A pioneer of the internet, education, and computer science

We pay tribute to the life’s work of Emeritus Professor John Hine, our foundational professor of computer science, and an influential leader in bringing Aotearoa New Zealand online.

An elderly man with white hair sits smiling in front of a wall of computer screens
Emeritus Professor Hine passed away on Wednesday 19 October.

Professor Hine passed away on Wednesday 19 October 2022.

Many of us take it for granted today, but behind the development and establishment of the internet in New Zealand is an interesting struggle led by those who saw its potential, including Professor Hine.

John Hine was born in New York State in 1946 and obtained his Bachelor’s in Electrical Engineering from Union College (New York) in 1968. He later obtained his Master’s of Science and PhD in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1973. His first job was at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne in England as a lecturer in computer science, joining the faculty in January 1974.

His wife, Paula, is from New Zealand, so the pair moved in October 1977. She says that John’s appointment to Victoria University of Wellington was almost happenstance.

“It was the only place with a vacancy. I was reluctant at first, as all the family was in Auckland, but it didn’t take long to realise we had made the right decision.”

John joined the Department of Information Science at Victoria University of Wellington in 1977. At the time, there were only five teaching staff in the department, which offered only eight undergraduate and ten honours papers across Operations Research and Computing. John advocated strongly for development in the area of Computer Science, and in 1984 the Department of Computer Science was established with John as its founding chair.

One of his first priorities as Chair was establishing a single research and education network hosted at the University, with links to other countries all round the world. He had the idea while on research leave overseas in 1983, and spent the next few years pitching and developing the concept. But the force behind his dedication was, as he put it, the “tyranny of distance” from family and friends still in the USA.

Under his leadership, a small team initiated a dial-up connection with the University of Calgary in 1986 and with Melbourne University not long after. By mid-1986, Professor Hine’s department had established gateways with a number of overseas universities thanks to his own professional connections, establishing the University as a major gateway between Aotearoa and international research networks.

John worked closely with Waikato University to negotiate an overseas link through NASA, and in 1989 New Zealand became the first Pacific country with a direct connection to the US internet backbone through an undersea link from Hawaii to Waikato University.

With this link in place, John helped found the Kawaihiko Network—linking all New Zealand universities to the internet in 1990. Perhaps proudly, John called the work a “bottom-up, grass-roots project”, arising from the dedication of the team.

Demand for the service grew rapidly. Commercial funding was secured in 1994, and saw New Zealand’s first internet service provider (ISP), NetLink, founded in 1996. John remained Director of NetLink until 1998, working with local Pōneke Wellington businesses to connect them to the internet. This included establishing the Wellington City Council and New Zealand Government websites that still operate to this day.

NetLink was sold to Telstra New Zealand in 1999, launching the country’s internet into what we know and use today.

Throughout his career, Professor Hine was a staunch advocate for the importance of science education. As well as his work establishing and developing the original Department of Computer Science, John sat on the Board of Trustees at Wellington Girls College for several years encouraging the development of their IT programmes and offerings, and was the founding professor and the driving force behind the Bachelor of Engineering introduced in 2008.

He was well known for his commitment to viable, equitable education, and the importance of equitable access to the internet forming part of students’ success.

A former student, Nathan Torkington, who studied under Professor Hine in the early 90s, said his international contacts, access to the early internet, and enthusiasm gave all his graduates a head-start.

“He promoted access to computing resources and the Internet for students. John's recognition of the Internet, plus his willingness to give his students educational access to it, was prescient.”

The influence that Professor Hine had on the New Zealand digital landscape is irrefutable, but perhaps more importantly is the influence that he had on our University community.

Tributes from Professor Hine’s past students, colleagues, and friends

"John was a person of incredible integrity, foresight, and dedication. It was through his efforts and passion that the Faculty of Engineering was created and yet no matter how busy he was, he would always stop what he was doing if you need to chat with him. He was an inspiration to us all."

Professor Dale Carnegie, Dean of Engineering

“John always supported the professional staff he worked with. He respected our input and trusted our judgement in many matters. I think the way he treated us rubbed off on his successors, and perhaps is one reason so many of us have stayed for so long”

Duncan McEwan, School of Engineering and Computer Science

“John had an enormous impact on a generation of students, myself included. If it wasn’t for him, I would not have gone on to graduate work, completed my PhD, or begun my lifelong career in academia. He was always there as a mentor and guide and will be greatly missed.”

Associate Professor Kris Bubendorfer, School of Engineering and Computer Science

“John did not look to be centre stage. He was a humble man whose contributions were always about putting in place the infrastructures and institutions needed for other people to shine.”

Associate Professor Ian Welch, School of Engineering and Computer Science

“I was a student in the 90s, and John was always an engaging lecturer. I remember him as extremely well-liked and respected as a teacher, and a calm and authoritative figure as head of the Department.

“Later, as a staff member in the mid-2000s, I remember John as someone who could bring people with him on a plan, without being afraid to change direction. I think this ability was testament to the high standing he had among both academic and professional staff.”

Stuart Marshall, Associate Dean (Students) Faculty of Engineering

“In 2007 a scheme was set up to fund computer science across the whole country. John was persuaded to stand for Chair, but when I suggested we vote for him he disagreed. I followed his lead, but when the results came out John was voted first by every department in the country—except us.”

Professor James Noble, former colleague

“My lasting memories of John are from the time when I was interviewed for my post in Wellington. In walked a bare-footed avuncular, white-haired man in shorts, whom I now immediately recognised as Professor John Hine. So much for formality then, and indeed, so much for formality during all the time that I was fortunate enough to have worked and achieved what I did in New Zealand under John. I've grown to wish more people, in similar positions, were more like him.”

Kevin Buckley, former colleague