Thursday, January 20, 2011

Episode II - Baby Steps

In 1985, the US Government issued me a green card authorizing me to live and work in the United States of America on a permanent basis. Oddly enough the card wasn't green ... and it wasn't the first green card I had ever owned. Here's a picture of my first .... and this one was green!

I came to own it quite by accident. In 1969 I was still busily pursuing my bean-counting career and has passed the first part of the A.I.M.T.A. examinations. One morning in July, we were handed a flyer (the sixties equivalent of e-mail) from IBM inviting any and all interested parties to participate in an 'aptitude' test. The test was administered during the lunch hour in the Council Chambers and a whopping 1,800+ people turned up to try their hand at what turned out to be a speed test of logic and simple math and featured questions like: "A firm buys two typewriters: A and B. If A costs 1/4 more than 4/5 of B and the total comes to £21-10-6 then what is the cost of A" [decimalization didn't happen in the UK until 1971, so we were stuck trying to figure out pounds, shillings and pence - 3-column ledgers made your head spin!]. It wasn't until a few days later that we really understood the significance of the test and its aftermath.

Pre-Decimalization Currency

The County had contracted with IBM (not ICL!) to provide a new super-computer for use in the Treasury Department. Initially, it was going to be used to process payroll for the tens of thousands of local government employees. In fact, they had secretly been building an air-conditioned basement computer room to house this shining beast.

IBM 360 Model 20

When the results of the aptitude test were released and my name was 2nd on the list, I was flabbergasted! The only person ahead of me was a guy named Arthur whose only claim to fame at that point was that he sometimes brought his Salvation Army uniform and his tuba to work and was seen resplendently leaving after 5pm destined, no doubt, for some local temperance event.

My transition to the world of computers was almost complete. A pat on the back from the County Treasurer himself and a transfer (with no extra pay!) to the newly formed "Computer Department" - and it was done! I can remember sitting in a room one Monday morning with 5 other guinea pigs thinking "So what do we do now?". Luckily, IBM was on hand to begin the indoctrination, handing out Green Cards and Flow-charting Templates and telling us that we'd be up to speed in no time at all.

IBM Flowchart Template

The trouble was that - even with our green cards, templates and pencils in hand - no-one still had a clue what being a programmer really entailed.

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