Oral history of British science
Land, Frank (8 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 8: Comments on systems analysis: unexpected outcomes, need to experiment, tailoring of input and output forms to personnel and use of mark sensing systems; example of problems with Kayser Bondor system. [04:38] Comments on: opposition to computerisation, useful form of feedback, opt-outs, with example of Enid Mumford's work at Rolls-Royce; systems analysis at Lyons; human knowledge outside computer systems, with example of Guest, Keen and Nettlefolds computer system from his later career. [11:12] Remarks on: apprehension caused by computer system installation; British Oxygen system whose specification changed unexpectedly leading to manager losing his job; complexity theory as systems involve more people. [15:09] Remarks on: career paths from programmer to chief consultant; limitations of chief consultant role to commercial systems; changes in department around him as it grew; limitations of Lyon's drawing customers from their own institution of office management under JS, rather than more widely, as did IBM. [19:40] Remarks on LEO computer development: development of a business orientated computer from Cambridge EDSAC origins; peripherals, such as retail tag reading machines, Samastronic printers, problems with Standard Electric magnetic tape; development of software, languages and larger storage making programming easier; nothing to match DEC minicomputers; close involvement of programmers like JG and JP's engineers in hardware development; [26:18] poor marketing arrangements, until appointment of Ken Barge from IBM; relationship between programmers, engineers and system designers; LF's subroutine work. [29:40] Remarks on: lunch partners, programmers, engineers, limited cliques; closest colleagues in early days and their later careers, Betty Newman, Alan Jacobs, Brian Mills, Arthur Hayman, John Aris; lunchtime conversation topics; limited involvement with Lyons senior management. [34:28] Comments on the tea blending job: assigned by DC; diverse background of tea supply and keeping of stock records; balancing of taste, blend and cost; 30 year life of job; [38:44] FL still junior; testing and experimentation, unlike situation today; importance of visiting sites to understand context of system. [42:29] Remarks on: not talking much to other Lyons staff about work; user feedback and reactions to it. [45:11] Remarks on: mismatch between customers buying their computers rather than their expertise; pressure to sell computers; competition with English Electric after merger [closed between 47:20 – 49:19] Remarks on: responsibility for the commercial market whilst JA dealt with government; limitations of power by competition from managers DC and TRT; responsibilities of job; presenting LEO to clients; arrangements for outsourcing work to LEO; LEO commercial success. [54:34] Comments on presentation to clients: British Insulated Callender's Cables; Ford, lost to an American competitor; key points of demonstrating understanding of processes and capabilities of computer; follow on meetings, such as on British Oxygen job handled by Brian Mills; Freemans job, handled by Mike Jackson; [1:00:57] reactions from prospective customer. Comments on problems caused by LEO's catering origins, with example of Colvilles steel-makers. [1:04:48] Remarks on: awareness of possible opportunities, tendering processes, importance of director level contacts, with example of ICI; knowledge of the competition, with example of knowing an NCR CRAM computer system better than NCR. Comments on LEO's position compared to British rivals, such as ICT, EE and Ferranti, and American companies, IBM, Burroughs and NCR. Remarks on: Kimball tags for retail systems; [1:12:20] British government policies toward computing industry, mergers and split of civil from military computing industries, such as EE and Marconi; IBM's status as key competitor, compared to British companies; impact of IBM360 range on computer market.
Interview with computer programmer and information systems theorist Frank Land.