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Computer scientist Frank Land, who started his IT career as a young programmer on LEO, the world’s first business computer, has received an OBE.
The story of LEO began soon after World War II, when Britain’s largest catering company J Lyons & Co began looking at automation and, in particular, the work that was taking place at Cambridge on a machine known as Edsac, the world’s first programmable machine.
Lyons needed automation to enable the company to have enough stock to supply the teashops it operated around the country, but to also give it the flexibility to tweak orders.
However, the Edsac machine was two years away from completion, and so the Lyons’s board agreed to help fund its development. Once the machine had proved it could work, Lyons went about building its own machine, LEO, which went live in 1951.
Lyons decided to sell LEO to other businesses that needed automation, and this is where Land made his name. He started as a trainee programmer, but later took a leading role in the company’s sales and systems consultancy team.
Speaking to Computer Weekly in 2016, Land said: “We knew everything we did had never been done before. We didn’t realise we were transforming everything and we shared our work in software.”
After working at Lyons for 15 years, Land joined the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1967 and moved into academic research and education, setting up the UK’s first university programme in information systems.
Following his retirement in 1991, Land has remained active as an emeritus professor of the LSE providing support to young researchers embarking on a career in computing.
He was recently awarded a life-time fellowship of the British Computer Society and chairs a history sub-committee of the LEO Computers Society, now a charity, where he is involved in an archive of historical material on LEO computers called LEOpedia.