From Metallurgy to IT, Part 1

Somehow my career as a metallurgist took a turn towards IT, first as an advanced user, and in the last 15 years as a developer and data specialist. This is not altogether such a strange turn of events, since there is a lot of data floating around in the steel industry, and by attempting to make the best use of these data to turn them into useful information it seemed only logical that I would become a self-taught programmer.

Part 1 aims to cover my initial involvement (or lack thereof) with IT. Which started in my student days with a basic course on “Ordinatoren en programmeren” (basically mainframe computers and how to programme them), and a very theoretical and utterly useless course it was (to me, anyway). Not for me to make the regular trek to the mainframe terminal to feed in my punch cards, only to find that you had made a silly mistake and had to start all over from scratch until you got it right.

The nearest I got to programming was when my parents bought me a programmable Texas TI-58 calculator, which at the time cost the equivalent of £500. Which basically could do what any run-of-the -mill calculator of a few quid can do now, except that a solution could be stored on magnetic strips, and then reloaded from them.

Very little changed during my time as a student and as a researcher, with the computer revolution totally passing me by. Even then, my army days was like going back 20 years, with calculations being carried out on standard forms, where skipping a step by doing the calculation in your head was heavily frowned upon. Still, there was supposed to be a help in the form of a cassette-driven contraption which nobody used. So in essence, the use of my TI-58 was allowed as an alternative, although the holy grail was its big brother TI-59, which was more potent in its programming capabilities.

My favourite calculator had its last hurrah in South Africa where it helped me perform repetitive calculations, the likes of which would now be done through the use of a spreadsheet. After I moved from the hot mill to steel making technology, I finally got to do something that came closer to proper programming. But that’s for another blog.


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