded as an expert and pioneer in the field.

The decision was based on many reasons, of which possibly the most important one was the fruitful cooperation with the energetic and visionary professor of the Department of Electronics, Yrjö Neuvo.

"I found it a refreshing challenge that the environment at the University of Technology provided different opportunities for education and research development than the University of Tampere, which was mostly focused on social sciences", Kurki-Suonio explains.

The slate was all but clean for something new

"When I came to TUT, the education in software engineering was quite modest. I was truly able to start with a clean slate."

"The first decision to make was whether to establish the professorship in the department of mathematics or electronics. My background was in mathematics but, in my view, education in software engineering should be linked with hardware expertise, which led me to choose electronics."

Compared to other universities, TUT was fairly late in establishing the professorship in computer science and engineering, but in Kurki-Suonio’s opinion the time was just right for the new position.

"Microprocessors had recently had their breakthrough and were rapidly becoming commonplace in the industry. We were able to get on board with a massive developmental step forward."

In hindsight, it has been estimated that the rapid development of information technology as a result of microprocessors has changed TUT the most. By combining electronics and computer science, the university established an entirely new perspective into technology while retaining its characteristic open-minded approach.

"If someone succeeded and got research support, we all celebrated together. No one ever thought someone else’s success somehow detracted from theirs."

Growth begins rapidly

"In training engineers, I decided that a good guideline would be to establish proper programming skills. They would be founded on a solid understanding of programming languages and operating systems as well as the ability to process core data structures. Instead of collecting a wealth of detailed information on specifics, I found it important to understand the systems and processes behind them", Kurki-Suonio explains.

In 1983, the education in computer science and engineering was separated from the Department of Electronics. Five years later it was divided into the departments of software engineering and signal processing due to its staggering growth.

In the mid-1980s, TUT established a research institute for pervasive computing, which later developed into the Digital Media Institute in the 1990s. It was primarily created for cooperation between the university and the business sector. Kurki-Suonio, too, saw the opportunities computer science could provide for industry.

"I have always valued cooperation with industry and seen it as a core duty of the university."

Kurki-Suonio had already initiated cooperation at the University of Tampere with the help of Softplan Ab. The company, which focused on designing and developing programming language compilers and system software, was established as a subsidiary of Nokia. As the part-time scientific director of Softplan, Kurki-Suonio involved students in the software engineering projects.

Programming for companies

Kurki-Suonio brought the Softplan cooperation with him to TUT, where it was received with great enthusiasm. After all, TUT was seen as the university for the industry and the ‘Nokia university’.

Kurki-Suonio was also involved with setting up the OHKO training for software project leaders at TUT, which enabled hundreds of Finnish companies to obtain software expertise.

"It was not a scientific accomplishment but had value in terms of fulfilling a social purpose and developing businesses", Kurki-Suonio says.

Fragmented scientific field

Reino Kurki-Suonio retired from his position as Professor of Computer Science and Engineering in 2002.

"When I began my career in the 1960s, computing appeared to me as a unified field. This is not the case anymore."

"With the Internet, we have transitioned into a culture of information technology where presenting, saving and transferring information are part of everything we do. As a scientific field, pervasive computing has become fragmented and the same has happened to training and research in the field."

At TUT, the Department of Pervasive Computing is currently responsible for the education of computing and programming throughout the university. The title ‘Pervasive Computing’ is a good indication of the department’s approach to computing that permeates every aspect of our lives.

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News submitted by: Mika Puonti
Keywords: education and studies, science and research, services and collaboration, information systems, working at tut, about tut, image and communications, pervasive computing