Oral history of British science

Coombs, Mary (Part 3 of 9). An Oral History of British Science.

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  • Subjects

    Computer Software

  • Recording date


  • Recording locations

    The British Library

  • Interviewees

    Coombs, Mary, 1929- (speaker, female)

  • Interviewers

    Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 3: Comments about becoming a management trainee with Lyons in the statistical office, working on a calculating machine, [02:15] not having an introductory course, father probably helping to get her the job. [04:10] Remarks on family orientation of Lyons and the Salmon and Gluckstein families. [04:52] Remarks on spending several months in the statistics department, being offered the opportunity to join the market research section, remarks on doing a test to check her suitability to work with LEO. Remarks on being the only woman on the LEO course and other people on course, including Frank Land [FL]. [08:21] Comments on course content: learning about how the computer worked, initial orders, limitations of instruction set at this early stage. [11:15] Story about learning about computers from a visit from Michael, son of ice cream department head's son, who was at Cambridge and knew about EDSAC. Comments on that she ought to have done maths at university and interest in maths. [13:51] Remarks on not interacting with computer at this early stage when it was used for scientific work. Remarks on problems with Standard Telephone Company tape machines and introduction of Hollerith punched cards. Remarks on Bull printers and translating manuals from French. [17:42] Short discussion of training course content. [18:52] Comments on systems analysis at Lyons, the work of DC, and converting problems to computer problems, flowcharts, tax codes and payroll applications, increasingly complicated flowcharts. [23:53] Remarks on starting work on LEO and being attached to John Grover [JH], along with Derrick Hemy [DH] and Leo Fantl [LF] one of the only other three programmers at this time. Remarks on being taught to program. [23:39] Remarks on her, John Aris [JA] and FL not being involved with original bakery job. Comments on payroll application, bakery job, and scientific work, such as crystallography. [28:22] Remarks on John Grover, decorated ex-serviceman, played tennis and hockey with MC. [29:49] Comments on Lyons sports club, grounds at Sudbury Hill, company sports day. Remarks on company amateur dramatics, [31:45] social aspects of working for Lyons, long employment at Lyons, unions. [33:07] Remarks on benevolent nature of Lyons. Remarks on Lyons' family company nature, formal nature of relations within company, not calling DC by first names until recently. [35:54] Remarks on being in a junior position at first and teaching programmers from other companies. [mic noise] [37:39] Remarks on development of work at LEO. Comments on a preparing a typical LEO job. Short discussion of later split into systems analysts and coders. Remarks on doing systems analysis work as head of a group of programmers. [40:51] Comments on having to know a lot about LEO I to program it due to limited memory size. Remarks on income tax programming. [44:14] Mentions salary. Mentions delay lines cutting speed down. [45:10] Comments on unreliability, spending evenings with engineers searching for problems, story about a technical problem caused by management lift. [47:18] Remarks on working long days, perk of dinner in management canteen, lack of overtime. Remarks on limited knowledge of LEO within Lyons, long term changes of computerisation and jobs. [49:20] Remarks on development of career within LEO: married 1955, baby born 1961, programmed till 1963, working in London. Remarks on working on a statistical program for British Oxygen in 1961 in Mayfair. Remarks on working on payroll programs with John Lewis [JL] for service officers for Glyn, Mills & Co, in 1961/62. Remarks on assisting FL with tea blending stock control program [mic noise] and working on a statistical program for Robson and Morrow. [54:30] Mentions working on Ford payroll. Remarks on Lyons tea shop orders program, which she didn't work on. [mic noise] Remarks on payroll programs for local authorities, including Greenwich, for which MC put accommodated a programmer at home. [57:09] Remarks on changes on LEO II and LEO III.

  • Description

    Interview with computer programmer Mary Coombs.

  • Related transcripts

    Mary Coombs interviewed by Tom Lean: full transcript of the interview

  • Related links

    Visit this interviewee's page on the 'Voices of Science' web resource

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