Another Story from an Early Programmer

A few years ago I had dinner with someone who became a programmer in the 1950’s. Today I had a chat with someone who became a programmer in 1970. Here’s a paraphrase of her story.

I was an accountant, and my boss asked me to price a computer and database for the sales team. I talked to a distributer and he gave me a price for the computer, software, and services of about $10,000, which was within our budget.

Before I made the purchase, I made sure it could do what we needed, and I said that the computer would need to be able to calculate logarithms. The salesperson said that this computer could only do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. To do what I needed, I would need an IBM 360 (which cost a lot more).

This didn’t sound right to me, so I bought a programming book and learned enough to know that (a) computers were going to be a big thing (b) the people working in it right now didn’t know what they were talking about (c) I could do well because I understood it immediately.

So, she left her job and went back to college to learn programming, starting with FORTRAN (spoiler alert: it supports logarithms). She ultimately had a career as a programmer and manager, retiring early.