things have and have not changed.

An utterly unlikely confluence of events during my sophomore year of high school in Denver, Colorado in 1962 sent me in unpredictable directions.

One of the Math Club members of George Washington HS was the son of a Control Data Corporation sales representative. The sales office had a CDC 160A demo unit, and if it wasn’t used for sales (and wasn’t actually broken down for problem diagnosis, or looted for spares by the field service personnel…) Math club members could use it for educational purposes. This one, admirably, was organized in the form of a programming course using the F0RTRAN language. (Whoever devised this presentation of the language decided that a circle with a dash through it would be the letter “O,” when for decades it had meant the number “0” for telegraphy and radio communications. therefore, a crossed-out circle as upper-case ‘o’ became a sign that you were truly plugged into exotic tech information.)

The CDC 160A was Seymour Cray’s first commercial computer, and was not as massively capable as most quarter-acre systems, but being transistor-based it could be miniaturized (the base unit looked like a very large office). In terms of overall processing power, it was essentially the equal of the computer running your wall thermostat or coffee maker. In today’s currency, shipped and supported models started at $200,000, based on my ability to retrieve price lists.


We made our programs, wrote the instructions on code sheets (a practice that persisted for maybe twenty more years, in some stores), and then used a Friden Flexowriter to punch a strip of paper with the program. When your turn has come. Then, when your turn has come, reboot the machine, load the compiler tape, then your program’s source code tape. Normally, the machine would then spit out a strip of paper containing terse and cryptic diagnostic critiques of your precociously inept work product, which you must now proofread and re-perforate. (Our first lesson in LOOP, ENDLESS: SEE ENDLESS LOOP). Otherwise, it would spit out the object tape.

Eventually, after dealing with the Linker tape, the Library tape, and the Object tape, an executable tape would come out, which then (when your turn came) could be loaded and run in the machine, usually with results that caused vocalizations like “Well, Bless my sox, what does this unexpected result mean?”, and a return to the coding sheets.


In the 59 years since, there have been many adventures. I inadvertently invented Third Normal Form in 1976, having had no formal education in what little was known about computing at that time. I restructured the operating system that controlled the engine and powertrain of Ford passenger cars (EEC-IV, 1987 and beyond). I was the architect of perpetual inventory and inventory management systems for a few large telecommunications companies. This stuff has always been in my blood, so to speak. In fact, after finding out at age 68 that I had autism, it became apparent that these things were of particular interest, and that not all other humans will have these interests and/or skills.

Today I read the article…

CDC has given the Math Club permission to allow us to invade and benefit from their commercial enterprise. I’m sure there’s been some understanding that when these machines become more and more affordable, a vast army of nerds with coding sheets will be indispensable.

From the point of view of what benefits for-profit corporations, this makes perfect sense in that, like construction workers, you need a lot of them to get things built. Additionally, we have for-profit coding academies, as well as some that seem to have goals other than wealth accumulation.

From my experiences of unemployment and bankruptcy due to unemployment, I find that most companies are totally ignorant of their real needs and how to find individuals who can meet them. After all, don’t forget that the primary function of the HR department is to identify the people who should not to be engaged. I only got my job at Ford because I was a contractor (so a product, managed by Purchasing, not a human, managed by Human Resources). Although I didn’t have an engineering degree (hence not eligible for hiring by HR), I was at one point tasked with tutoring a recent new recruit, who had a degree (U Mich), on how to do software engineering.

It seems that, on a daily basis, I come across examples of elementary software errors in software that controls our lives. These things can’t happen (at least not as oppressively often) if”encoders“to have correct and unequivocal instructions of designerswhose designs derive from the overall architecture proposed by architects.

Part of our problem stems from the unfortunate hierarchical distinction between coders, designers, and architects. The built-in assumption is that coders are the least valuable and architects the most. It is harmful. Coders, carpenters, pipe fitters, masons – if they don’t like what they do, things will tend to fall apart. If their value is not seen and taken into account, there will be problems, both short and long term.

My late father was a pipefitter. He liked it, was very good at it and taught me everything my neurologically impaired self could absorb. I found myself a designer and an architect; I’m a really poor coder, but I have enormous respect for those who do it well.

An effective system for finding, cultivating and deploying people to their promised land must start with knowing what you are looking for and what to do with it when you find it.

The for-profit model only works accidentally.

Gordon K. Morehouse