Programming in 1969 - An interview with a pioneer

A charming interview with lots of first-hand details.

Towards the end of the 70’s we got terminals. We never had our own terminals, but shared a terminal room. We had to fight over terminal time when we wanted to make changes to a program.

However, SJ [the state rail company] ended up with 700 applicants for 50 positions, so there was a tough selection process with various tests. And I got in! So because I needed the salary to get my own apartment, I accepted.

Incidentally, the SJ management was quite unhappy when they found out that the trainee program brochures had been sent out to both male and female students! There weren’t many women who got accepted into the program, but we were a few.

First we learned a bit about IBM OS, and then we learned PL/I which was IBM:s own programming language. It was a more modern version of Cobol with features that Cobol did not yet have (but would get later), like making tables and queries. So PL/I was a much better language back then and much simpler: you could write the code using English words, DO WHILE etc. A really nice programming language!

Later I took more courses, for instance I learned assembler the same way. So my education was really a week here and a class there, and then we had a supervisor at work that helped us.

via @wazoox on diaspora

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I remember the “yellow” card (but in my day is was closer to green) and the flowchart template. I think I still have my flowchart template someplace.

I know that I don’t have the “yellow” card anymore. EBCDIC gives me hives.

Could you tell me about the IBM OS you learned about? I have a friend who says IBM OS made it possible for computers to work together in the early days of the internet.

(Is that the same friend you mentioned in the
History Problem with a Friend thread @Ralph_Glatt? They seemed to have an odd view of what the Internet is and how the history unfolded.)

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Yes, same friend. I think part of the problem is that I think I’m smarter than him, and he might think that he’s smarter than he thinks he is.

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It ain’t what you know, it’s what you know that ain’t so! It can be difficult, I know, to try to carry on a discussion when someone is holding what you feel to be false premises.

From 1969, when ARPANET started with just four nodes, we see four different computers running four different operating systems:

(One being an IBM 360, tangentially relevant to this comment nearby…)

IBM’s networking offering was SNA, which seems to be a centralised hierarchical system, well-suited to private enterprise but not so much to the research and academic communities. It came rather later, in 1974 or thereabouts, and was more for remote access than resource sharing.

Also of interest, from 1980:
SNA’S First Six Years: 1974-1980

See also the previous thread An ARPANET history (blogged)

I just noticed this old thread.

One interesting quote:
“We created the programs, and once they were completed and tested we handed them off. Others were responsible for maintaining them, we just wrote new ones!”

Envy… :smile:


What I envy were the folks producing game cartridges or CDs for consoles.

Here’s a set of software that effectively gets NO maintenance. They have to “get it right” the first time because of the expense of packaging and shipping. The fixed run time enironment, and immutability of the software all work towards having a reasonbly long term stable environment.

But the idea of something going “Gold Master”, never to be touched again, is compelling compared to todays world of ship early, ship often, update daily. All of your bad decisions continually haunt you (and all developers make bad decisions).

Many games start from a clean slate for the next version, even if it’s a sequel.