Oral history of British science

Coombs, Mary (Part 4 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 4: Comments on working with LEO at Cadby Hall and at the factory near Wormwood Scrubs about the time MC passed her driving test. Remarks on move to the Whitley's building on Queens Way, renamed Hartree house, where LEOII/5 was installed and a large programming department. Story about a visit by the Duke of Edinburgh. Remarks about becoming leader of a group working for British Oxygen. [04:30] Description of lunches during summer at Hartree house and social life. [05:42] Remarks on visiting restaurants whilst working at British Oxygen. [06:48] Remarks on Glyn Mills new payroll application near Heathrow with JL and converting program for LEO III. Remarks on computers producing too much statistical data for people to actually use. [10:22] Remarks on husband's experience using LEO III statistics in management. [11:30] Remarks on husband John Coombs [JC]: left army to join LEO, transferred to other department when they got engaged. [13:02] Remarks on early LEO team: LF, DH, JG, and engineering team, including Tony Barnes [TB] John Pinkerton [JP], Ernest Kaye [EK]. Remarks on interaction between engineering and programming team on LEO I on fault finding and changes to instruction set, and all getting on well. [15:42] Remarks on FL and Ernest Roberts [ER] joining. Mentions having no personal contact with EDSAC team, but knowing JP and EK did. [17:14] Remarks on Lyons payroll job in 1953, becoming head of a programming section, growth of team from 4 originally to 15 for British Oxygen job alone. Comments on good relations with external groups. [21:06] Remarks on not foreseeing how computers would develop at this stage, other than making programming simpler and computers smaller, and speed of LEO. Comments about visit of Duke of Edinburgh to LEO, LEO's position ahead of IBM. [25:03] Comments on working with LEO II, different programming language, hardware improvements. Remarks on not joining John Gosden's [JG] software engineering team as she enjoyed working with clients. [29:00] Remarks on managers, DC, Helen Jackson nee Clarke [HJ], Peter Herman [PH] who later worked for Dunlop and British Airways, and JL who later worked for British Airways. Remarks on being the only woman on the team originally, not being made to work all night, a friend Diane who married JL working all night. [31:58] Remarks on working hours with story about neighbours reaction to LF picking her up for work early. Remarks on not discussing work much with her father. [34:10] Description of a day's work, flow charts, memos for DC. [35:55] Remarks on quite a lot of oversight over work done at Lyons and error checking. Remarks on working in open plan office with programmers at Hartree House. Remarks on initially being close to computer but later further removed, assistants punching paper tape. Remarks on enjoying work on LEO.

  • 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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