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What was it like going to work in the 60s, 70s and 80s?
Old 04-05-2015, 11:49 AM   #1
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What was it like going to work in the 60s, 70s and 80s?

I graduated from college in the late 90s and have been in IT my entire career. However, I often wonder what did a typical desk look like without compupters. Of course, I remember the green and amber monitors and terminals from a mainframe before the PCs but what was there even before those?

The second question that I wonder about is with 50+ different IT areas of focus today (ERP, Infrastructure, Cloud, Web development, programming etc etc) where you see everyone and their cousin in IT these days what was the equivalent back then? Outside of doctors, lawyers, civil engineering what were the other professions everyone wanted to be in? Was it Sales, Marketing or something else, what was the office life like?

I guess part of the reason I'm wondering these things is what could I do if I were to switch careers from my high stress 24x7 IT management position to something else that allows me to leave work at work after 5pm and on the weekends. I guess I'm just feeling nostalgic and imagining a simpler life of the yester years.
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Old 04-05-2015, 11:51 AM   #2
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You could watch Mad Men....
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:01 PM   #3
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You could watch Mad Men....
+1

one huge difference (in the USA) is IT was much whiter and maler then, as was true in most office departments
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:07 PM   #4
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Before computers I wrote reports by hand or with a typewriter. Do not want to go back to that!
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:09 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by dvalley View Post
I graduated from college in the late 90s and have been in IT my entire career. However, I often wonder what did a typical desk look like without compupters. Of course, I remember the green and amber monitors and terminals from a mainframe before the PCs but what was there even before those?

The second question that I wonder about is with 50+ different IT areas of focus today (ERP, Infrastructure, Cloud, Web development, programming etc etc) where you see everyone and their cousin in IT these days what was the equivalent back then? Outside of doctors, lawyers, civil engineering what were the other professions everyone wanted to be in? Was it Sales, Marketing or something else, what was the office life like?

I guess part of the reason I'm wondering these things is what could I do if I were to switch careers from my high stress 24x7 IT management position to something else that allows me to leave work at work after 5pm and on the weekends. I guess I'm just feeling nostalgic and imagining a simpler life of the yester years.
I went to work in the 70's. We didn't have desks, we used long, cafeteria style tables. One drawer to store stuff, no filing space. That was for managers. Suit and tie, fixed schedule, time clock morning and night even for an office job.

Communication with other locations was done by a teletype system with no way to ensure the recipient received whatever was sent. Every phone call outside of the local area was logged and tracked, and international calls required a department manager approval and took an hour or so to dial.

I sure don't miss the good old days. They weren't that good.
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:09 PM   #6
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My job is more difficult than other folks jobs.
Nobody could do my job as well as I do my job.
I could do most other jobs better than those people do.

Three common beliefs about our jobs and other jobs.

I have observed a few jobs where the bell rings and the folks are out the door. Bargaining unit jobs, some government jobs, some lower jobs at the university. But those jobs are not stress free either.

For some reason, most jobs have to pay people to get them to show up.
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:12 PM   #7
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Other than a telephone most execs not only did not have computing devices at their desk, they did not want them. Preparing a letter was something the steno pool did. Numbers were handled over in the accounting department.
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:13 PM   #8
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When I first got into IT it was transitioning from punch cards to dumb terminals connected to a mainframe. I remember writing all my code on paper, then waiting in line at the terminal bullpen for an open spot. My desk was covered with punch card decks (rubber banded together), flowchart templates, and coding paper, with stacks of printouts underneath. Pretty ugly, and probably a fire hazard.
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:42 PM   #9
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When I first got into IT it was transitioning from punch cards to dumb terminals connected to a mainframe. I remember writing all my code on paper, then waiting in line at the terminal bullpen for an open spot. My desk was covered with punch card decks (rubber banded together), flowchart templates, and coding paper, with stacks of printouts underneath. Pretty ugly, and probably a fire hazard.
I just missed punchcards, our procedures called for writing code on coding sheets and giving it to a librarian to do the data entry. We were coding business applications in 370 assembly language. You would get a printout in two days that you could use for debugging. There were no source statement debuggers, you could set breakpoints at displacements and look at registers and offsets of registers that was it. It you made a change you noted the difference in displacements on the listing so you could keep working till you got the latest printout.

Back then we had analysts and programmers, programmers wanted to become anaylsts.

4gls were getting attention so you wanted to be exposed to that. Upper case and then lower case came and died but they were good skills to pad your resume. Then came relational databases had to get those on your resume.

Today its, scrum, agile, java and Javascript, agile methodologys, ITIL and ITSM, obect oriented everything and refactoring. Automated test scripts. Any new buzzword has instant acceptance. Many more crit sits due to lack of planning.
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Old 04-05-2015, 12:52 PM   #10
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Great topic!

I started working in IT in 1982. We had dumb terminals by then. The pager I had had about a 20 mile radius. If I was on call I had to stay within that range. If the pager beeped, I had to call a specific number which I needed to know as it wasn't displayed. There was no record of the call coming in on the pager either, so if you were in the shower and missed the beep, you didn't know you had been paged.

We didn't have flex time and we had to dress in business attire.

I got my first job by answering an ad in the Sunday paper for an entry level programmer. I found out later between 600 and 800 people applied for the job! After that, most of my jobs were a result of former coworkers calling me and telling me about a job opening. I went to a headhunter once after relocating to a new city. I called him then physically went to his office with my resume.

In some ways things have gotten easier (flex time, causal attire, more access to open jobs, and not having to stay home by the phone when on call.) In other ways it is more difficult, like with cell phones where you are always accessible within seconds.

I always hated the schedule part of working. Being an artist would probably have better suited me, but I have no artistic talent.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:04 PM   #11
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Started engineering (consulting firm) mid 70's. Had an inbox, and outbox, and a phone.

Most awkward thing I remember was accessing the "secretarial pool" for typing. As a green engineer everyone else had priority. And of course one editorial comment by a boss meant retyping the whole darn thing (this was just at the advent of "word processing" on dedicated machines). I was always a capable typist but that's not what they were paying me for; I loved it when pc's and terminals came out and allowed us to just create and revise our own documents. Older folks sniffed that "their time was more valuable than that."

I remember one big report that was for a major brewing client about a new brewery what would have a capacity of 6.2 million barrels a year. There was a huge hubbub between the clients management as to whether that was 6.2 million barrels or NOMINAL 6.2 million barrels. WTF? Secretaries had to re-type the whole thing as it was sprinkled throughout. No big deal today, but then... Funny how silly things like that stick in your head.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:09 PM   #12
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First thing that came to my mind was PANTY HOSE. And high heels and the bunions I now have as a result of walking back & forth to the court house in those d*mned shoes.


I had a part-time office job during high school for a manufacturer's rep, and used some kind of a huge (think musical organ huge) machine that was used to produce customizable letters by creating a tape. I'd program in a STOP so you could type in the address, name, salutation, etc. Problem was, you had to type the master perfectly - no way to correct the tape. You had to start all over, even if the error was at the 'Sincerely yours,' part. Then I'd plug that perfect tape back into the machine, and fill in all the important parts for the STOPs. OMG, it was horrible. I marvel each time I now use Mail Merge in Word.


I started working for the company I'm still with in the early 80's. There was one person who had a computer. It was actually a dumb terminal that communicated with our office in NY. Then I got a computer in the library for legal research, but it had to be booted with a floppy disk. Now I can do that stuff on my phone.


Whoever said those good old days weren't so good is 110% right. Sexual harassment was the norm and you were made to feel like a criminal when you took maternity leave (but insurance did pay 100% for the baby). Reliving all this makes me glad I only have 3 years until it's all a very distant memory.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:10 PM   #13
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:10 PM   #14
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Back in the late 1970's when I was an engineer in a manufacturing plant, we had no computers or cell phones. I designed machinery and drew installation drawings for new equipment on a drafting board and used a slide rule to make calculations. When I became head of Plant Engineering, I managed the other engineers and dealt with other managers in the facility.

The best part of the job as department head was having an attractive, 22 year old female secretary named Diane to take all my calls and type memos on a IBM typewriter. I also had an office with a desk, flat table and a file cabinet and the door closed for privacy.

When computers came into being, the "call" was that they would "eliminate paper". That clearly did not work out. We became buried in needless reports and productivity dropped because of information overload. I still got to keep Diane though.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:14 PM   #15
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This is one of the computers I worked with in the 70s.

Quote:
The UNIVAC 1050 was a variable wordlength (1 to 16 characters) decimal and binary computer.
...

The memory was up to 32K of 6-bit characters.
...

the U1050-II real-time system had some extra peripherals. The most significant of these was the FASTRAND 1 Drum Storage Unit. This physically large device had 2 contra-rotating drums mounted horizontally, one above the other in a pressurised cabinet. Read-write heads were mounted on a horizontally moving beam between the drums, driven by a voice coil servo external to the pressurised cabinet.
...

Other Peripherals were the card reader and punch, and printer. The operator's console had the 'stop and go' buttons(!) and a Teletype Model 33 teleprinter for communication and control.
UNIVAC 1050 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:17 PM   #16
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I started work in the early 70's, and as an EE computing was a big part of my job, but those early years were before folks had computer monitors on their desks. Initially we used to book time at a terminal that linked to a remote main frame, but pretty soon we had our our mini computer that occupied a room in our building, and although we still had to book time on it, we had our own removable hard drive that was 1 to 5MB in capacity and was about 2 feet in diameter.

I remember when our section got it's first programmable calculator and we used to keep it locked up at night in one of the secure cabinets that we locked up at night and handed the key in to security, first person in the office next day would check out the cabinet keys (It was a Defense Company I worked for with lots of confidential documents). The office I worked in was shared with 7 others.

When I switched career to become a process control engineer in the Chemical Industry in 1979 the arrangement was just the same, shared office of 6 people, computer room and terminals in an office in the same building, but the computer was only shared by the 6 of us. The size of the mini computer we developed our code on was only 32KB, as were the computers running the chemical plants.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:47 PM   #17
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Don't let this thread devolve into another "I worked on this old system" thread, we've done that often enough. It just makes us sound old.

The OP was asking about desks and work spaces, I think. Also I was just talking about the equipment to set the stage for the image of my cubicle and the stacks of continuous feed paper. I forgot to mention the sports coat that hung outside my cube for a decade or so, along with the tie I kept in a drawer. These were requirements of the job, in case we ever had to "interact" with a customer. Never happened that I can remember.

As far as the OPs other questions, I think lawyer was the big job back then, maybe sales. But I'm not sure, as just about the time I got into it, IT became the big thing.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:47 PM   #18
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I sure don't miss the good old days. They weren't that good.
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Old 04-05-2015, 01:52 PM   #19
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My summer jobs at college were in the late 70s. I worked in a government office, the motor taxation and driver license department for the county. I got the job because my father was a good friend of the director. It was a good place to work and the pay was decent. We had a spacious, open office with lots of light. There were approximately the same number of men and women and the atmosphere was respectful but upbeat. There were no computers, but the processes had been very well designed and were quite efficient, though I suspect that computerization could have eliminated half of the jobs. It was heaven for an introvert like me who likes detail and understanding systems. After I became skilled at the normal back office procedures I was trained to work at the "counter" with customers coming in person to register new vehicles, renew their motor tax or drivers' licenses. That required more finesse because we often had to ask them to wait while we accessed a file. I learnt a lot about customer service.

It sounds idyllic and indeed I was lucky to have such a positive early working experience. I proved my worth by working hard. But I still remember the smoking, particularly in the coffee room. Ugh!
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Old 04-05-2015, 02:07 PM   #20
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There were a lot more private offices and I missed that in later years. I had a real office with a door that opened and closed in 1995 and that was the last time I had that- in subsequent jobs it was bullpen/cubicleville surroundings. So many things have been "downloaded" back onto the employees, though. In some case it makes sense; in others I really wonder if it's cost-effective to have people making $100K/year doing things like:


1. Fetching their own snail mail from a central set of cubbyholes (admittedly, not much important came in that way anymore).
2. Typing all your own correspondence/reports, whether it's e-mail or Word/PowerPoint.
3. Making your own travel arrangements. (I generally found on-line "tools" and in-house travel people so useless that I always did my own research first to see what was REALLY available).
4. Doing your own expense reports.
5. Setting up meetings. What a pain, even with open calendars on-line. Because I'm too nice to schedule a meeting that conflicts with time someone blocked out, I'd always have to contact the ONE person who couldn't make a particular time and ask if they could change their schedule. Oh, and if it was in-person I'd have to find a conference room.


I remember switchboard operators, the Telex machine, the novelty of the fax machine, and the bureaucracy surrounding international phone calls. I also remember that most reports were paper and if you were really important even your office floor had voluminous reports stacked up. IT had a lot more power then; they controlled the mainframe and if they said they couldn't run a report, you didn't get it. I spent SO much time keying in numbers from printouts so we could slice and dice the way we wanted. Funny how the data could come off of hard copies so you KNEW it was in the computer but if you wanted IT to do something a little different it was always impossible. Actuaries were among the first to get their own "mini-computers" and, eventually, get control of the data.


One great hardware memory: the flatbed plotter. I'd used one in college and when my boss got one for our department in 1983 (for the princely sum of $8,000), people walking by would stop dead in their tracks and watch in amazement as it plotted lines, skidded back to the edge to change pens, moved back out again, plotted another line or drew in letters... really fun to watch.
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