Wits University’s “Grand Geek” Barry Dwolatzky has died

The University of the Witwatersrand has announced that Professor Barry Dwolatzky has passed away.

“His passing is a great loss to the Wits community where he touched the lives of students, staff, researchers, academics, industry partners, innovators, entrepreneurs and friends in so many ways,” the university said in a statement.

“In addition to his many achievements and awards, he will be remembered for his humility and humanity, and his ability to make every person with whom he came into contact, feel special.”

The university described Dwolatzky as an innovator, strategist, humanitarian, and “loyal Witsie” who dedicated over 50 years of his life to the university and the “Grand Geek of digital innovation” in South Africa.

Most recently, he served as the Director of Innovation Strategy in the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation.

He was instrumental in conceptualizing and developing the Wits Innovation Centre launched in April this year.

Dwolatzky was also an Emeritus Professor in the School of Electrical and Information Engineering in the Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment.

He was the founder and director of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) and the Founder of the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct, the university’s digital innovation hub in Braamfontein.

A Wits alumnus, Dwolatzky started his undergraduate studies at the university in Electrical Engineering in 1971, where he excelled until he achieved his PhD.

After graduating, he left South Africa in 1979 and spent a decade in the United Kingdom as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, Imperial College London, and the GEC-Marconi Research Centre.

He returned to Wits as an academic in 1989, worked his way up the academic ladder and became a full professor in 2000.

He continued with his teaching and research activities until very recently.

“His primary focus over the past 30 years has been the growth and development of the South African software engineering sector,” Wits stated.

“In 2005, he was the major driver in setting up the JCSE at Wits. In 2013, he spearheaded the establishment of a major digital innovation hub in Braamfontein which became the Wits Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct.”

In 2020 Dwolatzky launched a podcast series, Optimizing: Leading Africa’s Digital Future.

Last November, he launched his memoir, Coded History — A Life of new Beginnings.

The book revealed how Dwolatzky faced death at the age of 35, his life as an underground software engineer in the struggle against Apartheid, “the mission” that brought him back to South Africa from the UK where he lived in self-exile in the 1980s, and how, on the eve of democracy, he helped to build the country’s IT industry.

Wits extended its condolences to his family and friends, colleagues and students around the world, and those who knew him well.

The Wits Flag above the Great Hall flies at half-mast today, Wednesday, 17 May 2023, in honour of Dwolatzky.

“May he rest in peace, knowing that his legacy will live on for generations to come,” the university said.

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Wits University’s “Grand Geek” Barry Dwolatzky has died