Friday, February 18, 2011

Ich bin ein IBMer....

I, Rhymeswithplague, do hereby swear or affirm that to the best of my ability I worked for IBM from 1965 until 1978 and again from 1996 until 2000.

Before I worked for IBM, I was a computer programmer in the U.S. Air Force; I programmed in both Assembler Language and FORTRAN (FORmula TRANslation), as well as in something called JOVIAL (Jules’ Own Version of the International Algorithmic Language, Jules being Jules Schwartz of the System Development Corporation (a wholly-owned subsidiary of IBM) and the International Algorithmic Language being the long-form name of ALGOL). To teach me how to be a programmer, the Air Force sent me to a school where the programming language was called TRIVIAL (Trusty, Reliable, and Ingenious Version of the International Algorithmic Language). Despite the looks on your faces, Senators, I wouldn’t lie about something like that. I am under oath.

IBM hired me when I was separated from active duty with the Air Force, having received an honorable discharge (Form DD214).

My first IBM job was in IBM Poughkeepsie (New York). Using long trays filled with punched cards, I generated the systems that were used in testing the first twelve releases of something called Operating System/360, which included PCP (Primary Control Program), MFT (Multiprogramming With A Fixed Number of Tasks), and MVT (Multiprogramming With A Variable Number of Tasks). Also, I helped test some of the earliest graphic devices IBM ever produced. I had to drive to IBM Kingston (New York) in the middle of the night during the testing cycle because that’s where the devices were and that’s when the block of time we received was, and one night while approaching the bridge that crossed the Hudson River I nearly hit a deer.

I also worked in IBM Boca Raton (Florida) and in IBM Atlanta (Georgia). I knew Don Estridge, “the father of the IBM Personal Computer (PC),” personally and had actual conversations with him.

I had hands-on experience with all sorts of unit record machines -- keypunch, verifier, sorter, collator, interpreter, tabulating machine -- plus paper tape, Mylar tape, magnetic tape, disk storage, drum storage, and such exotic-sounding concoctions as row binary, column binary, BCD (Binary Coded Decimal), EBCDIC (Extended Binary Coded Decimal) and ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange). In addition to the decimal system (base 10) we all know and love, I speak binary (base 2), octal (base 8) and hexadecimal (base 16) fluently.

For the record, I did not know Herman Hollerith or Grace Hopper personally, but I did once make binary patches to a deck of Assembler output using a 010 card punch.

I have visited IBM Sweden (Lidingö), IBM Time-Life (New York City), IBM Palo Alto (California), and IBM Research Triangle Park (Raleigh, North Carolina) but I have never visited IBM Endicott (New York), IBM Binghamton (New York), IBM Boulder (Colorado), or other IBM locations. So help me God.

For your information, Lidingö is pronounced Leeding-uh and not Luh Dingo. It is important to know this when giving directions to a taxi driver who speaks only Swedish, because if you don’t you may never reach your destination.

During the eighteen-year gap mentioned at the beginning of my testimony, I worked for what used to be called the Bell System. As Ma Bell changed and changed again over the years, I was absorbed, divested, spun off, downsized, and outsourced. You name it, it happened to me. Lo and behold, when the dust finally settled, I found myself working once again at IBM.

I said all that to say this:

This year IBM invites you to help celebrate its 100th anniversary by watching this fascinating video.

They’ve come a long way, baby, since Thomas J. Watson left the National Cash Register Company (NCR) and founded CTR in 1911. (For those of you who decided not to watch the video, CTR is not IBM in the Cyrillic alphabet but stands for the Computing, Tabulating, and Recording Company, IBM’s original name.)

Long may she wave.

And if this post has been too tame for you, if it has not been your cup of tea, if you want something a little less mundane and a little more electrifying (no pun intended), listen to this: President Kennedy’s address to the people of Berlin, Germany on June 26th, 1963 (9:06).

(Photo by Robert Knudsen, White House/John F. Kennedy Library)


  1. Thanks for the link to the (truly) fascinating video. IBM and its employees has, indeed, changed the world.

    I have met Grace Hopper (briefly). She addressed the Little Rock chapter of the American Business Women's Association of which I was a member. A remarkable woman! As I recall, she recounted the now-famous story about 'de-bugging' the computer. It's hard to imagine, now, that computers were once so large one could walk upright inside them.

    Nice post, RWP.

  2. There may be visitors to this post who do not know what the initials IBM stand for so I will tell them:-
    Icelandic Breast Maulers - after the various US troops who have used Keflavik airport as a stepping stone back to America. Many Icelandic fathers had to chase the interlopers off with harpoons.

  3. Pat, I am impressed that you heard Grace Hopper speak. The closest I can come to that is having heard Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers International, speak.

    Pud Thai, you of all people, having been recently lifted up from your beloved Yorkshire and plopped down in Thailand, should know that IBM stands for I've Been Moved. Please convey to your students my admiration for their King Chulalongkorn (1853-1910), or as he was known locally, Phra Bat Somdet Phra Poramintharamaha Chulalongkorn Phra Chunla Chom Klao Chao Yu Hua. Also, you might try encouraging them to Whistle A Happy Tune.

    The verification word is relizing. I am relizing that crossing several continents and oceans does not improve a person's ability to leave an appropriate comment.

  4. Wow thats some good experience you had.and to travel, change sceneries. Thats always good.
    My son also works for IBM and he loves it.:)

  5. The first computer I worked on was an IBM.