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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Early Days of Technology

The Early Days of Technology
In the early days of computers in the work place, the IT people were Gods who worked miracles.
IT people used this and were reticent to bestow any of their God-like abilities to the lowly “Users.” 
I worked in an order and execution department of a large brokerage firm.  Clerks filed orders in what we called “flip-flop racks” and then matched executions manually to those orders.  The matched reports were then sent to teletype operators to send the reports back to the order entering office.
In the early 70’s this process was automated.  Orders were filed on a mainframe computer and executions automatically matched with the report.  The execution information was sent to the office by the computer.  Clerks had to research and resolve messages that did not match for one of several reasons from an application on a terminal at their desk (we called them CRT’s, for cathode ray tubes.)
If a message needed to be sent to an office, it was written on a message pad and dropped off to a key punch operator to be wired to the office from their own CRT.
If an account needed to be researched or a trade adjusted, there was a separate “Dumb” terminal (CRT) for that process.
We had dumb terminals on each desk for researching trade issues.
We had a few dumb terminals in a separate area that were used for account research and trade adjustments.
We had dumb terminals used by teletype operators to send messages to the offices.
There was often a wait to use the account research terminals.  There were often errors made because teletype operators misread messages.
Our department operated this way for years.  One day I was watching an IT person trying to solve a problem.  He was on a dumb terminal which we used to resolve mismatches.  I saw him clear the screen and type a message to send to someone in his department.
“WAIT…What did you just do?”
“You can send a message from the order match terminal?”
“Sure, it all connects to the mainframe, you just clear the screen and then send the message.”
“So, we can send a message to an office ourselves?  We don’t have to write it out and then give it to a teletype operator to send?”
“Sure, their terminal is no different than yours.”
“WHAT? Could we also use all the terminals to do account research?”
“Sure, just clear the screen and type “PC” and the account research application will pop-up.”
“So, we don’t have to stand in line waiting for an account research terminal?”
“We can send our own messages?”
“We can do everything we need to do at our own dumb terminal?”
“Why have we been standing in line waiting for a terminal, and needing a special operator to send messages when we can do it all from the terminal at our desk?”
“I don’t know, no one ever asked.”
It took me several weeks to convince those in my department that they could perform all operations from one terminal by clearing the screen and entering the correct application code.  Some people still refused to send their own messages and they continued to use the separate terminals for account research.
Change is difficult.


  1. Good old days, figuring out how to use and abuse our machines. To IT's dismay, we could outsmart the terminal as often as not.

  2. Seems like it hasn't changed very much. Our IT guy is the very last guy to show up to work every day and he updates everything on our computers every evening after we go home at night and we're left to wonder why everything on our computers are different the next morning, pointlessly hitting random buttons for three hours until he finally shows up to explain it all again.

    If I could just do everything longhand on a notepad, it would be wonderful.

  3. Yes, change is difficult, especially for those of us of a certain age. I'll never be comfortable with all the technology at our fingertips. Much has been gained by all this technology, but much has been lost.

  4. GS was a wire operator at her firm before she was made Operations Supervisor.
    They didn't have CRTs originally and had to match up paper copies of each order,

    She was the Ops Supe when the company transitioned to the point where brokers could actually enter their own orders.
    Some of them never did get the hangof it.

    1. She became the IT guy.
      Couldn't get her near a computer at home.

  5. Anymore my IT guy is my 11 yr. old grandson. Kids know SO much about computers, smart phones and video games. - New blog post up. Aaaand I'm catching up. :)

  6. I like to tell the young guys in my office about how we used punch cards when I was first learning to program, and how we lived in constant terror that we would stumble and drop our deck. Man, what a difference it made when we could just store our programs in a file on the computer itself. . .

  7. I think we all fight change but eventually we come around and then we tell everyone what a great thing we just invented lol.

  8. Like Craig, I remember the terror of dropping punch cards. The final season of a really good show about early technology is on AMC now called Halt and Catch Fire.

  9. Isn't it strange how a simple solution is made out to be so difficult, and once the simple solution is discovered everyone is scared to use it.

    None of us like change though, we all think it's easier the old way.

  10. Okay, gang, quit talking geek. You lost me!

  11. Computers were a steep learning curve for me, but now I can't even imagine life without them . . .although sometimes I would like to.

  12. Oh yes, the original text messages ...... mysterious things back in the day!

  13. I don't understand how those things work. It must be dark magic or fairy dust. All I know is that when mine goes down, a phone call to my son for troubleshooting, or a hundred dollars to DISH Network for a house call, restores my internet.

  14. Sometimes change is difficult, and sometimes it's needed so much people adapt to it with no trouble.

  15. True.... Change is difficult.
    When computers came in our office (to replace the drawing boards) my boss would go around and ferret out the guys sitting in front of the terminal saying "I don't want you all to waste your time sitting in front of that box. Go and do some work on the drawing board"

  16. I'm outraged on your behalf about all those wasted hours. How silly to keep that information from those who need it most. That's like my supervisor changing my shift hours, "forgetting" to tell me and then ranting at me when I came in late. I ranted right back you can be sure of that.

  17. I still sort of remember how to use MS DOS...

    It's insane thinking how far technology has gone in such a short span of time. Remember being excited over your new cordless phone and the miracle of being able to leave the kitchen to talk to someone? And now we have phones that can do pretty much anything. It's nuts!

  18. We want something easy & they give us technology!!

  19. As aggravating as computers can be, I'm glad for all this modern technology. I'd have to be six people at work to do my job if it weren't for the internet and computers.

    LOL at your description of IT people - spot on!