A Golden Age of Computing?

I was recently asked to consider what might have been the Golden Age of Computing, and I think I have two answers.

With my serious computer history hat on, I opted for the 1960s.

We started the decade with a chaotic scene of computer manufacturers offering multiple and mutually incompatible products. Machines were supplied as ‘bare-metal’ and the end user began the job of writing his (and it was almost always “his”) own application software in the full knowledge it would all need to be re-written when the machine was upgraded. Programming computers was still very technical and difficult, and relied heavily on an in-depth understanding of the particular machine’s design.

But then computing came of age. Hardware was transistorised, reliability increased, and standard programming languages were created. Many like FORTRAN, COBOL and BASIC are still with us today. Computers stopped being just boys’ toys!

Women like ‘Steve’ Shirley took a lead — although the fact that she used the name “Steve” reminds us that she realised life was easier if potential customers initially thought you were another chap!

Our industry, Electronic Data Processing, was all conceived during the decade of flower power and free love.

By the end of the decade, computing had been transformed: applications could be bought off the shelf, mass-produced mini-computers were beginning to appear and computer purchasers could expect an immediate benefit.

A more personal answer is that I think we might each have our own golden age of computing, one that has a common theme. It was probably when we were in our mid-twenties, no longer a novice in the industry, but not so far up the corporate ladder that serious customers shouted at us and we didn’t have to break bad news to the board! We had new trainees to boss around and we knew everything about the system – we were masters of the universe project!

So, taking my computer history hat off, long live the early 1980s! Just booting CP/M is still a thrill – so the Personal Computing Gallery at TNMOC is therefore one of my favourite haunts and a secret pleasure!

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