June 14th, 2006


My first real job as a software engineer

In 1962 after escaping New York City and aborting my quest for a PhD in Physics I returned to Cambridge to be a special student at MIT and had a part-time job in the MIT computer center. I decided to apply for a real job and got one at Honeywell (then in Wellesley, MA) to join a project that was building a Fortran Compiler. This job came with a draft deferment and I thought it was pretty good to get such a job with just a couple of computer courses and a three month part-time job.

Honeywell's marketing strength was in commercial data processing so we were not a mainstream project. My whole career with the exception of a horrendous 6 months was with non-mainstream projects. This helped knit together the team because we had to stick together. At one point a few months into the project we were called into a meeting, I noticed that Hugh, a nice brilliant older fellow that was part of the project wasn't there. It turned out he had died during the night. This was quite a shock to all of us and helped knit our project together a bit more.

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We completed the first release in about 1 1/2 years. Actually I remember that management was so anxious to get it out on-time that we released a version that we knew wouldn't work and assumed that in the several weeks it would take to actually get it to customers we would have the fixes done (we did). Then as soon as we released these bug fixes we had to do documentation. So I and others drew flow charts (the theory is that these had already been done as part of the design) and wrote narrative descriptions. Then these were sent out to be professionally drawn and typeset. Five months later I got back the finished copy of this documentation. By then it was obsolete because we had made lots of changes. I asked about submitting documentation changes and was told that we couldn't do it because it was too expensive to produce. Of course no-one read the documentation because we were the maintainers and the field support people who were one of the intended audiences had no need for it anyway.