Computing in the 70’s

I wrote my first computer programme in 1970 (or program because you use American spelling when coding,if  you were to look at the html for this page it uses color, center etc), . Physics post grads were expected to teach themselves about programming with a bit of support from the computer department .( Maybe there were courses but we didn’t know about them)We programmed in Fortran and the programs run on the machine pictured .I never actually saw this computer (a CDC 6600) because we punched out our programs on cards (one instruction per card) and we put a rubber band round the cards to make a stack (maybe an inch thick to start with) which was taken to central London by van . The program was run and a print out of what happened was returned the following day.One typing error and the program would fail.Once the program could run it would often collapse in a heap with a dreaded “run time” error and the machine helpfully printed out something called an “octal dump “.This all had the effect of making us careful programmers, very different to how I now do websites ,it is often best to just try stuff until it works.When I left the department in 1975 my programme was in trays with a combined thickness of 12 feet.When I left academia to join an IT company I found that most of top management were also self taught and had backgrounds in the Natural Sciences .When I retired in 2003 we were awash with Computer Scientists (who were also good programmers) and I always felt lucky to have done my Physics before I got into computing. IT is very transient,it takes a bit of skill to produce a decent website now but give it 5 years and it will be automated . The Physics stays with you.

Laurence August 2017