04 September 2020

Greg would not be amused

Recollections by women technologists at the National Security Agency in the 1960s-1980s. Training, learning, perfecting.

Early variable-naming conventions:

The library books said I could name my variables anything I wanted. I took this to heart and called them names from the book I was reading, The Hobbit. Thus, “BILBO” became the second counter. Eventually, the person guiding me looked at my work and gently mentioned that it was traditional to name the variables after the function they performed so other people could follow the program.
And a new patching technique:
My first programming experience was assembly language on a CP818 (UNIVAC 1224) for field installation. We “wrote” our programs on a Kleinschmidt—something like a typewriter, but it produced punched paper tape with one instruction per line (e.g., “clear register”). You could fix an error by wrapping Scotch tape over the holes in the line and repunching the line! Fortunately, the readers were not sensitive to the opacity of the tape, just the holes. The resulting paper tape was wrapped butterfly style in a figure eight with a paper clip in the center and stored until you had time on the computer.