Ask an expert: John Dimarco's thirty years at U of T

John DiMarco

Photo of John DiMarco by Krisha Ravikantharaja

John DiMarco held many different roles in over thirty years at U of T’s department of computer science: the once in a millennium opportunity of being the Y2K coordinator, guest lecturing and currently working as the director of IT. His Social Issues in Computing blog published contributions from thought leaders from around the world, including former U of T President David Naylor.

DiMarco spoke to writer Krisha Ravikantharaja about his three decades of working at U of T. 

How did you start working at U of T?

Every summer I would work full time with a researcher in computer science, and then throughout the year I would work part time. I didn’t think that would be my career, but at the end of my undergrad, the professor I was working with said he needed a programmer. I applied for a master’s program, got in, and started working with him as a research programmer.

How has computing changed since you first started at U of T?

I’ve seen computing change a lot in these years. I even collected old bits of computer hardware as a kind of memorabilia of those changes. As time went on computers have generally become smaller and faster and more mobile.

In the eighties, we used to have mini computers with many screens and keyboards attached, and one computer would support many students at once. When the lab was full, those computers got slow. In the early nineties scientific workstations were invented. That was a sort of super-powered PC that had many of the characteristics of a minicomputer, but it would be dedicated to one person.

Have you ever left U of T?

I took a 3 month leave of absence to assist one of our professors start a company called Platform Computing. It was a huge success, but I realized a few months in that start-ups weren’t my thing. I returned to the university, to continue running the first computer science workstation at U of T.

What excites you about the future of computer science at U of T?

There’s been a huge increase in the number of students. When we ask our students why they want to study computer science, they say it’s because they want to change the world. We end up collaborating with people from cognitive science, psychology, health science. There’s going to be even more collaboration with other departments, especially because of artificial intelligence.

What has it been like to have such a long career with U of T?

I had many opportunities to work elsewhere, but in the Greater Toronto Area, you’d be hard pressed to find a job in computers that’s more fun than mine. It’s just a great department. There’s so many great things going on. I’m never bored. Sometimes I have a bit of the opposite problem: there’s too much coming all at once. It’s been a fun place to work, and it continues to be a fun place to work.


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