My Own Computer Room

by Lois H. Gresh

Lois17

I graduated from high school a year early, and hammering away at microbiology/genetics at night college, got a full-time job as a “library technician” at the National Institute of Health. For two years, I wrote biweekly medical newsletters, which I then formatted for publication using something called Keyword-in-Context (KWIC) programming on an IBM 360 mainframe.

(photo left – at 17 with my first computer terminal at the National Institute of Health)

To review the newsletters, I had to request huge printouts from an ice-cold, sealed “computer room” that only people with security clearances could enter. I desperately wanted to get inside that computer room and explore all the machines.

By 19, I was working as manager of systems analysis, training, and documentation for a huge corporation that operated as a federal government contractor. I worked with an IBM 370, and hurray, had total access to the computer rooms. With an ordinary pencil, I wrote my code on large green-and-white grids, then gave the papers to a fleet of women who operated punch code machines. Eventually, I received huge printouts, which I reviewed in detail, seeking potential bugs in the GOTO loop-de-loop world of FORTRAN. Oh what joy when we finally shifted to terminals with screens!

In my early twenties, I worked with a VAX 780, JCL, and COBOL, and my beautiful blue-screened GIGI terminal was hardwired right into the computer room. And yes, I had total access to this computer room, too.

Still in my early twenties, I wanted to find out what happened inside computers, down at the electronics and bit levels. Coding with English-like languages no longer interested me very much. So off I went into the land of C, and from there, down to the registers and Assembly language. And from there, into microcode and board/engineering schematics. I wound up doing fault detection logic on circuit boards. I spent my days crawling around the floors of ice-cold, sealed, high-security computer rooms. Strapped around my waist was a macho equipment belt. I became a soldering iron whiz. I drew blueprints for more than 200 circuit boards.

My daughter was still a little kid, and my son had yet to be born. I partitioned off what would later become my son’s bedroom. My company gave me equipment for the room: a knock-off generic version of a VAX 780 along with a hardwired terminal and large printer. I finally had my very own computer room!

Dan_lab_smI have this theory that my son grew up to be a physics and math wizard because when I was expecting him, I taught him math and electronics while crawling around computer rooms at work. On the other hand, maybe it’s because he literally grew up in a computer room. You think?

(photo left – my son in his physics laboratory)

 

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