My First Job: Computers Are Us

Posted by Marlinee on Aug 5, 2010 in Work |

When I graduated with my library science degree I was pretty sure I didn’t want to have anything to do with actual libraries. In the library world, these non-libraries are called special libraries, which now that I think of it, makes them sound a bit learning disabled. Anyhow, special libraries are usually corporate libraries.

I managed to get a job about two blocks from the university at a company called Dataline. Depending on how you pronounce it, it sounded like a precursor to Lavalife, but in fact it was a computer timesharing company. Back in the day when computers were expensive, there were businesses that provided access to computing power on a pay for use basis. This went away in the early 1990s, only to re-emerge as the application service provider industry, which went bust around the early 2000s, and was recently resurrected as cloud computing. But I digress.

My job was to look after the physical library, a small room filled mostly with computer manuals, and the ‘library’ of software that ran on the rent-a-computers. There were 6 DEC-10 mainframes in the computer room on the top floor of the three story building. If you wanted a printout, you had to go up to the third floor, and ring the bell in front of a cage. An operator would retrieve your output and slide it under a slot. No one except authorized operators was allowed into the computer room.

Whenever there was a new release of software, I had to install it on all six of the mainframes, and update the software catalogue index. In order to accomplish the installation, I had to login to a console in a terminal room with a special ID and password that granted me the requisite super powers. After I logged in, I had to request a tape to be mounted and dismounted on each of the six computers to copy the updated files. Since I had never been into the computer room, I had no idea where the computers were actually located so I just assumed they were lined up, from one to six, in an orderly row. In reality they were far from sequential. As I moved through the list from one to six, requesting tape mounts and dismounts, the operator had to run madly and randomly across the room and back. I don’t know why no one pointed this out until much later, unless it was a good hazing ritual for new operators.

For many reasons it was the best place I ever worked. There was no one at the company over 40, and the majority was just out of school like me. This made it like an extension of a college campus and there were many dramas as couples formed and disbanded while still having to work together. Later there were also a few marriages. Come to think of it, not so different from Lavalife after all.

But I think what made it so distinctive was the era. We were in a cutting edge industry that was a precursor to the tipping point of wide spread adoption of computing power for mainstream business use as opposed to academic or scientific pursuit. Although the company’s services would eventually become redundant, we were pioneers of a business model that shows up in a different guise about every 10 years. And when it does, I get to say: “Isn’t that like computer timesharing? I practically invented that!”

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