It is hard to believe that I have been working in IT for close to 40 years. I got my start doing tech support connecting dedicated NBI word processors to room-sized Xerox printers when the first IBM PCs were coming into corporations. I have written about my first editorial job at PC Week (now eWeek), and it has been quite a ride since then. And no, I am not writing this post with any thought of retirement. I am still having far too much fun.
One of the best parts of my job is talking to my sources, IT managers who I have had the honor to know for decades through many job changes (both theirs and my own). It has been fun and rewarding to watch their careers and their responsibilities grow. Some are now retired or have moved on to non-IT fields and some are still running around fixing things for their companies. I wanted to celebrate the many men and women who have contributed to our industry and so here are some of their stories, and my thanks to having their contributions once again. Let the celebrations begin!
David Goodman is working for Build Consulting and has been in the non-profit field since we first met when I brought one of my test servers to the Guggenheim Museum in NYC 30 years ago. His first IT employer was working for a small object-oriented compiler vendor in the late 1980s.
Jerry Hertzler began his career as an engineer at McDonnell Douglas back in 1998. He left there and started in IT for the Campus Crusade for Christ as a network engineer, where he still works and has supported many of their local chapters around the world. We met when I was doing a column for Infoworld back in the mid-1990s where I would hook up a vendor with a new product with an organization that wanted to upgrade to the product. (Think of an HGTV makeover but for nerds.) The vendor agreed to provide the product for free as long as I could write about the experience. The resulting article can be found here: Campus Crusade gets VG’ed, “I guess that was our first major purchase, getting additional VG hubs.”
Gayle Barton got first job in tech with Xerox in 1973, learning how to program in COBOL and being part of an early in-house training program there after getting a BA in economics. Her last job before retiring in 2019 was the interim CIO at Springfield (Mass.) College. Along the way she held other collegiate IT and CIO positions. We met when I spoke at a collegiate IT conference at my alma mater Union College.
Mark Lillie started his career as a salesman at ComputerLand. Back then he sold Texas Instruments PCs, the Xerox Star and the Osborne. “Those turned out to be less than ideal choices,” he recalled. He went on to have a career in healthcare IT, ending up as Director of Customer Services for a software company. We met at a conference, and I came to speak when he was at Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Connecticut’s IT department. “The mainframe guys were incredulous that I knew you personally!”
Adam Kuhn got his start in selling copiers and memory typewriters. He realized early on that he wasn’t the greatest salesman but recognized his love of tech. He got his first IT job working in a trade association in DC and has risen through the ranks where today he is Director of IT for a financial services-related trade association. “You met me early in my career and saw my potential,” he said. My favorite story was when his company removed their IBM mainframe back in 1995.
Don Berliner’s first employer was an early IT consultancy and he continues to help a local non-profit to better manage the services they provide their clients. We met in person a few years ago after corresponding for decades and found that we both got the same graduate degree in Operations Research, along with other similarities in our career paths.
John Cronin got his start as an engineer at Monsanto, where he led a team that implemented the company’s first large-scale LAN and got Windows to run reliably across it. Later on, he worked as an IT architect for IBM even though his time there was unsatisfactory. “My biggest financial decisions were during my engineering days. Our “small” projects were $10 to 20M, which by comparison many people had $1M IT projects. My approach was from my engineering days where you developed a deep understanding of the technology you were using and knew whether it would really work or not. In engineering, failure is never an option but in IT, project failures are quite common and I actually killed my first three IT projects because the tech wouldn’t work.” While we didn’t meet until later in his career, he served as one of Infoworld’s IT advisory board members when I was writing for them.
Terry Evans operated an IBM 402 accounting machine that used punch cards way back at Barden’s Pest Control, eventually moving into the PC era, and retired from the City of Long Beach as the Manager of the Data Center and Network Services. “The PC changed my professional life and has certainly withstood the test of time.” While at the city, he put in ESRI’s Geographical Information System, which was their first installation for a SoCal government.
Sam Blumenstyk started out with Arthur Anderson back in 1974 and just recently retired as the Technology Operations Manager for the NYC-based law firm Schulte Roth & Zabel, where he worked for many years. I wrote about his exploits several times, including this 1993 article for Computerworld. A mutual favorite of both of ours was a series I did for VAR Business called “Sam’s SAN Diary,” where he kept track of the first SAN put in at his law firm around 2003. “This gave me a lot of vendor visibility.” I wrote another article for Infoworld in 1995 which chronicled his work for one of his client agencies for the NYC government and his early exposure to the multiuser Citrix product.
Erica Wilson began as an IT Analyst at Anheuser-Busch and now is the VP of Global Security & Privacy Risk Management at the Reinsurance Group of America. We met many years ago when we both served on the advisory board for the cybersecurity program at Fontbonne University. She counts her greatest accomplishment being recognized for her career by the St. Louis Business Journal’s 40 under 40. “It is great to see how authentication has evolved. Long ago, we had hardware key fobs for MFA. At one company, we had a full-time staffer who was dedicated to managing these tokens. This would never happen today!”
In my next post, my OG crew talks about some of their more memorable early IT purchases.
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The IBM 402 Accounting machine was the computer at my high school !
My introduction to computing was helping in the keypunch room at Fair Lawn High School starting in 1967. We had four pieces of IBM tabulating equipment: keypunch, sorter, collator and a 402 Accounting machine. Each had rudimentary programming capabilities and worked with an 80 column IBM punch card having 12 possible holes in each column.
The keypunch had a drum where you could wrap around a punch card with codes for each of the 80 fields. A keypunch had two areas the cards passed through: one for reading and one for punching. The codes included skip this field, duplicate the field from the reading position, shift to numbers only and maybe a few others.
The sorter had wire brushes and you could sort the cards on any field, one position at a time. It has one input bin and 13 output bins: twelve for each of the possible rows and a reject bin. Sorting a three digit number field required three passes of the cards. And sorting alphabetically required two passes for each letter, since the letter were combinations of the 1-9 fields and the 0, 11 and 12 fields. 11 and 12 were not printed on the cards but were positioned above the O row. Programming the sorter amounted to identifying with of the fields the wire brushes would sense for sorting.
Our collator had two input bins and,4 output bins. On the side was a plugboard program panel that instructed the machine what bin to put it in based on the punches being read. The only program I remember inserting was one that alternated blank cards from one bin with punched ones from the other, so that we could intersperse blanks to then feed it to the keypunch to duplicate most rows of a deck of cards for a new data set.
The brains of our keypunch room was an IBM 402 Accounting machine. It could read cards and print out the contents. It also was programmed via a replaceable side panel – its plugboard program panel. It printed a line at a time, with 43 alpha-numerical type bars on the left and 45 numerical type bars on the right, to print a total of 88 positions across a line of a report. I programmed one panel for a special attendance roster during the spring of 1970 when in solidarity with college campus shut downs we set up a set of special elective seminars to be held during school hours. Keypunching cards for each student’s choices, sorting them into class sessions, and then using the 402 to print rosters for the teachers with an extra line showing the computed count of students for seminars. The standard panel we used 4 times a year would print student report cards, computing their grade point total by multiplying the credit hours times the numeric value of the letter grade; that panel had a lot more wires than my first program. Wikipedia reports that a 402 was still in use in 2022 at a manufacturing company in Texas, “the oldest American computer in service within the United States of America or elsewhere on the Earth”.
Today, the keypunch room at FLHS is an office used by the school security officer. I’ll bet his phone has millions more processing power than all the equipment we had in there some 50 years ago.