Gavilan instructor continues to share his real-world experiences
with students
Most teachers pride themselves on real world experience. But one professor at Gavilan College offers a half a century of working with computers.

Computer Science instructor Dennie van Tassel, 65, has watched computers evolve since 1957 and offers students at Gavilan a little bit of his knowledge.

The ENIAC machine, regarded as the first computer, was completed in 1946 and required 1,000 square-feet of floor space. The first commercial model, the UNIVAC, went on the market in 1948. Both computers were bulky, slow and required punch-cards to operate.

Apple started the microcomputer revolution in 1976, but most of these computers were for hobbyists. IBM in 1981 developed the first personal computer, PC, which offered a spread sheet software program for businesses.

Tassel, a teacher for 38 years, began working for the community college at the height of the dot com boom in the late 1990s.

When he joined, computer instructors with real world experience were hard to find since many were joining the tech field for the money.

But Tassel, a Morgan Hill resident, said he wanted to teach.

Tassel began teaching in 1967 at the University of California, Santa Cruz, which had one computer in the entire university: an IBM 1620, with four kilobytes of core memory (computers today have more than 1 million times more memory).

In the early 90s, the university was facing budget short falls and Tassel was forced into early retirement. For the next few years, Tassel became what he called a freeway flyer, a teacher who goes from school to school for his classes. He taught at Hartnell, Cabrillo and West Valley community colleges.

Finally, in 1998, Tassel got a full time job with Gavilan when computer classes were always filled.

“We could have offered a class at four in the morning and it would be filled,” Tassel said.

Tassel said some of his students landed jobs that paid around $70,000, and some, he admitted, were not the best students.

The bubble has since burst on the dot coms but Tassel said his classes are still doing well.

Tassel’s classes are offered both at the main campus in Gilroy and the Morgan Hill site on Dunne Avenue and Monterey Road.

Students from all different education levels have taken courses from Tassel at Gavilan. He said many already have their bachelor’s degrees and some have masters or even Ph.D. degrees.

Tassel began his computer career in the U.S. Marine Corps where his math skills allowed him to take one of two paths: be a mechanic or work in data processing.

He joined the Marines in 1957 right out of high school knowing he might be drafted.

Computers, he said, changed little during the first 20 years of his career: They were big, slow, used punch cards and expensive.

As time went on, computers became more complex, but Tassel has been able to keep up the changes.

“I read technical manuals as if they were novels,” he said.

But for all of Tassel’s computer expertise, he has made a few errors in predicting where computers would go.

When cathoid ray tubes (computer monitors) were developed, Tassel thought they would never catch on since they were not portable and people needed to analyze the information on the cards.

Undaunted by his track record, gives a bleak outlook of computer programs in the near future.

What he calls “creeping featurism,” Tassel predicts that software and hardware will soon collapse with the continual additions. He said there needs to be a return to simplicity.

“Many programming environments that started out as useful ways to compile and debug programs,” Tassel said. “Now they have so many features that the software is near unusable by mere mortals that do not want to spend all their time wading through the unwanted features to get to the few features they want.”

But only time will tell if this prediction will come true or if it too add to the list of wrong guesses.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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