Have you ever been curious what computers on campus looked like in the 1980s? Or how students wrote programs before mainframes and terminals existed? What was it like to be at Virginia Tech when the internet was just emerging? 

A new website from the Division of Information Technology (IT), devoted to the history of computing and information technology at Virginia Tech, is now available at it.vt.edu/history. The site serves as the division's contribution to the university’s sesquicentennial anniversary.

Through photographs, news stories, oral history interviews, and written memories from current and former IT employees, the site provides a glimpse of what it was like to work in computing at Virginia Tech from the punch card days of the 1970s to the early days of the World Wide Web and through to the present day.

Virginia Tech home page 1994
Virginia Tech’s first homepage in 1994. The IT history site includes screen captures of vt.edu homepages throughout the years.

More than just a walk down computing memory lane, the site is a testament to the many people who contributed to information technology at Virginia Tech, helping to shape the university into a leader in innovation and research over the years.

“While it is no longer the university’s tagline, Virginia Tech has always sought to ‘Invent the Future,’ and the university’s drive for innovation and creativity to solve real problems certainly applies to IT,” said Scott Midkiff, vice president for information technology. “The IT history site provides a glimpse into the dedication of Virginia Tech people past and present. And the advances of the past point to the importance of pushing those areas where Virginia Tech can contribute to IT innovation in the present and the future.”

Woman (Jean Plymale) sitting in computer room in the 1980s
Jean Plymale Sanders began her IT career as a keypunch operator in 1977. She moved into computer operations after terminals and mainframes replaced punch cards and later became an integral part of the eCorridors economic development program in the early 2000s.

The oral history interviews feature personal accounts from folks who were at the forefront of Virginia Tech’s pivotal moments in IT history.

Earving Blythe, vice president emeritus for information technology, shared his accounts of major projects at the university, such as the design and installation of the System X supercomputer in 2003 and the partnership between Virginia Tech and the Town of Blacksburg to create the Blacksburg Electronic Village.

Jean Plymale, who worked in various roles between 1977 and 2015, shared her journey as both an employee and a student — and tells her story of an infamous fire in the old Burruss Hall computing center in the early 1980s.

man wearing fur hat sitting at desk posing
Randy Marchany, now the chief information security officer, came to Virginia Tech as a student in 1970 and continued as a programmer. He segued into cybersecurity after solving a mainframe hacking incident in the 1980s. Marchany’s interview will be added to the IT history site in the near future.

While it originated as a sesquicentennial project, the Division of IT continues to add material to the site that will continue to enrich this view into Virginia Tech’s information technology history. More interview clips, artifacts, and photographs will be added in the coming months.

Virginia Tech employees, alumni, and retirees who have photographs or memories they would like to share may reach out to the Division of IT communications team at it.communications@vt.edu.

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