Queen's University

Spring Reunion returnee recalls working on Queen's first computer

 
2011-05-27

Christopher “Kit” Pullen, ’61, came to Queen’s from Oakville in 1957 to study mechanical engineering. He planned to work in the field after he graduated. Everything was going according to plan until one day in his final year.

“I still recall sitting in my thermodynamics class,” says Pullen, who is coming back to Queen’s this weekend to take part in Spring Reunion, “when [Engineering] Dean Conn, our professor, told us that the university just got its first computer.”

Dean Conn then showed Pullen and his classmates the new Bendix G-15 computer. Produced by Bendix, a manufacturer of washing machines, the computer stood 5 by 3 feet, and weighed a staggering 950 lbs. It cost $60,000. The computer was housed in Richardson Hall.

Pullen remembers Dean Conn saying that he wanted to learn something about how this new machine operated, so he arranged a session for his students to try it out. When they arrived at Richardson, they found a washing-machine sized device whose only controls were the keys of a typewriter. “Needless to say, none of us got much further than figuring out how to record and then print back our names,” says Pullen. But that day, he left intrigued by this new computer machine. He went on to work at IBM, where he remained for several years.

The front page of the brochure of the Bendix G-15, which was the first computer at Queen's.

Pullen is now one of the world’s leading experts on converting the Inuktitut language into computer software. He’s a founding member of Multilingual E-Data Solutions, the company tapped by Northwestel to develop the Trilingual English-French-Inuktitut Living Dictionary (livingdictionary.com). Their work is instrumental in the written preservation of the Inuit language.

Pullen’s career path is not the only thing that didn’t go according to plan. He remembers attending alumni reunion weekend as a student, and watching the 30th anniversary reunion parade of the class of 1930. He remembers thinking. “I’m never going to be that old.” At Queen’s Spring Reunion, Kit Pullen and his classmates will celebrate their 50th anniversary of their graduation.

As well as getting together for class activities, the members of the class of 1961 will be feted by the Queen’s Principal and Chancellor at a special Tricolour Guard Dinner on May 28.
 

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