Professor of computer science. An appreciation

ANDREW John Theodore Colin, who has died aged 82, was the first professor of computer science at the University of Strathclyde.

He was born in 1936 and educated at Gordonstoun School and Oxford University, where he obtained a first class degree in engineering science. His experiences there shaped his approach to the teaching of students; he quickly grew to dislike formal lectures and engaged in self-study and benefitted from the small tutorial regime.

He lectured at Birkbeck College, University of London from 1957 to 1960 when he moved to the university’s Institute of Computer Science. In the computing literature he is mentioned as a co-inventor of the binary search tree in 1960 with PF Windley, AD Booth and TN Hibbard. From 1965 to 1970 he was director of the computer laboratory at Lancaster University – founded in 1964 – with a post in the mathematics department and then the new computer studies department.

The computer science department at Strathclyde was established in 1967 and welcomed its first students in 1969. When Dr Colin arrived in August 1970 he brought new thinking to the fledgling computer science degree and set about developing a new operating systems for the university.

In 1978 he obtained a grant to buy some 105 Commodore Pet computers that were used for the teaching of programming to undergraduates for the first time in a self-paced approach to the teaching, initially, of Basic, but soon of Pascal. He placed a great emphasis on supporting students, mainly through small tutorials, printed notes and project work. In response to the developments in microprocessor technology, in 1979 he started a very successful new degree in computer science and microprocessor systems that included a compulsory industrial period for all students.

In the mid-seventies, he oversaw the separation of the department of computer science from the computing service and the move from the Royal College to the upper floors of the Livingstone Tower where it remains.

During his life he authored around 12 textbooks. Perhaps the more famous of these were his book on Operating Systems published in 1971, his Algol 68 book published in 1977 and his book on Microprocessors published in 1979.

He retired from university life in 1983 and with his wife Veronica and his colleague Jon Malone set up a company, initially called Talent Computer Systems then Colin Ross Malone, Ltd. The company specialised in educational software and in particular simulation. Their “Crocodile Chemistry” was an inorganic chemistry simulator that was widely used in schools.

In his retirement Dr Colin came back to Strathclyde and undertook teaching in the business school. He also gained a degree in mathematics from the Open University and enrolled on a PhD in quantum physics in the physics department at Strathclyde and was awarded the degree on successfully completing the work. Until the end he continued to contribute to physics research groups, sometimes by baking large cakes for the weekly meetings but also by developing software for Free Electron Laser simulators placing particular emphasis on the human computer interface.

In his spare time he very much enjoyed hill walking, bagging many of the Munros and completing many of the famous walks across Scotland. He also sang bass in the choir at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow.

Andrew Colin is survived by his wife Veronica, to whom he was married for 58 years, as well as his son Andrew, and daughters Beatrice and Kate and five grandchildren; his son John had pre-deceased him. A memorial service is to be held at noon in St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow on November 24.