Oral history of British science
Land, Frank (7 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 7: Detailed description of the programming process, with reference to TRT and DC, [03:56] a job FL worked on with John Bennett of Durlacher’s stockbrokers, analysis of business processes to create an integrated solution, choice of data to store, [07:34] block diagrams and flow charts, principles for breaking a job down before coding, explaining systems aspects to junior staff, difficulties persuading external companies of benefits of integrated approach. [11:00] Comments on the 'synchronisation problem': problems resulting from leaving things out of an integrated plan; examples of Ford Motor Company and the North Thames Gas Board; possible solutions. [16:48] Remarks on: the increasing importance of the system side of programming; synchronisation problem's importance. Description of programming LEO, using flow charts, checking, testing, batch processing compared to online systems. [22:15] Discussion about programming LEO: the tea shop ordering job; use of coding sheets and store layout in early programming; transfer of program to punched cards, then binary cards; testing process; division of larger jobs into smaller programs; [26:54] working with a computer operator, who differed from programmers; different levels of documentation for various groups involved; using a CRT and single stepping for error checking; reading binary; frequency of errors. [32:21] Remarks on group of programmers: small initially but quickly grew; women in group, first MC, then Betty Newman; differences between programmers outlook regarding maths, business processes and programming; large number of tasks individuals involved with. [35:25] Remarks on: job intended to calculate the distance between every railway station in the country, with algorithm by DC and JG; group working arrangements, such as on the tea blending job; use of computer by external customers, such as for secret military calculations for de Havilland. [40:03] Remarks on working environment at different stages of LEO career, proximity of computer in Cadby Hall and programmers in Elms House. [41:34] Discussion of Lyons as an employer: disciplined; strong social environment, that he only joined in later due to marriage; relatively flexible working arrangements; expected behaviour, time pressures, flexibility of systems; [46:08] interest in job essential to promotion; learning about the business part of the job through discovering variances in system, a speciality of statistic department specialists; perks of dinner in director's canteen and an interesting job; [short pause] memories of exciting work, but with occasional disaffections, such as DC's tryingly meticulous attention to detail; few failures but tedious. [52:34] Remarks on computer reliability always being a minor problem but not critical. Comments on development of career within computer department: slow start, not natural programmer; talent for systems work spotted and rose on the systems and marketing side; lead programmer of 1954 tea blending job; chief consultant, with responsibility for local offices, by time of merger. [56:56] Comments on: early views of computing, growing realisation of what the possibilities of what computers could do for society and reading more about them, such as 'Faster Than Thought'. [1:02:12] Comments on early jobs: software, LEO applications; cancelled reserve stores job; tea blending job; checking other's programs; Nivison’s job, first job for external customers; use of LEO by CAV motor industry firm, part of the Lucas Group, which FL became involved with on production control with far-sighted CAV executive Wilkinson; a production control job for J D Francis clockmaker, who were managed by ex-LEO report writer Standingford, on which FL thought he'd made an innovation but found out that ICL's David Fernberg had reached similar conclusions; specialising in production control work and the steel industry. [1:09:43] Remarks on: visits to external companies; led team on Ford Motor company job, on which he later wrote a paper 'LEO and the Model T Ford'; consultant status and change of job to work more on business systems; working with Mr Potter of Nivison’s stockbroker; [14:34] getting on well with clients; being unimpressed by ICI Paint's computer system; mixed success of later work with ICI lightning fasteners division on sales forecast.
Interview with computer programmer and information systems theorist Frank Land.