A day in the life of a programmer, circa 1973

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life of a programmer
life of a programmer

Day in the Life of a Programmer

Day in te Life of a Programmer, circa 1973 is from a Contributor.

Worked in DP

The life of a programmer was very different then.

In those days we had never hear of IT.

We worked in DP – Data Processing.

No one mentioned IT at all until the late eighties.

I remember that I was in DP one moment and IT the next – even though I wasn‘t doing anything different. Perhaps it‘s time for another change, e.g. to something with Knowledge in it. Knowledge Officers or Knowledge Providers sounds good.

Life of a Programmer – Early Start

I used to get in to work at 8 o‘clock in the morning. We had just started this new flexitime, where you could get in anytime between 8 and 10 o‘clock and leave 8 hours later.

I didn‘t get in early because I was keen. Far from it. I got in because I discovered that those that got in early, including the bosses used to eat sandwiches, read the newspaper and had a chat about the previous night‘s football or something similar.

All I did was to stop having my breakfast at home and have it at work after a visit to the sandwich shop after I got off the tube. I used some of my Luncheon Vouchers for that.

We all stopped around about quarter to nine so that those that came in late wouldn‘t know we had been skiving since we came in. Those that came in at 10 o‘clock were the moral degenerates and people used to make comments to them like ‘good afternoon‘, or ‘Had a night on the tiles then?’ Some of them didn‘t like this.

Life of a Programmer – Advanced Machine

I worked on an IBM 370 for Barclays Bank. That was quite a forward machine for the time, even though it took up the whole of the basement of a huge big building in Willesden. My laptop, it seems, has more power than the whole lot of those huge whirring boxes.

When I went to my next company, Texaco, they only had a 360/40, which was much slower, and you only got one run a day of your program, i.e. overnight. You had to be very careful not to make a silly mistake.

With Barclays you could get as many runs as you wanted. We had an RJE, i.e. a Remote Job Entry on the 6th floor of the building I worked in, near St. Paul‘s Cathedral – 3 floors above where I worked.

Life of a Programmer – Punch Girls

The punch girls were on the 6th floor as well. Once we finished writing a program on coding sheets, we would send it upstairs for them to punch them. It usually came back the next day or the day after.

There was still a funny attitude in those days to people who had lesser jobs. I think that we tended to think of them the same way as the posh girl in the sixties film Up The Junction looked upon her fellow factory workers.

We didn‘t talk to them much. I hate to say it, but I don‘t think we thought that those girls were good enough for us. Nowadays you only see that kind of attitude and class system in our hospitals

Life of a Programmer – Punch Cards

We wrote in Cobol. It was all batch programs. A normal sized program might be around 750 lines long. Each of these lines would go onto a punch card.

We would put the JCL cards on the front and then put our deck of cards behind it in the card feeder. The life of a programmer was difficult then.

All the cards would be sucked in and read one by one. We compiled the programs first and it usually took about 10 or 15 minutes to do that. It was a real pain in the neck when one of the cards got stuck or chewed up by the Card Reader. You would try the whole deck again, more in hope than in anything else.

Usually you had to get the card re-punched. If it was only one or two cards you would punch them yourself. Sometimes you had to open up the card reader and try to extricate the card.

When we were testing, we used to go to the computer centre in Goodge Street, or the one up in Willesden. You got more runs of the job there.

It was a real pain in the neck when you dropped a deck of cards. The only thing that tied the deck together was a rubber band, so everybody dropped them from time to time. You had to pick them off the floor and put them in the right sequence again. The life of a programmer seemed difficult when that happened.

Life of a Programmer – Tea Break

We had a tea break midway through the morning. That was fairly common. It was supposed to be for 10 minutes but the norm was about 20 minutes and sometimes as long as half an hour. It wasn‘t at a set time, but most people took it sometime between 10:30 and 11:00. The life of a programmer was more relaxing in those days.

When I was first there I accidentally went in the wrong toilets. I was a surprise to find individual towels there in towel holders. They even had people‘s names on them. This, as someone told me later was the boss‘s toilet. They didn‘t share the same toilets as us.

There were two separate canteens as well. One was the normal type of canteen where you went to the counter and they served you. The other was waitress service at the tables. Everyone could use both canteens, but it was mainly the bosses in the waitress service one as it was a bit more expensive.

The lunch break (or dinner break as it was then) lasted an hour.

There was also a coffee break in the afternoon, which was 10 minutes again, sometime between 2:30 and 3:00.

As in the morning, this normally lasted twenty minutes.

It was home time at four o‘clock for all of us early birds who got in early.

Life of a Programmer – Easy Atmosphere

It was a fairly easy-going atmosphere in those days, unlike the stressed environments now. The life of a programmer was more relaxed.

A lot of people just out of university had been recruited from all over the country to Barclays at the same time. Most had come from outside London, so it meant that there was a fairly busy social scene with regular parties.

The floor that we worked on was split into two by partitions. On the other side of the partitions were the financial people who bought and sold shares for the banks customers.

Most of them were from public schools or from ‘better‘ families, who had got them into the City. We saw them in passing and during tea breaks, but they would always sit at different chairs and tables from them. I think that they had the same attitude to us as we had to the Punch Girls.

Life of a Programmer – Changed Days

A lot has changed from those days, some for the better and some for the worse.

I used to hate it when people at parties used to ask me what I did. That was before the days of everyone having a PC, so it was like describing snow to those that live in the African deserts. I was never able to explain it properly, and they never understood. The life of a programmer was very different then.

I also think it was worth passing on that in 1973 people were saying that there would be no computer programmers in 10 years time.

Some things change, and some things don‘t.

They‘ve been predicting our demise ever since I wrote my first computer program.

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