My First Computer Job: Getting a Computer Operator Gig
Good Luck or What?
Back in the distant past I had completed my Associate Degree (2 year degree) in Computer Science. That field was new in those ancient days. I started looking for my first computer job, close to my house if possible. It wasn’t like today, in the 2008-2013s when getting a job, any job is almost an impossibility.
I was lucky, and quickly found a job only a few minutes away from my home in Pasadena, California. It was with a small engineering company. Just up my alley because I had started college first as an art major then quickly switched to an engineering major.
What’s a Digitizer?
I became a “digitizer” for a small engineering company. There I operated a drafting board contraption that allowed me to digitize whatever images or drawings I put on the drafting board. It was an interesting sort of thing and I quickly became a master of it.
What it did was write the result of my digitizing unto a reel of tape. The output of the tape was read into a mainframe computer and a FORTRAN program analyzed it. The output of the analysis was read by geologists. They used that analysis to determine if there was a high probability of oil in the ground being analyzed.
I was not, however, digitizing engineering drawings, or blueprints, but a series of scribble-like drawings that represented sound waves. The waves were reflections of sound waves under the ground detected by microphones. They were placed in discrete underground locations where scientists and engineers thought oil might be located.
The job was very interesting. But my interests was in talking with the young PHDs working there. Another major interest was being able to use that neighboring company’s high speed computer to analyze the tapes I would create from my digitized drawings. Their computer was just a hop-skip-and-a jump from where I worked. A mere 200 feet away at maximum.
I became Friends with the Optical Engineers
I became friends with the optical engineers that owned and ran the company in the building next to where I worked. There I met many other engineers that came to use their computer. There were lots of them. Computers were very expensive in those days. Very few small companies could afford to have a powerful IBM computer like they had.
I used their computer almost everyday and was able to run those digitized tapes I created.
A few months into my digitizing job I was approached by the owners of that company where I used their computers. They asked if I was interested in operating their computer for them. Their company was getting a lot more customers. They needed someone who knew what they were doing to operate their computer, an IBM 360/44. It was one of the rare high speed scientific computers of that day.
It was the original 64 bit mainframe computer. PC 64 bit computers fairly recently came into fashion a few years ago in the PC marketplace. However, the machine I worked on was not a PC. They hadn’t been invented yet. It was a full fledged mainframe computer. Full-fledged because computers in those days were monsters and most took up a small or even a large room.
I Received a Job Offer I Couldn’t Refuse
The offer I received from that neighboring company was one I could not refuse. It was for me to operate their computer for their customers plus their own proprietary optical programs which they also charged other companies to use.
That job, my first computer job, started me off on an almost four year journey. One which I ran some super sophisticated computer programs. Some were designing zoom lenses (new at that time), analyzing rocks from the moon, and many other specialized engineering software programs. They had well over 200 clients. All were engineers in one field or another that ran their jobs where I worked. In fact, I was the one that ran all their jobs.
It was great working there and I really hated to leave. But I had to finish one class for my bachelor’s degree at California State University, Los Angeles. I needed one more class that was only offered in the daytime. That great job ended, yet it had started my long, long journey. It was a journey into the field of computers, engineering, programming, and finally the Internet.
Was that Good Luck or What?
I had learned Fortran programming and was fascinated by it. I had made up my mind I wanted to be a programmer after working with Pat, their Fortran programmer. That was going to be my career. Back in those days most colleges and universities didn’t yet have a computer science degree so I took all the programming and computer classes Cal State offered. They were actually part of the business classes.
When I completed my last class I graduated. By that time I had made up my mind I would not get another computer operator job. That was essentially a dead end job. I had already decided to be a programmer. I sent out a lot of resumes and searched the numerous job listings in the Los Angeles times for programmers. A normal Sunday paper usually had about eighteen pages of programmer ads. What a difference compared to today.
To make a much longer story short I looked for a programmer job for about a year and a half, but to no avail. During that time I was occupied, however, making good use of my previous and current research on betting horses.
I got so good at picking longshots that I was making several times the money I had made as a computer operator. And my previous computer operator job was not what one might call a low paying job. It paid well for those days.
I never did land a programmer job. But in spite of the money I was making betting on horses, I felt I needed a job. I didn’t want to depend on the horses for a living. Betting on horses is too inconsistent. Things change so that a profitable method of selecting horses usually does not last long.
So I said bye bye to going to the race track most days and to a bookie some other days. I set my sights back into electronics of which I was also very familiar.
Once I made up my mind to go back into electronics I immediately got three job interviews. I was offered a job at each company. I chose the one close to where I lived, which also happened to be the most complicated and challenging job. There I started as a senior electronics technician.
My job was to diagnose aircraft navigation computers and then repair them. Sometimes I would diagnose the problem and have other technicians repair them. It was an interesting and challenging job.
That’s when I learned all about integrated circuits, now called chips, and exactly how computers worked. They were real new in those days. Those navigation computers were sophisticated high speed computers with many thousands of parts all jammed in a relatively small lightweight box.
I worked there for about eight months. Then came a mysterious phone call asking me if I wanted to be a computer programmer. I will leave that for another possible write-up. But here are a few questions I asked myself.
Some questions I considered
Was getting the computer digitizer job good luck?
Was getting offered the computer operator job good luck?
Did learning Fortran there influence my 33 years of programming?
Were all my good programming jobs and programming consulting a result of my digitizer or operator job?
Copyright © Charles L Harmon