From £2K to Y2K

How far has IT come over the last 30 years?

How far has IT come over the last 30 years?


When Barclays Bank orders a Marconi-Elliott computer system with 100 VDU terminals for its foreign exchange department this year it is at the forefront of progress.

For 1970 is the year when corporate IT departments are adding terminal after terminal to their mainframe computer systems. It is not just one user per mainframe any more!

Major advances in data inputting are underway too, with keyboards taking the place of punch cards.

Most large companies have just one computer, or perhaps one per department. However, the time-share concept has entered corporate computing and computer bureaux - spreading the cost of using one computer across several companies - are doing increasingly well.

Most data processing professionals are employed by user companies, working with bespoke software. Jobs for systems analysts are being advertised at up to £3,500 a year while jobs for programmers are advertised at between £1,200 and £2,000. The most popular programming languages are Cobol and ICL PLAN.

It is very much a man's world. Admittedly, 42% of computing staff are women but the majority are employed in repetitive, data entry jobs. It is still legal to advertise in Computer Weekly for a male computer operator to work on an ICL computer in the City, and hardware companies can get away with adverts featuring attractive young women in suggestive poses. However, there are women at the top, most notably Dr Grace Murray Hopper, director of the US Navy's programming languages division.

Back in England, one woman is beginning to make her mark. Education and science minister Margaret Thatcher announces plans to cut 37 jobs from a unit that provides computer services to the Government's Office for Scientific and Technical Information, saving £431,000 a year. Some things never change.


The invention of the microprocessor makes computers so cheap that user departments are buying their own personal computers out of petty cash budgets without telling the company's data processing manager.

One DP manager at a major multinational tells Computer Weekly columnist Nicholas Enticknap that users at his company have bought 120 different models of PC at a time when there are only 250 models in existence. The manager fears DP departments will have to pick up the pieces when things go wrong.

A market research company forecasts that the growth in demand for PCs will be so strong that even the big corporate computer firms like IBM will have to enter the market. In California IBM is developing its first personal computer and it licenses the Dos operating system from a small start-up company called Microsoft.

A National Economic Development Unit report in the UKestimates that 235,000 people work with computers. Some 99,000 of these are professional programmers, systems analysts and engineers and the rest are data entry staff. Other research finds that 24% of computing students are female.

In this year, Tesco's Cheshunt computer centre advertises for systems analysts at between £7,000 and £10,500 and programmers at between £6,000 and £10,000. Abbey National is offering up to £9,000 for systems analysts and systems programmers and up to £9,000 for application programmers.

Computer games are now sexy, as Space Invaders - the first game that gives players a score to beat - storms across the land. Before now games had been confined to university computer labs or arcades.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Justice is in the fifth year of an anti-trust action against the country's biggest computing company IBM.

Some things never change.


This is the year when Microsoft launches Windows 3.0, the operating system that will go on to become the fastest-selling software product ever launched to date. Officially Microsoft says Windows is for small-scale users and that corporate computer departments should continue to wait for the OS/2 operating system from the company's partner IBM.

Hardware manufacturers launch the 486 computer at prices of between £6,000 and £11,000.

Tim Berners-Lee writes the initial prototype for the World-Wide Web, using his creations URLs, HTTP and HTML.

By this year, demand for in-house IT staff in the UK has peaked at 340,000, according to Philip Virgo, adviser to the Institute for the Management of Information Systems. Of this number about 200,000 are professionals.

Cobol is still the most popular programming language, with C also in demand.

DB2 is the most popular database skill, ICL VME the most popular operating systems skill followed by Unix which has gone from being a technical to a commercial operating system.

A data processing manager makes on average £28,000 and a systems programmer £19,700.

By now Nintendo has released the home version of the arcade-game Tetris and the Game Boy handheld gaming toy for which a version of Super Mario Brothers is soon available.

Meanwhile, Computer Weekly reveals that information technology consultancy now accounts for as much as 50% of the income of the main auditing firms.

Some things never change.


Linux emerges as a widely used operating system on Internet servers. Microsoft announces a substantial shift in strategy to provide software services over the Web just as the US courts rule that the company should be broken into two.

E-commerce is the rage but making it profitable is costly and risky. Companies are urged to take part in Web-enabled buying consortiums to cut procurement costs. They are also being encouraged to sell services directly to customers over the Web.

The number of IT professionals working in user companies has dropped dramatically this year as a large chunk of Cobol and APL programmers who had returned from retirement to tackle the Y2K bug drop out of the workforce again. Virgo says there are 250,000 IT workers in user companies of whom about 180,000 are professionals as the Y2K projects get underway.

An IT National Training Organisation survey finds that the percentage of women in the workforce has dropped from 29% to 24% but the percentage among professionals has risen from 17% to 18%. However, the number of women on computer degree courses is just 12%.

The workforce is ageing, as companies abandon training schemes. A survey by Computer Economics has found that numbers of people under 30 in IT has fallen from 43% to 32% in the last ten years.

Outside user companies, however, the picture is different: young workers are flocking to Internet start-ups. An increasing number of workers are employed by outsourcing companies and in the software and services companies that supply corporate Britain.

The most popular programming language is now Java. According to the National Computer Centre, the average IT manager earns £40,000, a systems analyst £25,000 and a programmer £20,000.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is about to launch its own games hardware, encroaching on a fiercely competitive market already dominated by Sega's Dreamcast and Nintendo's Playstation systems. Some things never change.

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