Engineering News
March 8, 2004, Vol. 74, No. 8S

A TRIP DOWN HISTORY LANE: During the 30th anniversary celebration of the CS Division on February 27 and 28, staff and faculty marked the three-decade existence of computer science and its merger under the EECS umbrella. At the event, Professor Richard Karp spoke on how the CS division was born 30 years ago.

CS Division celebrates 30th anniversary

On February 28, the CS Division of the EECS Department, formed during academic year 1973-1974, celebrated its 30-year anniversary. Three decades ago, the Department of Computer Science in the College of Letters and Science, merged with the longer established EECS Department.

The merger was characterized by some political tension among departments, but the move served to enrich the EECS department and to make Berkeley a true powerhouse in computer science and engineering.

Berkeley has had a rich history of computer science research, even before any computer science department was established. In the early 1950s, EE professor Paul Morton built one of the first digital computers in the western United States. This computer utilized magnetic drum devices, and Morton's graduate student Al Hoagland (who also served briefly on the EE faculty) laid down the groundwork research that led to the creation of the first disc drive a few years later. Hoagland and Morton were respectively considered the “father and grandfather of the disc drive.”

In 1965, the EE department changed its name to EECS to incorporate their added focus on computer science classes within the EE major. In 1967, the University's first CS department was formed in the College of Letters and Science.
Soon after, the administration realized that they couldn't afford two parallel CS programs running at the same time.
Much controversy and discussion ensued about what should be done to rectify the situation.

“At the time his was a highly volatile and political situation,” remembers EECS professor Richard Karp.

A committee was formed in the early 1970s to deliberate the fate of the two departments. Those who hoped that the committee would recommend to keep the departments separate were disappointed when the decision came down to merge them under the auspices of the College of Engineering's EECS department.

Despite the merger, the University continues to offer CS degrees through the College of Letters and Science. Currently, CS and EECS students take the same classes.

The benefit of centralizing the computer science department under the College of Engineering was to enrich the EECS major.

“Because CS and EE are in the same department the two disciplines interact in fields such as computer-aided design, circuit design and computer architecture. This has helped advance the program at Berkeley. Our EECS students graduate with a broad technological background and with expertise in software and circuit design,” says EECS professor Randy Katz.

The biggest difference between EECS and CS majors is that CS students tend to focus on software courses and programming while EECS students are more science oriented and interested in designing hardware.

During the dot-com boom EECS experienced a surge in applications as students were drawn to the CS part of EECS. Today, says Katz, the major is much more balanced.

For more information and to watch video excerpts from the event go to netshow01.eecs.berkeley.edu:8000/BEARS.


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