anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

discuss both original and modern hardware for the bbc micro/electron
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daftmoo
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anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by daftmoo » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:26 am

Some of you know that i have posted on here asking games related questions before. well i'm back now as a volunteer at the museum of computing in Swindon
http://www.museumofcomputing.org.uk/ I am writing a poster about compting in the 80s.
Did any of you do programming back in the 80s? Did you create anything commercial or was it just for fun? Did you do it in the bedroom like the steriotype programmer or was it in a fancy office from 9-5pm? Did you enjoy it and did it influence what job you do today?
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by Stoppers » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:41 am

I started an O-level in computer studies in 1980 (RML 380Zs at school) and got my first computer, a BBC model A, in 1982.

I programmed at home for fun, at university for my degree and to earn a bit of cash (plus the use of a loaned colour TV) porting a game from the BBC to a Plus 4 (Commodore? - it only had 4k RAM, iirc). After Uni, I worked as a software engineer in an office that was anything but fancy (but with flexitime) working on providing extra functions for ladder programming language of the GEC GEM80 range of Programmable Logic Controllers and an ISO/OSI communications stack for the new MultiGEM 80386 based PLC. At the time, someone with the initials CAS tried to convince me of the advantages of OO but I wasn't convinced until I came across Eiffel; I thought Ada was the way to go. :?

It was fun, and I've always enjoyed programming. I went on through a few more jobs, mostly in communications, including telecoms and meteosat ground station communications. I just do it for fun in my spare time, now, on a couple of my own open source projects.

Is that the sort of thing you're after?

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jonb
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by jonb » Tue Aug 16, 2011 12:15 pm

Played with Research Machines 380-Z when the school first got it. It arrived and didn't work, then the Computer Studies teacher worked out the belt had fallen off the floppy drive so it soon got fixed. It was locked away in a special room and no one had casual access to it, you had to fill out a form of some sort. Anyway, I went in there one day and discovered an adventure game that someone had written (it was not a true map, just random rooms generated on the fly) but I got engrossed and missed Double Maths. Ha.

In those days I fancied a UK-101 but actually ended up with a ZX-81 built from a kit with an 8-bit i/o card. I programmed it in Z80 machine code (hand assembled, poking each byte in one at a time) to make a beep. Tried multiple channels, too but this program crashed on me and I lost everything. After that I sort of gave up on the ZX 81.

A year or so later one of my friends was shopping round for his own home computer. I went with him to Newbury to see the Newbury NewBrain. He was just about to buy it when the BBC was announced. He scored one of those, lucky bugger, and I was quite envious.

I went to college to study A-levels and did quite a bit of programming in a Commodore PET. As I recall it was a 4032 with no built in tape player and a proper keyboard. I spent ages and ages programming it, writing a mountaineering game...

I've been through a number of programming jobs. After leaving school I worked for a year in a computer shop, selling BBC, Spectrum, ZX-81, ORIC-1, Camputers Lynx and Jupiter Ace amongst others. The Speccy was the best seller, followed by the BBC. The others didn't really sell well at all, and the Sharp MZ-80K sitting in the corner was a waste of space.

Anyway, after doing my bird I worked as a programmer in BASIC for a local software company. That involved programming various Sharp machines, although it was renowned as a bit of a hire and fire operation, and soon I found myself unemployed. Fast forward a few years and I was at college in Brighton doing a Software Engineering HND, and that is when I started doing real programming. Of course, by then it was the early '90s and that is outside the scope of your original question...

Bootnote: I realised my ambition to own a UK101, sort of, when I built one (or rather, the core of one) from a design I found on the Internet. Read all about it here : http://forum.6502.org/viewtopic.php?t=1795

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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by daftmoo » Tue Aug 16, 2011 3:57 pm

Thanks to you both. Loads of useful stuff in there. Interesting to see that you enjoyed programming enough to carry on with it. Also interesting to see what other machines schools used and that it was so significant it was locked in its own room. :-)
thanks
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tautology
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by tautology » Tue Aug 16, 2011 9:27 pm

My parents got our first computer, a Sharp MZ-700, when I was still at primary school. As the computer was pretty much useless, from a young child perspective (the games were expensive and rubbish), one rainy Sunday I sat down with the manual and taught myself BASIC.

This minor amount of knowledge meant I became our primary school's expert on the one BBC micro that it had. Unfortunately my original programs on the Sharp have all gone missing, due to my Dad "losing" the computer when I was about 15.

From there I progressed onto the Secondary school Beebs until I persuaded my mother to buy an Electron and then an A5000. These kicked off the programming bug and I expanded to machine code (6502, Z80 and ARM). All of the programs were amateur, written in my bedroom, or working with a mate (I'd go 'round to his house (or vice versa) and we'd spend a weekend coding anything that seemed interesting).

My only commercial software was a large chunk of the importer application for the Archivist database (I enjoyed reverse engineering and still do) and we were preparing an ARM Assembler, but apathy hit once University, beer and girls hit.

My programming career died during my industrial year when I realised what life as a code-monkey was going to be like and that Unix sys admin earned more money.

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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by Stoppers » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:38 pm

tautology wrote:My programming career died during my industrial year when I realised what life as a code-monkey was going to be like and that Unix sys admin earned more money.
Really?

Bugger.

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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by paulv » Tue Aug 16, 2011 11:57 pm

My programming career died during my industrial year when I realised what life as a code-monkey was going to be like and that Unix sys admin earned more money.
That's a shame... My first programming gig out of Uni. was just south of Cambridge and programmers were treated and paid like Gods, Unix/Oracle DB Admins were Gollum-esque creatures that had no life.

The programmers were head hunted on an almost daily basis to go and work in "the City" and were offered six figure salaries which in the late 90's for most of the programmers with <2 years work experience, it was amazing. Most programmers refused though because the environment we had was so good.

There was beer in the fridge at all times, two coffee pots on the go at all times and at least one barbecue a week in the summer... We had 16 way Quake tournaments in the evenings on occasion and even had a Quake map of our offices (A georgian train station that was converted into a night-club before becoming our offices)... Red leather sofa's cast iron spiral staircases, and enough tech to tech out any geek...

The rules of work were...

Get in when you want, go home when you want. Get the work done.

Simple and sly when you think about it... :-)

Sadly it all came to an end when the company got bought out, I had a stress thing going on that almost hospitalised me due to the new regime and it all turned to corporate p-o-o...

I then had a few years in corporate-dom before realising I wasn't happy working for "the man" so I started my own business with my partner...So now I work from home and I get in when I want, leave when I want, there's always Beer in the fridge and coffee on tap... Pretty similar to the first job really!

Paul

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msknight
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by msknight » Wed Aug 17, 2011 6:26 am

I started programming in my early teens. In school, being bullied, I gravitated to the computer room which had two Z80 machines and two rooms full of BBC Bs.

(through photography, I'm actually back in touch with my computer teacher, but that is another story)

My parents weren't rich but they knew how to handle the little money they earned and when I asked for a BBC B for Christmas, good old Santa brought one for me. For three years I learned it inside out. I had my three bibles; the user guide, the advanced user guide and the advanced disk user guide (yes, even back then, somehow, an official book came out with the "k" variant in the title.)

I did programming for local people. The two most useful thing I recall was a karate counter; it would keep track of a karate fight (or it could have been Judo; I was doing karate and didn't know much about the fight counting system) and present the audience and judges with a score board. The other was a netball competition database; all kept on flat file.

When my IQ was measured by exam condition testing, it was found in the 99.5 percentile; the pass rate for mensa is 98% and I put that down to programming and thinking logic.

I started to write a game; was learning to deal with the scrolling, sprite handling, etc. but didn't get far. As part of my OND course, business were dictating the timetable and we had subjects like keyborad skills, business studies and accountancy as part of our time table.

...and it was all on PCs. Armed with Peter Norton's books I started transferring my assembly skills to the 8086 architecture and, having a placement in a company that made PCs, my BBC was sold to trade for a 8086 PC who's motherboard I kept until my late thirties before eventually throwing it away.

While with that company (Redstone Computers) for my four week work experience, I programmed a database to handle the contacts that resulted from a local computer fair. Eventually, the company changed name a few times and folded.

During this three year period, we lost five close members of my family, including my father. This was the first of a number of straw bails that would land on this camels back.

As I messed up my accountancy exam, I had to hang back a year before going to Sheffield Hallam Uni (the old Polytech) so I ended up working in the local council, where my father had worked. After a short while in the IT department there, the conservatives brought in the poll tax and the main programmers were all called to the central office while I was sent around to do all the small time programming.

In the main office I had desks in a number of departments, including the housing team, personnel and planning. The planning database was a solid piece of work, where something like 10% of the residents were surveyed and the results were typed in to my database. It would then do overnight analysis and printing on an early ICL PC. (they were all running CPM back then. Some departments had a DRS stack)

The Personnel work was a database system which compared advertising against responses and appointments, to build up a picture of advertising effectiveness on advertising budget for various types of work. That way, advertising spend could be targeted.

Along with the poll tax, the conservatives decreed outsourcing under the guise of competitive tendering. The Direct Labour Organisation (DLO) looked after the maintenance of the council's housing stock. They were facing a competitive tender. They now had to compete against other businesses for the work...
Last edited by msknight on Wed Aug 17, 2011 7:14 am, edited 7 times in total.

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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by msknight » Wed Aug 17, 2011 6:40 am

I was sent to the DLO on what would turn out to be a three month project. It was the place where my father had worked when he died about a year earlier. (He physically died at home. Heart attack. Even though I knew CPR, I was too shocked to apply it. Realistically, he was brain dead from being out for too long, so there was nothing I could have done; but it still hurts, even today.) All his old colleagues welcomed me with open arms and would tell me the stories about him. He was a well loved character.

It damn near broke my heart and was the next major bundle of straw on the camel's back which would eventually lead to complete mental break down later on.

But I had a job to do. Another database.

Barry, the manager, was a solid gold bloke. He knew what had to be done and communicated it to me with ease.

Any job is built up of components which he had written on cards. To replace a window of, say, six foot by four foot, it would need x amount of glass and x amount of a glazier's skill to cut it. It would require a frame costing y, z amount of putty and x amount of fitters time to get the job done. Built in was a wastage percentage to cover transport, physical waste, theft, all that sort of thing.

Denzil ran the computer that handled the raw materials prices. Not a programmer, but he handled the invoices, kept track of prices and that side of things. He would divert every now and then to feed the raw material prices in to the database.

The final piece of the jigsaw was the scope of works. That would decree how much of each job, the council required of each job, to be done on its properties in a year.

Once that hit the deck, it was all hands to the pumps to get the data in and start the program running.

To this day, no one has managed to explain to me, how a private company, that has to make a profit to serve its shareholders, can do a job to the same standard, for less money than a public body under a good manager.

It can't.

...and as a result of that simple fact, we won the contract and people kept their jobs.

Thanks to the report, Barry also had access to other figures which made his life easier. He could tell the amount of each labour skill that would be needed for the year, helping to end the hiring and firing. He knew how much of each material would be needed, which helped Denzil buy in bulk and get the materials even cheaper.

All of this was done in dBase on an old ICL PC. I even had the program up until a few years ago when I threw away the print out.

While I was there, professional systems were appearing which did the same job as my ramshackle code, so after I left it is likely that one of those were brought in to ensure we could compete.

I understand that the DLO went from strength to strength and became a company in its own right, taking on more contracts. Barry was a good manager, so it was a foregone conclusion. I visited them in the 90's, and sadly a few staff had gone. It was the same building, but not quite the same heart.

I can still hear the ghostly figure of my father, walking between the sheds, singing, "A your adorable, B you're so beautiful .. C you've got a wonderful smiiiillleeee...."

... and then in 1989, having resat and passed the accountancy exam, I made the move to Sheffield ... but that is another story in another decade.

But the lessons were learned for me. Computers coming in, didn't always have to mean job losses. It could mean job security as well.
Last edited by msknight on Wed Aug 17, 2011 7:13 am, edited 3 times in total.

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msknight
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by msknight » Wed Aug 17, 2011 6:56 am

To sum up, even back in those days, most of the business requirement was databases. Flat file manipulation on the BBC B was a pain, but it could handle small jobs easily enough and was accessible by small clubs.

Of course, all processing had to be expressly programmed.

Later in the 80's, dBASE from Computer Associates came in (not to be confused with the mainframe package of the same name) for the PC and databases were much quicker to create and process; the package did a lot of the heavy lifting, but because it wasn't specifically tuned to the application you were using it for, it was slower and, on hardware of the day, heavy reports would have to run overnight. That meant precision programming and solid testing was very much the order of the day as time has always been precious. dBASE programming then was not as easy as SQL now. There was plenty of room for mistakes.

Businesses of the time that could afford it, clearly knew what they needed ... databases ... and the end results in terms of analysis of that data and what it meant for their businesses.

Turbo Pascal was just coming in and was starting to make good use of the 8086 platform, yielding surprisingly quick compilation and efficient code.

My CV is here...
http://msknight.com/index.php?page=15

My code library (which doesn't go back as far as the BBC) is here...
http://msknight.com/index.php?page=28

The L2J Drop Calculator project is here...
http://msknight.com/index.php?page=30

(oh, and the Z80's at schol were in their own room, situated between both the other computer rooms, and only accessible via either of the other rooms. Obviously, locked when there was no computer teachers around.)

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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by TopBanana » Wed Aug 17, 2011 10:26 pm

Blimey Michelle - thank goodness you kept it to the concise version ...... :roll:

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tautology
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by tautology » Wed Aug 17, 2011 11:14 pm

paulv wrote:
My programming career died during my industrial year when I realised what life as a code-monkey was going to be like and that Unix sys admin earned more money.
That's a shame... My first programming gig out of Uni. was just south of Cambridge and programmers were treated and paid like Gods, Unix/Oracle DB Admins were Gollum-esque creatures that had no life.
I suppose it was where you worked. The best two years of my working life were working as a Unix sys admin for a starting up UK subsidiary of an American bank: lots of money to go around, lots of free lunches and stupid amounts of call out pay.

Of course they stopped that and I jumped into computer security, which sounds a lot more exciting, but isn't really that different to anything else. Though my job title always gets giggles (penetration tester).

One of the other reasons was I discovered that I wasn't the deity-like programmer that I thought I was and I much preferred just hacking stuff together when it didn't matter whether there were a few bugs in it.

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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by paulv » Thu Aug 18, 2011 12:01 am

I discovered that I wasn't the deity-like programmer that I thought I was
I had a similar experience and it's quite humbling but a good lesson to learn :D There's always someone better than you. The guy like that where I worked was a joy to watch when coding. Often we did a sort of extreme programming technique where one programmer coded whilst another spotted errors and caught exceptions and asked questions of the coders thinking. Being the observer when he was programming was a joy. His insight was amazing. What some programmers wrote in 5000 lines, he could write in 500. I learnt a lot from simply watching him code. Pure elegance.

I also learnt another and I think, more valuable life lesson. The programmers that were treated the most "God"-like, were the Cambridge Maths Ph.D.s and ironically they couldn't program their way out of a cardboard box. It was the Soft. Eng. type degrees that were the real programming stars but they were treated as lesser to the Mathematicians because they only had lowly B.Sc./M.Sc./M.Phil. degrees compared to the Ph.D.s. All academic snobbery really. I ended up dropping out of my M.Phil. as I couldn't stand the academic "warfare" in the Uni. any more.

In reality, it wasn't the Ph.D's fault, they were simply out of their depth in what really is a different discipline to that which they had read.

All this was re-enforced when a couple of the Ph.D.s left and were replaced by Soft.Eng. types (external hires). Within a month, the management were told by those new hires that the Ph.D. programmers had caused more problems than they'd solved... Sigh...

Still, the environment was pretty cool to work in, I loved it and wouldn't have changed it for the world. It's a shame it changed around us all...

Paul

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msknight
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Re: anyone used to do programming in the 80s?

Post by msknight » Thu Aug 18, 2011 5:41 am

TopBanana wrote:Blimey Michelle - thank goodness you kept it to the concise version ...... :roll:
Yeh, my life is a mess! I'm still trying to unwind it all even now!

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