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Early Days of FORTRAN: Computing Prior to FORTRAN

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129428D
Original Publication Date: 1984-Jan-01
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 4 page(s) / 24K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

ROBERT W. BEMER: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

In order to talk about how it was before FORTRAN, I'm going to cast it in modern terms, like structured programming and performance analysis. When I went back to analyze the papers given at the Western and Eastern Joint Computer Conferences, I was surprised to find that software was presented so late. In fact, it wasn't until the fourth Joint Computer Conference in 1954 that there was even one software paper; in 1955 there were still only five. FORTRAN was the 13th paper on software presented at these national computer conferences. Those papers on software taught me a lot, in contrast to some of papers I have listened to at this conference. As a matter of fact, there are so many papers on software now that I could not read or understand them all and still do any useful work.

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1984 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Early Days of FORTRAN: Computing Prior to FORTRAN*1

ROBERT W. BEMER

(Image Omitted: Author's Address: R. W. Bemer, 2 Moon Mountain Trail, Phoenix, AZ 85023.)

In order to talk about how it was before FORTRAN, I'm going to cast it in modern terms, like structured programming and performance analysis. When I went back to analyze the papers given at the Western and Eastern Joint Computer Conferences, I was surprised to find that software was presented so late. In fact, it wasn't until the fourth Joint Computer Conference in 1954 that there was even one software paper; in 1955 there were still only five. FORTRAN was the 13th paper on software presented at these national computer conferences. Those papers on software taught me a lot, in contrast to some of papers I have listened to at this conference. As a matter of fact, there are so many papers on software now that I could not read or understand them all and still do any useful work.

Computer science education is big now; they give doctorates in it. We didn't have any education of that type. We were apprentices. Early programming is where the story originated that if you looked in one ear and couldn't see daylight you could hire the person. In an attempt to try to make some measure, IBM had what they called a Programmer's Aptitude Test. The man we are honoring most here today, John Backus, took it along with the rest of us in Programming Research; his score wasn't the highest!

Many of us had our own pet questions for selecting people. I know I did. Other people must have, too, because it seemed we were just taking personnel in off the streets. David Sayre's background was in crystallography; I was an ax-set-designer for the movies. I once decided to advertise for chess players because I thought they would be pretty good programmers; it worked very well. We even hired the U.S. chess champion, Arthur Bisguier. He mostly played chess and didn't do that much programming. I told that story on a train out to Chicago once, and somebody at the next table said, "I'll send my nephew in -- he is traveling around Europe with a guitar." The nephew came in and announced himself as the chess champion of the French Riviera. I didn't know anything about that particular title, so I said, "I can't disprove it, but would you mind playing a game with a fellow in here?" He said, "Oh, no, I wouldn't mind." I went to Bisguier and said, "Hey, Art, we've got some guy out here who is the chess champion of the French Riviera. Would you play a game with him, even though it's not professional?" He said "Yes" and came through the door. The guy's jaw dropped and he said, "You can't fool me -- that's Bisguier!" By the way, the champion of the French Riviera was Sid Noble. He turned out to be an excellent programmer.

There wasn't much formal educat...