Judy Butland, software designer

Judy Butland, who has died at 78, was an engineering software designer who pioneered the use of computers at universities.

Judy Butland

Born Judith Whiteley in Leeds, she lived all her life with arthritis, though she never talked about it. She spent two years of her childhood, between 12 and 14, confined to bed at Wharfedale children’s hospital in Menston. The treatment, she was told, was to stay in bed and to stay away from her family. She considered herself abandoned there.

At the University of Manchester College of Science and Technology, she preferred playing cards, doing the crossword and helping run the Methodist Society to learning maths. She never graduated, but became a technical abstractor, writing summaries of engineering papers for Associated Electrical Industries.

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Her breakthrough came when she was taken on at Manchester Business School as mathematical assistant to an aeronautical engineer, Dr Winifred Hackett, and deduced that the primitive computers of the era would be useful for carrying out the mathematical analysis she was doing.

Returning to Leeds, she worked in the postgraduate school of electrical and electronic engineering at Bradford University, where they needed someone to supervise programming in research projects.

She developed a comprehensive set of tools to produce technical charts, and made them freely available. She wrote up the work she had been doing, and was awarded an M.Phil for her thesis.

Her software was soon being used in other Northern Universities. When she wrote an article about her work in an American electrical engineering publication, she was deluged by requests for it from all over the world.

To formalise the distribution, she founded a company, Bradford University Software Services, and it was soon making enough money to take on staff, while she spent her time programming.

She published a number of academic papers, including one on drawing a smooth curve though an arbitrary set of data points – a calculation that became known as Butland’s Algorithm.

In 2005, she relocated to Bridlington, to be by the sea. She is survived by her husband, David, and son, Philip.