My Computer History

My History, My Memories
Saturday Night Genealogy Fun
By Don Taylor

Photo of Don Taylor with cat Nasi.In his blog, Genea Musings, Randy Seaver suggested that people write about their computer history – basically how we “became slaves” to our computers. I figured, because computers are such a big part of my life, it would be good to share my experience.

High School

Osseo High School, New Wing – Source: 1967 Osseo Yearbook

My first experience with computers was the “computer club” at Osseo High School. Members of the club learned to program in BASIC. We used a teletype with an acoustic coupler using a telephone. If I recall correctly, it ran at 300 bits per second. We did our programming offline and created a perforated tape to send our programs to a mainframe computer. (Again, if I remember correctly and IBM 360.) To send our programs, we would dial up the host and send our perf’ tape info. The computer would then do the work and send back the results of running the program. I was terrible at programming. I remember writing a program to generate the prime numbers from one to 1000. Most of the other kids’ programs took a second or two of computer time to generate the numbers. My program took nearly a minute—very inefficient programming by me.  Anyway, I learned enough BASIC to be dangerous.[i]

Navy Days

I didn’t work with computers directly, but I did work with crypto equipment, which was very computer-like. Some of the equipment I used had perforated tape and used the same Baudot code as my high school teletype terminal. While in the service, I took a college course in COBOL[ii] and learned some more computer skills. I also took a college course in “Introduction to Computer Systems.”

TRW

Woman at a Docuteller 300 – Courtesy Wells Fargo Archives

After my Navy time, I got a job with TRW[iii] Customer Service Division. With them, I repaired cash machines (Docutel Total Teller 300), window teller machines, and terminal processors. The Total Tellers had small minicomputers associated with them. The computers were Lockheed and CAI mini-computers. To load the program into memory, you had to enter code directly into memory to create a bootstrap program. That program then accepted the actual code from a cassette tape using a standard Radio Shack tape recorder.  Occasionally, when repairing equipment, it was necessary to write a simple program that would cause the cash machine to do a simple task, such as to pick up a money packet and deliver it to the money drawer, or pull in a card, read it, and send it back. Simple programs, but they were all done in machine language.

Metropolitan State University

commodore 64 – Photo by the NerdPatrol via Flickr. (CC 2.0)

I wrote about my experience at Metropolitan State University in “Schools I’ve Attended.” The bottom line is that I purchased a Commodore 64 and a word processing program to keep up with the rewrites I needed to do for a Non-fiction Writing class I took. That computer was the start of my using personal computers for home use. I’ve always had a home computer since then.

NAVPRO

For several years I worked for the Navy at the NAVal Plant Representative Office in Fridley, Minnesota. I worked as an Engineering Technician in the Quality Assurance Division. The office installed a Wang 2200. The system has a program called IDEAS, which was an interface to a compiler that compiled BASIC programs. I requested access and was granted access to write some programs to track waivers, deviations, and engineering change proposals. I then wrote a couple of other applications for the Quality Assurance Engineers’ use. Meanwhile, the computer programmer they hired could not get any programs he was working on to work well. The commanding officer (CO) asked if I would be willing to go TAD[iv] to the Computer Team and work on some things. After a 90 day assignment, the CO asked if I wanted to do another 90 days. I agreed. After six months, the CO asked if I’d go there permanently. I agreed and was made a Computer Specialist. There I led the integration of Wang PCs into dual roles of office automation and terminals to the Wang 2200.

DCMC

After the NAVPRO, I got a job with the Defense Contract Management Command as a computer specialist. There I worked with several different computer systems, but most importantly, I set up a Novell Netware system using Ethernet. While working for DCMC, I became Netware Certified. DCMC became its own agency (DCMA), and I continued working for them. I became certified in Microsoft Exchange Server and began working as the Exchange “subject matter expert” for the agency.

Technology Chief

I continued working for DCMA and was selected to be the Technology Chief for the Eastern District. As Chief, I had Computer Specialists in some 25 states reporting to me for technical direction[v].

FBI

After 911, I decided to apply to the FBI. I was selected for a computer specialist position at CJIS Division in Clarksburg, WV. I worked in Requirements for a while. I studied to become a PMP (Project Management Professional). I was then selected to lead the test group where we tested changes to hardware and software to IAFIS (Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System),[vi] NCIC (National Crime Information Center)[vii], and NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System)[viii]

Triple-I

After I retired from the government, I used my Program Management Skills and Technical know-how to put together a NOSC (Network Operations and Security Center) for a Triple-I[ix] and SAIC[x] joint project. While there, besides putting my Project Management skills to use as the site leader, I became a CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional).

Today

Today, I use an iMac for my personal use and have for probably ten years or so. I knew Windows NT very well back in the day, but I get confused and frustrated when I need to use Windows 10 (it works very differently from Mac). That said, I and the “Technology Guy” at the Historical Society where I volunteer. I also help out fellow genealogy folks in several genealogy groups I am a member of, particularly if it relates to online systems (Ancestry, Zoom meetings, etc.) or Mac.

I became interested in computers when I was in high school in the 1960s and began working with them as the key component of my employment in the 1980s. I’m not sure I’d agree I’m a “slave to my computer,” but I do use mine 40 to 50 hours a week, so some people (like my wife) might agree that I am a “slave to my computer.”


ENDNOTES

[i] Good thing BASIC stands for “Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.” I was definitely a beginner.

[ii] COBOL stands for “COmmon Business-Oriented Language,” and was used for data processing in business, finance, and administrative systems.

[iii] TRW stood for Thompson Ramo Wooldrige. It was qcquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002.

[iv] TAD – Temporary Assigned Duty.

[v] At that time the Computer Specialists reported to their local commanding officers for administrative purposes and most command required activities and to me for technical direction.

[vi] IAFIS is the system that law enforcement checks when fingerprints cannot be matched within their own local or state systems.

[vii] NCIC goes back to the 1960s. I remember Harry Morgan tearing off the NCIC printouts from the teletype machine and handing it to Jack Webb in the Dragnet revival.

[viii] NICS is a system used by 22 states to check that a gun purchaser is not prohibited from buying a gun.

[ix] Triple-I is Information Innovators, Inc. The company was acquired by Salient CRGT in 2017.

[x] SAIC is Science Applications International Corporation.

Schools I’ve Attended – Work Schools

My Life
Those Places Thursday
By Don Taylor

In my final article about schools I’ve attended, I decided to write about work-based schools and training I’ve had. Over the years I’ve had dozens and dozens of classes that lasted a day or two that I’m not mentioning here. Rather, these are the classes and training that I’ve had that changed my life.

TRW – Docuteller Cash Machines

A woman at a Docuteller 300 – Photo courtesy Wells Fargo Archives

After I got out of the service, I went back to Minnesota. There I began looking for a job. My best friend, Doug, worked for TRW, Customer Service Division. He worked servicing those new, cutting-edge technology, of cash machines.  He suggested I apply there and sure enough, I got the job. This was the third time Doug and I worked for the same place. (Holiday gas station and Marty’s Grill, both in Crystal were the first two.) Anyway, TRW sent me to school in Dallas, Texas, for a month of training to work on Docutel cash machines – the Docuteller 300. It was a good school, besides learning how to do the mechanical repairs they taught us some of the basics in programming in machine language. On occasion, we would install a part, like a solenoid, and need to exercise it to assure it was working correctly. We’d program the solenoid to activate for a time, then release and remain released for a time then repeat. Simple things, but it taught me more about programming and understanding the differences between machine language, assembly, and higher level languages. The automated teller machines communicated to a central office using a modem, so the training also included synchronous and asynchronous communications.

The machines required the user to make deposits using an envelope and withdraws were in $25 and $50 packets that were put into a small drawer in the front of the machine. The drawer would open up for the customer to take the money or a receipt that said why the money wasn’t disbursed. I recall one customer who wasn’t happy and decided to get back at the bank. The person “tickled the machine” that is to say they put their bank card into the machine and then held the card so it wouldn’t go into the machine to be read. The ATM printed a receipt that indicated the card couldn’t be read, put the receipt into the drawer, then opened the drawer. The person took his receipt then filled the drawer with feces giving subsequent customers a surprise when they used the machine.

I also learned about (bank) teller terminals and terminal processors, which used 8” floppy diskettes. I worked for TRW for about nine months and then was laid off.

Defense Logistics Agency – Defense Contract Management Command (DCMC)

I went to work for DCMC at the Twin Cities Arsenal (TCA) inspecting bomblets. Mostly, I inspected the solder work to assure work to weapons specifications standards. I went to training for a week or so to learn soldering standards. After the TCA, I worked at the Honeywell plant on Stinson Blvd in Minneapolis. While there I learned NASA soldering requirements and inspected the work for various gyroscopes and accelerometers used in aircraft and missiles. I even inspected the hand controllers for the Space Shuttle.

Naval Plant Representative Office, Fridley (NavPRO)

I started working for NavPRO in the Quality Engineering Department and made a major career shift from Quality to Computers (See: Schools I’ve Attended – Metropolitan State University) While with the NavPro I attended training many times, including training about cc:Mail. cc:Mail was a product by Lotus, who was a big name in spreadsheet software back in the day. That training served me well when I transferred to the Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA).

Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA)

I continued working with computers with DCMA. I became one of the eMail specialists for the Command. Later, I went to Microsoft Exchange classes to learn Microsoft Exchange (the back end) and Outlook (the user interface). Eventually, I transferred from Minnesota to Los Angeles and became “Mr. E-Mail” for the Western District. Of course, DCMC being a government organization there were many short training experiences, particularly in leadership and personnel management. With DCMA training I developed a style of leadership. I also believe I developed a quotation I used the rest of my working life, “You lead people and manage things; when you manage people, you treat them like things.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)

After 9/11, I transferred to the FBI. While with them, I took classes in project management, tested, and became a certified “Project Management Profession (PMP)” through the Project Management Institute. Eventually, my project management skills allowed me to became the lead for a large test group (NCIC, IAFIS, NICS) at the Bureau.

Information Innovators, Inc. & Gray Lion Consulting

After my retirement from federal service, I went to work for Information Innovators, Inc. (aka “Triple-I) for a short time. Then, I created my own company, Gray Lion Consulting, with a contract to provide project management services to Information Innovators. Maintaining my PMP required regular “professional development” classes. To enrich my knowledge about IT Security, I went to a week-long “boot camp” and studied some more to test and become a “Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP). Being both a PMP and a CISSP allowed me to manage a Network Operations and Security Center (NOSC) until my second retirement.

Don Taylor Genealogy

After my second retirement, I got very involved in Genealogy. I attend genealogical conferences regularly and plan for at least one hour of genealogical training every week, usually through a webinar or other online event. Throughout my life, I’ve learned the power of education and the importance of being a specialist in something.