Steven's Dragon - Part 2
An Inauguration For the Ages

A Few Odd Moments in the IT Industry

[Some good friends, all met through blogging, are filling in for me while I take a two-week sabbatical from Time Goes By.

Today, it is Peter Tibbles, from Australia, who sent along this bio:

I was born in a small country town in western Victoria (Nhill, in case you're interested and it's pronounced nil) and lived there for my first thirteen years, writes Peter Mum was very happy there (that's where she was born) but dad thought he'd like to give his kiddies the best education possible. He said I could keep going as long as I won scholarships (as he didn't have much money).

Well, I was a bit of a smart-fart and did just that [that sounds a bit big-headed]. So, we came to the big smoke (Melbourne) and I eventually went to Melbourne University, initially as a physics major but I switched to mathematics as it entailed less work and was easier.

I eventually stumbled into the IT industry when mum thrust The Age in front of me (after I'd been lounging around at home for a couple of months) and said, 'There's a job for a computer programmer. Go get it.'

I married in 1971 and divorced not long afterwards. No kids (which means, of course, that I never grew up). Although technically not a baby boomer (I was born a year or so too early), I share many of the values of the older boomers - not worrying about the future especially. This is the reason I'm still working.

Peter also enclosed his short bio:

I drink wine
I listen to music
I read books
Often at the same time.


I may not be the oldest person working in the IT industry, or one who has spent the longest time doing this. However, I think I'd come close, certainly on the second count.

I thought when I started this I'd do it until something more interesting came along. Maybe as a fabulously well-paid, best-selling author, someone Paul Auster would look up to (oops, perhaps that should be Peter Carey). Or perhaps a great rock guitarist. Someone who would make Robbie Robertson think twice about playing alongside.

However, apart from the odd piece on TimeGoesBy and trying to get to the end of "Stage Fright" before the arthritis kicks in, I haven't given up the day job yet.

I started in this business in 1967. It's been 42 years now. The first computer I worked on, and this is for the folks who appreciate these things, was an IBM 360-20. This was a giant machine that had its own air-conditioned room. It was about the size of four refrigerators laid on their side. High enough to lean on (which we did quite often). This had 20K of memory, no disk, no terminal.

It had a card reader and punch, a printer and four tape drives. To compile a program required the computer to read it from the card reader, burble away for a long time, backwards and forwards on the tape drives and eventually spit out the program on the card punch.

This process took so long that we quickly learned to write efficient, accurate programs. If there was a mistake we couldn't repeat the process until the next day. Try telling that to the young folks today and they won't believe you (sorry, I couldn't resist that).

There were some positives about this industry. One was being able to travel and be paid for it. It resulted in my spending some considerable time in the USA (that's travel for a young lad from Australia) in a few of the more entertaining parts - San Francisco, Boston, Albuquerque and Los Angeles.

An interesting point, as we are on TimeGoesBy: about ten years ago I was on a contract for a development that had to be completed rather quickly, about a year or so - that's quick in this business. There were eight contractors brought in to do the job. Not one of us was under fifty years old.

The job came in on time and under budget (as they say in Hollywood). Actually, I don't know about the budget bit, but as it was on time I assume this was so. Imagine that. A bunch of fifty-plus folks doing cutting-edge IT work. Tell that to the young folks (etc).

I was out of work for a couple of years not so long ago which did nasty things to my bank account. The company I was working for (actually as a contractor, not an employee) decided I was surplus to requirements. Oh dear, check the job adverts.

I'd apply for jobs and pretty much always get an interview. However, you could see it in their eyes: "Hmm, I'd be employing my father. What does he know about computers?" Sometimes even grand-father. "What's this old codger doing here? My grand-dad doesn't even know how to turn on a computer." Well, he probably does, he's almost certainly surfing the web for whatever turns him on.

They wouldn't say anything like that, of course. That was just my over-active imagination.

Now and then the person was closer to my age. For ten or fifteen years after I started in this strange way to make a living, everyone knew everyone in the industry. Or at least knew of everyone. These interviews usually were more reminiscences of people and places we had in common. Didn't get those jobs either.

After a couple of years, the company alluded to above decided that they needed me after all. Back in the day I'd have told them to go jump but, as I was getting somewhat nervous about buying food and the like, I rejoined.

Fortunately, they decided they wanted me badly enough I could negotiate. More loose scratch than I was getting before and only working four days a week. I could buy groceries again (not to mention good wine, CDs and books).

[The story bin at The Elder Storytelling Place is empty so until some new ones arrive, let's revisit some from the archive. Today, The Ring-Tailed Tooter of Thunder Road from Cowtown Pattie. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. Instructions are here.]

Comments

Our first computer was a Texas Instruments. Olof made it do something but it couldn't do much. Then his mother and I bought a second hand Mac Plus. Oboy, he never looked back. Over the years we advanced to the screaming speed of a SI (which we called Simply Irresistible) and to the G's. (G3,4,5)
Our first digital video editing project was a hair pulling experience getting a 30 second commercial done. The first video camera was a heavy Beta SP with huge tapes you could get 30 minutes on.
Today, I can edit HD video on this little MacBookPro, hooked up to hard drives and a large monitor. The camera uses no tape, just cards. Everything is backed up on Blu-ray dvd's.
We'll be doing this stuff until we're so old no one will hire us!

Great story! And as I write this, there are three (3) computers in the room with me plus a few in the closet. I've only been doing this for 18 years, so I started at age 50. (IT, some programming, some instruction) I only wish I could get more elders involved in the information age... sadly, too many are unwilling to step out into the 21st century. Thank goodness for Time Goes By!

My husband started selling computers in 1964, and he took me to see one of those monsters (the whole-room-size). It was like something out of science fiction back then. Little did we know where it was heading!!

I was a 'johnny Come Lately' to the computer age, but, once hooked, I became addicted.

Now if only computers would advance to the point that they stopped accepting a virus, self corrected, and never crashed I would be happy.

Peter,

Can fully relate to your IT experiences except for the being unemploymed part. Fortunately, I worked for the same company for 38 years, then was offered a golden parachute which I didn't hesitate to accept.

Today, I've got a hand-held scientific calculator that can do more calculations that a thousand IBM 360-20's, and do them thousands of times faster. But, back in the day, as you point out, we had to develop highly efficient programs using a minimum of code because of the computer limitations, especially the dearth of memory. No "spaghetti code" allowed.

The young programmers today are so used to the availability of almost unlimited memory that they're not interested in taking the time and effort to develop programs which use as little code as possible. Trying to follow the logic and threads of today's program coding usually uncages my eyeballs and gives me a headache. It can be like trying to unravel the tangles in a spool of thread after the cat's been playing with it. Hence, for the uninitiated, the term "spaghetti code."

We old timers can still teach the younger programmers a lot of tricks that we've learned over the years. I've written some fairly complex programs using only a few pages of code, then had some of the younger code jockeys scratch their heads and proclaim that such a small amount of code couldn't possibly produce the desired results. Surprise! Once the code was compiled and run, the programs worked as required. Sometimes, with only a line or two of extra code, I was able to include a few extras, such as error traps that halted program execution, and notified the user that they'd entered incorrect keyboard commands or information. Once the error was corrected, the program resumed its normal execution.

After I retired, I got a little bored so applied for a few IT type jobs. Got the same results you did; the people interviewing me were the same age or younger than my own kids. As you said, they probably felt that they were interviewing their father or grandfather. And certainly someone that old couldn't possibly be up on the newest technology, even though, as we both know, that's not always true. Wisdom and experience don't seem to count for much any more.

I finally gave up, since a job wasn't a necessity for me. Glad you were able to secure a position and hope that you can stay until leaving is your decision. It's always been difficult for older people to find employment. It's as if younger folks believe that once you reach a certain age, your brain suddenly turns off and you become stupid and inept.

Got to be more careful with my proof reading. In the first paragraph, "unemplymed" should be "unemployed." Sorry about that.

I think maybe I even got on the scene a little earlier than the ones heard from. I started out as an operator on a 1401 with 16K of memory and a roomful of edp machines, sorters interpreters, collators and and accounting machine, I believe the model was a 305 but that was a long time ago. We tap danced to the rhythm of the cards and tape drives during a compile and fussed with dialing around problems and "patching" the actual source cards to fix programs and runtime problems.

After 37 years of operating, programming, analyzing, and finally managing developers, I got over 50 and too expensive. I was replaced by several people in India. I'm now in Florida with my also forcibly retired data storage manager husband. We'd love to get in there and play again for awhile, especially make some of the money we used to, but we just remember and smile.

Ah yes, Floridafannie, we always left some empty space at the end of the program in case there was a mistake. We could jump to that space enter new code (in machine language) and jump back again. It saved having to go through the tedious business of recompiling. Of course, we had to remember to put those changes into the source code as well (this was sometime forgotten).

Oops, sorry, Floridafrannie.

First exposed to computers (as a user of an IBM whose designation I no longer recall) in 1959, unlike you, I stuck with Physics--until I got half-way through my MS work and discovered that the jobs that my friends were getting upon receipt of that degree were to sell or program computers. At that point, I jumped ship and took my MS in Engineering Mechanics. Stupid move. There was no escaping computers.

I learned FORTRAN in 1961, learned APT, BASIC, WATIV, and such somewhat later; but spent most of my time as a user--not a programmer--mostly NASTRAN and such finite element programs (my thesis was on use of over-specified matrices in finite element analysis--what later were designated as p-elements).

Oh...and...along the way I worked on math models that were solved using analog computers and a large (room-sized egg-cooker) hybrid analogue/digital computer.

I was issued my first desk-top computer was in 1983--no hard drive, of course.

You've tickled some memories. Thanks!

Never would have got into this computer stuff except for my mother in law. At age 65, for some reason she dropped into MacWorld in Boston in 1984, won a printer in a raffle, and bought a original Mac.

We quickly figured out that this thing could sort of do page layouts (you had to swap floppy disks.) One thing led to another and by 1990 we were providing technical support to anti-apartheid newspapers in South Africa.

Then I went on to other work, and now I'm just a slightly irritated user. But I still find I'm often able to get more done with these things than kids just hired.

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