Wednesday 15 August 2012

Official: I've been 20 years in IT!

Actually, it's 20 and a half years. I know plenty who have been in long before me, but I can claim to have been in IT when:
  • Internet and e-mail technology was there, but very rarely used by corporations, let alone individuals. I installed the first ever e-mail server at a North American-wide corporation, and that was for internal mail only. We first used modems (at 2,400 bps) to connect to Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) to download drivers and technical notes directly from manufacturers, or research in message boards. Our Internet at the time was dial-up only. The debate was whether CompuServe, AOL, or The Internet would be the way of the future, even before Bill Gates tried out the "Microsoft Network" to compete.

  • Internet resources were accessed at the time using Gopher or the Mosaic browser (later Netscape) and that really useful tool, Archie, that could search for specific files (I miss that). The search engines included AltaVista, WebCrawler, Lycos, and Yahoo. I remember a group of us huddled around after-hours at work as we downloaded our first porn image. It took about 20 minutes and then we had use some command-line decoding program to convert the hex gibberish to show the actual picture, line by line.

  • Network protocol and hardware debates: Ethernet vs. Token Ring (and I suffered many years with Token Ring); IPX/SPX vs. SNA vs. TCP/IP. I studied for almost a year and finally passed the Novell Networking Technologies exam, the old really hard one that asked you about bit positions and roles in a data packet and transmission methods of the different data-link protocols. "All People Seem To Need Data Processing"

  • I got in at 286 processors. Debates included IBM computers, or IBM-compatibles or "clones"; Micro Channel Architecture (MCA, with the blue-ended cards) or ISA (and later EISA). The IBMs were Model 50 and Model 55 (with its irritating case) at the time. Standard RAM was 1 mb, maybe 2 for special people. Our largest AS/400 midrange computer could hold just over 1 gb of data, and that with rows of disks that added up to the size of 3 full-size refrigerators. My latest memory card for my phone is about the size of my pinky fingernail and holds twice as much. Data was often transferred at the time via 5.25" floppy disks and later 3.5". It took 24 diskettes to install Microsoft Office 4.3.

  • My first operating system was DOS 3.3, but 5.0 was released soon after. One technician had Windows 3.0 installed, mainly for ooh-ahh than anything else. We made up batch-files called from "autoexec.bat" to show four or five main programs to call. "Press 1 for Lotus." The big challenge was the 640k conventional memory barrier. One of my greatest accomplishments later was to boot DOS 5 with "config.sys" configuring expanded (vs. extended) memory, connect to a NetWare 3.11 server, load IBM's "PC Support" DOS software to connect to the IBM AS/400 midrange computers, launch Windows 3.1, and then be able to run Lotus 123 from a DOS window.

  • Corporate PC software at the time was WordPerfect (which I still miss), Lotus 123, Harvard Graphics, and I was taking a few lessons in dBase3, a database/programming tool. We still used these programs for a while even after tentatively rolling out Windows 3.1.

  • We had 300 sites across North America, all connecting using X.25 technology at about 9,600 bps.

  • I installed our first PC based server: Novell Netware 3.11 running on a Pentium with 2 gb of RAM. We experimented with NMENU so users could use the cursor keys to navigate to their preferred programs.

  • We carried pagers.
Of course, I knew a geek at high school who got into it a decade before I did. I remember being bored out of my skull at his place when he showed me a computer who's "disk" was a cassette tape. I had no idea what he was doing or trying to accomplish. Millions out there got in way before me and have even more ancient technology to trot out, but this is where I entered the scene.

IBM Model 50

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