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Programming through the decades

by Tricia Lockhart published Feb 10, 2014 12:00 AM, last modified Jun 08, 2015 12:39 PM
In 1964, as a 15/16 year old, in a Herefordshire school founded in 1632, an inspiring Maths teacher (Mr Jones) taught us Fortran IV. We borrowed a punch for the cards from Wiggins a local paper company and they ran our programs for us.

We had a trip to see a 1948 computer then at Wolverhampton College of Technology and known as the WITCH. This used paper tape and for a loop we punched the instructions out, stuck the two ends together with glue, placed it on the huge computer and watched it go round and round.

In 1968 I began a Maths degree at Birmingham University which included some statistics and computing (Numerical methods as well as programming etc). Again Fortran was the main language. We wrote the code on squared paper and handed the program in at the correct window of the dust free large computer room. (WE were not allowed inside!) the output we collected from another window a day or so later. In our stats practicals we still used mechanical calculating machines. It sounded more like a large typing pool as we clattered the keys and swung the handle round or moved the carriage along. (Moving the carriage along one way equated to multiplying by a multiple of 10 and the other way was effectively division; combine this with handle turning so for example, to multiply by 300 you would move the carriage along and then turn the handle three times and to multiply by a complex number like 367.89 you'd be positioning the main barrel according to the position of the digit and turn the handle the same number of turns as the value of the corresponding digit).

In 1972, I started a PGCE at Didsbury College ratified by the Victoria University of Manchester. I taught myself basic as there were terminals in the Manchester Business School and then I could create a program based on the Seive of Eratothenes to generate the primes between two limits input by the user.

In 1973 I started my first teaching job as a Maths teacher (Tonbridge Girls Grammar in Kent). In about 1974 or 75 I purchased a Texas calculator for £68 (It had been £93 just a few weeks before). My salary was about £1100 a year I believe. It was actually quite good and came in a lovely blue fur lined case - emphasising it's value and preciousness. It enabled me to work out when my students had made an error early in a long calculation whether their calculation had any other mistakes so in many ways it empowered my teaching and they liked that.

In 1983 I was teaching in Great Malvern when the BBC Micro came out. The programmes on TV were excellent. Evesham Micros had their first shop probably in Evesham which was where I lived but possibly it was in Malvern. We had a Commodore Pet at the school but I purchased a BBC Micro from Evesham Micros and there were others around who did similar. Some people had the Sinclair ZX. Due to RSRE Malvern, there were a lot of locals who were enthusiastic about the concepts of home computers. Running the tapes on which the programs were stored drove you mad. There were endless discussions about which tape recorders would reduce the amount of times you needed to rewind and replay because the sounds of squeaking and bleeping were almost torture and the tension of whether at the end of it we would see an error message or the program were almost unbearable.