Follow the paper trail

Back when I.T. was known as Data Processing, I was an operator of my company’s state-of-the art IBM 360 computer. In those days, any career minded computer science graduate was required to start as a computer operator to “learn the basics”. Like any office of the time the over eager clever types would often be the brunt of practical jokes that would in a way test their ability to handle the high pressure world that awaited them. This was also the era of paper punch card driven computers.

One unfortunate “know it all” novice was the victim of one of these more delightful trials. At the beginning of the night shift, the senior operator obtained a bag of the “punchings” – confetti like paper bits that were removed from punch cards in the “key punch” machines of the time. These where then carefully dumped on the floor in front of the main system unit to give the appearance that they were flowing from underneath the computer. When the recruit entered the room, the senior operator pretended to be very busy with the huge technical manuals and yelled at the victim, “Look the bits are coming out of the computer!!!! Quick call I.B.M. A.S.A.P.” The victim did not notice that there were an unusual large number of visitors to the computer room at the time. When the nervous novice made contact with the IBM “system engineer” trying to explain that the “bits” were leaking from the computer, he did not notice the whole computer staff trying very hard to suppress giggles and laughter as the poor fellow stammered answers such as “on the floor”, “thousands of them”. His hand trembled as he pointed to the pile of paper scrap “leaking” from the bottom of the machine. The rep was unable to help the poor who was almost in tears as he was really trying to make an impression on his peers and supervisor.

It was only when the laughter could not be suppressed any longer that the victim was let out of his misery and learned his first lesson of bits and bytes in the wonderful world of I.T.

Ted Cummings, Toronto