And the winner is…

Thanks to everyone who entered our “A Picture’s Worth A Thousand Words” contest. We here at ComputerWorld Canada killed some of those slow, post-Christmas work days reading some truly captivating tales of workplace woe, many of which you’ll be able to read in these pages in coming months.

But today we congratulate our grand-prize winner — Dave Doyle of Edmonton.

Dave’s story is the ultimate “hard day” at the office. Thanks for sharing it with us, Dave. And please accept this Kodak EasyShare digital camera as some overdue recognition.

My first job

The year was 1975. I was working for a company that prided itself on cost savings, especially in the IT department. I had just entered the second year of a computer-programming course (nights) at the local community college and had accepted a full-time job as the computer operator some three months previous.

The system was antiquated beyond description. It had four tape drives, a printer, a card-stack reader/punch, and a whopping 16K of memory that sat in a huge container that was 4′ x 8′. This container had four drawers that could slide out for access or repair. During the summer I had to have these drawers constantly open so that the whole system would not over-heat.

The company had talked of replacing the system for years, but was never serious, due to the replacement cost and the cost of upgrading the programs.

It was the last day of the month. Our system — completely batch — was very slow that day. I was wondering what the problem was, when a small “bang” erupted from the rear of the memory cabinet. The system went dead.

I called our maintenance contractor, who took the usual four hours to arrive. He couldn’t find the problem and didn’t have the parts — the usual story. Twenty-four hours later, no improvement. Two more techs had come and gone with no success. They’d be calling in a specialist. Be back soon….

Meanwhile, my boss was in a panic. Our business was completely shut down while the computer was down — we used it to print packing tickets and invoices. About 120 people were sitting on their thumbs. They didn’t mind, though. They were all unionized, and were getting full wages.

Two more days go by — the system is still down. I’ve phoned around to all the other companies in town who used to have the same system. All upgraded years ago, except one — the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

I was instructed to bargain for the use of their computer system — price was no longer an object. I was able to get eight hours that night starting at 1:00 a.m.

The boss wanted me to be at work every second of every day in case they were able to fix the damn thing — and so, after working right through to 1:00 a.m. (most of the day sitting and watching the techs scratch their heads), I was finally able to gather all the punch cards (our programs) and headed off to the newspaper. I was shown to the room, and told “good luck.” There was an operator working late at night — the newspaper was in the procress of phasing out the old equipment, and he was using the new system to test the old data that was transferred to the new system. He had no time for me.

I got to work and was pleasantly surprised — the speed of their tape units were at least twice of ours. I was making great time! But as it was the last day of the month before all the trouble started — and we ran a batch system — I had no choice but to run all the month-end programs before proceeding to the next day’s work. No biggie, the programs only took about 30 minutes on our old system. I’d be done in 15!

I was almost finished the daily run, and looking ahead I began searching for a few blank punch cards. No luck. I asked the other computer operator. His reply? “We don’t use cards here anymore.” One of the monthly programs created output in the form of punched cards (hence our use of a card reader/punch). The newspaper’s system did not have that capability.

I raced back to work, found the program source cards, threw them in the car and raced back to the newspaper.

I found myself driving through the deserted streets of Vancouver at 3:00 a.m. holding punch cards up to the passing street lights to read the holes and to determine which cards needed changes to allow the program to work. (Take a moment to imagine doing that. Thank you.)

Although the newspaper did not use punch cards anymore, and didn’t have any around, they did have the machine. I’d brought some cards with me — punched out the changes to the program — and using the compiler I’d brought created the revised program. First compile worked. I ran it, and it worked.

I finished up the month-end programs, and got the next day’s work done before my time was up. I took all the program cards, tapes, compiler, source cards and a huge pile of printouts back to the car and returned to work. They’d repaired the system about 10 minutes before I arrived — but showing up with two full-days worth of work and having run all the month end programs — and re-programming the system on the fly — I was expecting a hero’s welcome. It had been a long 26-hour shift.

I got a “thanks” — and a gift certificate to a restaurant that was going out of business.

The next day the boss approached me — “You don’t expect overtime for yesterday, do you?” Respect — it’s all I ever wanted.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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