Oral history of British science
Land, Frank (6 of 18). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee's home, Ivybridge
Land, Fred Frank, 1928- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 6: Comments on LEO aptitude test: tough, quick; Mary Coombs [MC] on same course; lectures given by existing LEO team, such as programmers Leo Fantl [LF], John Grover [JG] and Derrick Hemy [DH], whose work on LEO initial orders was similar to David Wheeler's [DW] at Cambridge, and which FL later worked on; [05:37] taught rudiments of programming, in assembly code. Remarks on features of programming in assembler, including symbolic codes and subroutines, influence of DW and Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge University in making a generally usable computer, unlike Manchester team. [10:00] Remarks on: Lyons engineer Lenaerts, who was sent to work with Cambridge team; limited hardware content of programming course. [12:09] Description of early LEO computer and its features: acoustic delay lines, arithmetic units, intricate wiring, small operating system with functions such as printing the log. [18:13] Comments on reliability issues: passed point of previous stoppage log; backup copy of computer contents made so that jobs could be restarted easily in event of problems. [20:02] Remarks on early days spent learning how programming worked in practice: discipline of checking programs as machine time was costly; value of checking as a learning exercise, such as learning from DH's clever programming; [24:23] working within limitations of computer performance and store. Remarks on input and output: punched cards, manual input, paper tape, printers; using binary punched cards, with check sum; David Caminer [DC] insistence of maintaining high programming standards and great attention to checking before programs entered into machine. [29:25] Remarks on DC: early Lyons career in systems research office; occasionally difficult to work with, stickler for perfection; hated and appreciated at the same time; became good friends with time. [32:18] Remarks on diversity of programming team: LF, mathematician; John Aris [JA] classicist; Mary Blood, languages; FL, economist; Lyon's search for a skill beyond mathematics; John Gosden's outstanding programming and software design skills, later an advisor to US government; inward looking nature of team, meaning they didn't notice approach of American companies; [35:55] rational thought processes and analytical mind sought by LEO; Peter Hermon [PH], who later developed British Airways computer systems. [38:21] Remarks on social life at LEO: clubs, sports grounds; DC's insistence that work came first leading to long hours; hierarchical nature of Lyons facilities, such as different canteens and toilets; privilege of eating in director's dining room when working at night. [41:15] Remarks on early career development at LEO: raise to management level, F grade, with its privileges. Short description of a typical working day, writing programs, checking programs, discussion with others. [43:45] Comments on managers: TRT: ex-Cambridge wrangler, recruited by Lyons in 1920s, father of LEO, frighteningly by naively intelligent – [46:52] with example of Ford motor company job; Simmons, company intellectual capital, transformed business processes; close contact with managers initially, leading to deeper understanding of systems. [50:55] Remarks on: talking with colleagues, such as JG and LF about work, checking each other's work; excitement of preparing tax tables when budget was released; [54:41] meetings with potential outside clients, such as Nivison’s Stockbrokers; constantly stimulated; seeing their role as improving jobs, until world changed when IBM and computer mass producers appeared putting the emphasis more on computers than their uses.
Interview with computer programmer and information systems theorist Frank Land.