Punch it. You really had to “punch” the buttons of thes old 2401s if you
wanted them to move.
When I first started working in IT, 27 years ago, my first role was mainly
to operate things like these 2401s. I only did it for a few months, but I
can still feel every aspect of those tape drives. The sound of the door
slamming, the way the vacuums sucked the tape down so it could move, the
feel of those buttons, the whirring of tape moving back and forth. I got to
the point I could tell which type of program was using the tape based on
the behavoir of the tape (barely moving, spinning like mad, constantly
going back and forth). Data made visible.
Those were 2401s. Then there 3330s and 3350 DASD. I can tell someone has
been around along time when they refer to DASD instead of hard drives. And
there were the mainframes, the 3033s and the 3081s, and the midsize 4300
series that were more like giant freezers. Everything had a four digit
number and we got to learn them all and had to if you were going to be
taken seriously. It was a lot of fun learning to operate these machines. It
wasn’t what I aspired to, but I came to love it, and the ability to control
and be responsible for these computers felt like a great privilege. I even
got to operate vintage machines like an old 360 (model 145) that was an MVT
OS and basically ran a few simple programs. I got to sit in front of the
console of flashing lights, and when a job was finished I sat in front of a
teletype device and punched in the command to run jobs like DICKEREP and
JANEEREP. When I wasn’t doing that, I got to operate a bank of modems, each
the size of a small suitcase. A clients modem would call, and I would vary
on (“v on”) our modem and connect them via the console so they could sing
their modem songs together at 1200 baud.
Months later, I worked as a VM system operator, running a number of
Canadian mainframes that were part of a worldwide network of over a
thousand mainframes worldwide. We had a list of all the systems, and one
night another operator and I wrote a program to say hello to every one of
them as a way of reaching out to everyone. To our surprise, hundreds
replied back. Not knowing what to do, we furiously tried to chat with them
all. This was mostly a failure, but we ended up becoming friends with some
of them. There were no Instant Messenging Dummies guides back then.
When I first started, everyone at work was given access to a 3277 or a 3278
console so we could access something called PROFS, an email system. Not
long after, 3 part memorandums were permanently shelved. I remember in the
90s people started saying “I have email now, here’s my address”, but I was
lucky to have had it allready for some 10 years. I even got to see one of
the first viruses that way, the dreaded Christma exec. And even in the 80s,
inbox zero was an unachievable goal.
A lot has changed in all this time, and a lot hasn’t. For people who have
been working in IT along time, you will likely have your own memories come
to mind as you read this. For people new to IT, I won’t bore you with any
more war stories. I would say this, though: be mindful of the technology
you use today, for it will have an impact on the world in ways you can’t
even imagine yet. And when it does, you will look back and say: I worked on
that in it’s infancy! And technology will become a touchstone of your life
as you look back.
When I started, access to IT was rare. What has been the most signifigant
change in all these years is not the PC or the Internet or Java or mobile
devices or the WorldWideWeb (as it used to be called). The biggest change
has been how more and more people have access to IT. It is becoming
commonplace, ubiquitous. That to me is the greatest thing that has happened
in all this time I have been working in IT. I started working on mainframes
in a glasshouse environment writing PL/1 programs to run on MVS systems,
and to most people then and now, that means little if anything. But right
now I am typing this on a Blackberry and it is going to be crossposted on
my blog, twitter and Facebook, and lots of people know what that means and
indeed, can do the same thing themselves. That is the main difference, to
me, in what has changed in all these years.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. And now off we go, into the
future. Punch it. 🙂
Sent from my BlackBerry Handheld.