The Life and Career of Harut Barsamian

Courtesy of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering

Professor Barsamian’s life and career have, quite literally, been all over the place, eventually leading to UCI.

On Nov. 20, 2012, the Henry Samueli School of Engineering held a ceremony to name the Colloquia Room after Professor Harut Barsamian in honor of his gift to the school and his 27-year teaching career at UC Irvine.

Professor Barsamian’s career has included designing air traffic control systems and exploring conceptions of dynamic microprogramming. His life, however, has also included its share of anything but ordinary.

Harut Barsamian was born in one of Syria’s largest cities, Aleppo. At around age four and a half, Barsamian and his family moved to the neighboring country, Lebanon. He spent most of his adolescent years in the nation’s capital, Beirut. He attended the Nshan Palanjian Jemaran in Beirut, and then moved  to Yerevan, Armenia where he completed his high school years. Eventually, in 1966, Barsamian made his way to the states.

Professor Harut Barsamian’s life has endured its share of hardships, such as dealing with a hip ailment as a result of a childhood accident. Since 1940, Professor Barsamian has had four surgeries on his hip; first in Beirut (1940), then in Yerevan (1962),  Los Angeles (UCLA, 1972), and lastly at UC Irvine’s Medical Center in 1993.

“My surgeon at UCLA called it the ‘mystery hip,’” he said. “He would gather around students to observe my hip because he had never seen anything like it.”

During his high school years in Yerevan, Barsamian became a two-time gold medalist; once for mathematics, and once for his straight A’s.

“I was the first immigrant who was granted a gold medal,” he said.

Barsamian continued his higher education in Yerevan as he studied electrical engineering at the Yerevan Polytechnic Institute (YPI). However, things did not play out the way he had planned.

“My objective was to study in Moscow, but I wasn’t accepted into a university because I was a foreigner,” he said.

By 1966, Professor Barsamian made his way to the U.S. He moved to Michigan where he attained his first job at Bryant Computer Products.

“I worked for the company making magnetic disks; then during the spring I went to the International Convention of Computer Society in Atlantic City,” Barsamian said.

It was there where he saw an application for Raytheon, a defense and aerospace technology company. He got the job, and moved to California in May 1967.

Stationed in Santa Ana, Barsamian worked for Raytheon only for a few years.

During his time there, he was one of “the lead designers of the first air traffic control system prototype that was later applied to U.S. airports.” He was then offered the opportunity to move back to the East Coast and continue working for the company there. He turned down the offer and ended his workings with Raytheon.

Barsamian was then hired by National Cash Register (NCR), where he worked to enhance computer performance and functionality. After eight years with NCR, he was offered yet another position to work in the east coast; he rejected the move once more.

Soon after, Barsamian started working for Sperry Univac. He was the company’s technology spokesman and was chosen to be their Co-Chairman of the Corporate Task Force on Technology Planning.

Not too long later, Professor Harut Barsamian began his career here at UCI.

While doing so, Barsamian organized vast conferences, colloquia, on advanced electronics and information technologies.

In 2008, Barsamian paid off the Orange County Armenian Center’s mortgage. Thus, the OC Armenian Center was renamed “Harut Barsamian Armenian Center.”

Today, Professor Barsamian continues to teach at UC Irvine (one course at the graduate level during spring quarter). He also manages his scholarship fund, the “Harut Barsamian Disabled Armenian Students Scholarship Fund.” The scholarship is funded by the proceeds of Barsamian’s memoir, “Resurrection with Cane and Shoe,” which he published in 2008.

When asked what he thinks he has given his students with his teachings, the professor said, “I speak about computers and systems as they are in the real world. I engage in the practical side of computer engineering, which many people can’t do, and I think they really appreciated that.”