Interview: Being a Computer Science Postgrad at Berkeley in 1967
Updated: Jan 14
When Martin Luther King Jr gave a speech on the Vietnam War in Berkeley, François de Verdière M.S. ‘67, was a postgraduate in computer science studies. This is the portrait of an alumnus who, at the turn of 50, moved away from a career in advanced computer technology (in France and in the United States) to become a painter and a visual artist in Paris.
Born in 1944, François de Verdière received a degree in civil and aeronautical engineering, before attending UC Berkeley from 1967 to 1968 to explore the latest computer technology for postgraduate studies. When he arrived in Berkeley, François de Verdière had a pleasant culture shock, not only because the hippie movement was running high and Janis Joplin performed at the Fillmore Auditorium, but also because he spotted Anna Karina and Jean Luc Godard in conversation in a park on campus.
As François de Verdière remembers it, Sather Gate and Telegraph saw a remarkable coexistence of very different people, students handing out Berkeley Barb, one of the first and most influential counterculture newspapers in the 60s, anti-war protesters and ROTC recruiters”. However, as he remembers it, harmony was short-lived on campus as (at times violent) confrontation developed between civil rights activists, anti-Vietnam war protesters and Black Panthers. Before then, you could see Black Panthers students with counterculture students attending the same parties on campus.
After graduating from Berkeley, François de Verdière worked as a consultant in advanced computer software and as a project manager at a major French bank, where he supervised the implementation of an intranet connecting 2000 branches together. In 1987, he put together the first team focusing on artificial intelligence and natural language. Then he went back to the United States (in Pittsburgh) for three years to manage an R&D team specialized in computer software in liaison with French teams.
At 50 years old, François de Verdière made a bold career change and started a career as a painter and visual artist. He studied printmaking at CNEAI (Centre National de l’ Estampe et de l’Art Imprimé) in Paris, where he later went on to experiment with new visual art techniques and teach environmental-friendly engraving/etching techniques (such as resin art or sand art).
One thing leading to the other, François de Verdière was elected Secretary General of Maison des Artistes, an international not-for-profit which represents, promotes and defends the interests of graphic and visual artists in France. In 2016, François de Verdière's work was part of a collective exhibition entitled "Passerelles entre continents et souvenirs," which gave him the opportunity to tap into his photographs and paintings inspired by his dual experience in France and in the United States.
François de Verdière has a lot of memories of Berkeley at the turn of 1968. Some of them might be found in the form of paintbrush, others in digits and codes. Indeed, one of his interests is to explore the intersection between computer technology and visual art.