A history dotted with computers

Posted by Eisch
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on Tuesday, 16 June 2009
in Digital Blogs
At the tender age of 18, I thought I had cracked it when I was accepted for an aptitude test by IBM and passed.  Reality struck when I was told they had no further budget for new employees that year and I would have to wait another three months to be considered again.

Thinking if I was good enough for IBM I was good enough for anybody, I applied to a global petroleum company to be a computer operator.  After an interview in front of a panel of sour-faced managers, I was accepted as a member of their work-force.  Hurray!  It was only when I pitched up for my first day at their large Head Office that I discovered I had been hired as a junior clerk in the Accounts Department!

For a while, the nearest I got to the computer was to look at it (an IBM 1401) through the glass that surrounded its secure, air-conditioned environment on the first floor, on my way to and from the punch room (which was a much more fun place to be, filled as it was with charming young ladies) - or in the taxi that took me and boxes of punched cards to and from the Hollerith Centre, where the cards were sorted and processed to produce boxes and boxes of continuous stationery.  It was that prinout that consumed my normal working hours, ticking off the entries against the input documents.  Aah, fond memories of Ledger 7, Main Account 902!

A few years later, I was briefly responsible for the company's first "on-line" terminal, which allowed me to manage a database of filling stations while sitting in my 8th floor office.  Over the course of a year, the terminals were installed in 16 branch offices and I wrote my first user manual (how to use DORIS - the Dealer Outlet Reporting & Information System).  I even wrote a short (very short) Fortran program!

After that, my career moved away from computers until I met up with another IBM, a Series 1, in Swaziland.  That's when I learned that if the IPL switch was in the wrong position, the computer would not start.  (For the youngsters, the Initial Program Load was the equivalent of the boot sequence.)  How did I learn this valuable lesson?  Because I called the computer consultant (at consultant rates for ravel, time and accommodation) all the way from Joburg when all my attempts at starting the machine had failed.

Later, having learned more wisdom from said consultant, I managed the project to transfer a large company's accounting systems from an ICL to an IBM environment.  I wonder if the Millennium Accounting Software range still exists?

PCs made life with computers much easier - as long as you could handle the control characters that made Multimate work - and later, as long has you could live with the occasional "blue screen of death".  I have to confess that I continue to use and abuse the Microsoft products, having never had the courage to cut the umbilical cord and go completely OSS.

I do sometimes wonder how different life would have been if IBM had employed me from the start.  Should I blame them or thank them?

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