Carnegie Mellon Mourns Passing of Distinguished Alum and Director Emeritus of the Master in Software Engineering Program

BY Byron Spice - Wed, 2006-01-11 12:00  Printer-friendly version

PITTSBURGH-James E. Tomayko, teaching professor in Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science (SCS), director emeritus of its Master in Software Engineering program (MSE), and fondly known as "Coach" to his students, friends and colleagues, died yesterday after a long illness. He was 56.

During his more than 16-year tenure at the university, he not only helped to found SCS' highly successful MSE program, but also initiated an extensive program in distance learning that currently includes 140 students who reside all over the world. At the same time, he served as a part-time senior member of the technical staff at the university's Software Engineering Institute (SEI) making important contributions in their Product Line Systems Program.

Earlier in his career, Tomayko was the leader of the Academic Education Project at SEI, and to this day, his courses on managing software development and overviews of software engineering are among the most widely distributed courses in the SEI Academic Series.

"Jim has been a contributor to software engineering education here, almost from the day he walked into my office and introduced himself in the late 80s, just as we were starting the SEI," recalled Carnegie Mellon's Perlis Professor of Computer Science, Mary Shaw. "He served as the head of the MSE Studio, which is the heart of this intensive professional program, and in doing so, he earned the nickname 'Coach' from the students he guided through the program. Later he served as director of the program until his health failed. I'll miss him personally as well as professionally."

Before coming to the SEI in 1990, Tomayko founded the software engineering graduate program at Wichita State University in Wichita, Ks. where he was a professor in the Computer Science Department. He also worked in industry, and had employee, contract or consulting relationships with NCR, NASA, Boeing Defense and Space Group, CarnegieWorks, Xerox, the Westinghouse Energy Center, Keithley Instruments and Mycro-Tek.

He was a frequent speaker at numerous professional seminars on software fault tolerance, software development management and software process improvement in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America and Europe.

An avid flight enthusiast who earned a pilot's license in 1991, Tomayko pursued a parallel career in the history of technology, specializing in the history of computing in aerospace. He wrote three books and two articles on spacecraft computer systems and software, concentrating primarily on systems developed by NASA. Over the past decade, he researched the history of fly-by-wire technology, and published three papers on the subject. He also served on the editorial staff of the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.

His publications included Software Engineering Education: SEI Conference on Software Engineering, 1991, published by Springer-Verlag; Computers in Space: Journeys with NASA, 1994, and Computers Take Flight: A History of NASA's Pioneering Digital Fly-by-Wire Project, 2000. His most recent book "Human Aspects of Software Engineering," (with Orit Hazzan) was published in 2004.

A devout Catholic all of his life, Tomayko grew up in Charleroi, Pa., where he attended Mon Valley Catholic High School. After graduation, he came to Carnegie Mellon where he earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1971. He also ran cross-country at the university.

A man of diverse interests, Tomayko earned a master's degree in Chinese from the University of Pittsburgh in 1972 and then attended the University of Kansas where he earned a doctor's degree in social studies and secondary education. After graduation from Kansas, he became a high school teacher in Garden City, Ks. He coached the men's and women's track teams where he first earned the title of "coach," which stuck with him for the rest of his life. After starting an alternative high school in Kansas, he once again returned to Carnegie Mellon, where he earned a doctor 's degree in history in 1980.

While in Kansas, Tomayko met and married his wife, the former Laura Lallement. They were married in 1985, and took their first trip to Pittsburgh While in Kansas, Tomayko met and married his wife, the former Laura Lallement. They were married in 1985, and took their first trip to Pittsburgh when the SEI was established as a sabbatical assignment.

Tomayko was active in alumni affairs at Carnegie Mellon. He was a long-time member of the Andrew Carnegie Society and sat on the ACS Executive Board. He served as president of the Alumni Association Board from 2000-2002.

Last summer Tomayko received the inaugural "Coach" award at the MSE's 15th anniversary celebration. The award, which will be presented annually, was established to recognize his many contributions to the program and the university.

"Jim possessed a remarkable combination of technical expertise, management skill and personal understanding that made him unusually effective as a leader in software engineering education," said William Scherlis, director of the Institute for Software Research International, (ISRI), the division of SCS in which the MSE program resides. "He was a great communicator, authoring numerous books and articles on software engineering and the history of computing. He was in constant demand as a speaker, and he won the enduring respect of both students and colleagues. We will miss his technical contribution, his mentorship, and his friendly presence."

"Those of us who knew and loved Jim will remember him for his courage in adversity, his indomitable spirit, his sense of humor and his boundless enthusiasm and energy," added Clyde Chittister, chief operating officer of the SEI.

Tomayko is survived by his wife and two children-Gabriela and Alison, and a brother Jack. The family will be receiving visitors from 6-8 p.m. Wed., January 11, and from 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12 at the Freyvogel Funeral Home, 4900 Centre Ave., Pittsburgh. There will be a mass at 10 a.m., Friday, Jan. 13, at St. Paul's Cathedral, Fifth Avenue Oakland. In lieu of flowers the family asks that contributions be made to the Jim Tomayko Memorial Fund, C/O Institute for Software Research International, 5321 Wean Hall, Pittsburgh, Pa. 15213

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Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice [atsymbol] cs.cmu.edu