Student Computer Operator

As a result of hanging around the University of Florida Computer Center (UFCC) so much I got a part time job as a student computer operator. At first it only involved going out into the lobby, collecting the trays of punched card programs, reading them into the card reader, removing the printouts from the printer and separating them, and then going back out into the lobby and filing them. Later I got more "advanced" and mounted tapes and disks. I would spend hours watching the primary operator sit at the console and ask all sorts of questions learning everything about it. The full time operators were a really good bunch of guys (there was one woman) and we would joke and kid around a lot. One of the more interesting operators, another student operator, was a guy nicknamed Beetle and he and I got to be pretty good friends. Beetle had no interest in computers, he just did it as a job. He was studying biology I think and he was really into animals, particularly snakes. I went over to his house a couple of times and he had made this really fantastic terrarium that had several snakes in it. He said that he wanted to work a zoo after he graduated. About 20 years later I ran across his name in the Washington Post, he worked in the reptile house at the National Zoo in Washington DC.

One thing I remember was this physics guy either a PhD student or professor who we all hated to show up. He had this humongous physics program that had about six or eight trays of punched cards a tray being about two feet long. When he showed up you had to get a cart to carry his program to the card reader and it would take a half hour to read them all in.

One of the best things about being a student operator is that I got a free, unlimited computer account. I could write Fortran programs all I wanted and I did so.  I also discovered the Basic computer language.  This was a very early Basic that came from Dartmouth University and ran in "batch mode" from punched cards.  I remember working with Beetle to write a program that search a list of words to solve some word game.  I had quite a deck of cards with words on them.  Later the UF computing center ran Darmouth Basic in "real time"  on their early timesharing terminals.  I also begin to learn the IBM 360 mainframe assembly language and tried to write a couple of simple programs on punch cards but, I have to say, I just didn't grasp the concept assembly language at this time.  This playing around with Basic and assembly led me to getting a job as a student programmer.