In my 'Those Places Thursday' post this week, I spoke about our year in Pammel Court during my Senior Year at Iowa State University (ISU), in Ames, Iowa. During that year, I worked part-time as a student worker (from the position of a physics major at the beginning of the year) for a Ph.D. student in physics at the Ames Laboratories of the Atomic Energy Commission, on campus.
First, the Ph.D.-level research I was involved with related to determining the electrical properties of a material (as compared to silicon, it turned out) for possible use in making 'computer chips' - as they would eventually be called. In processing the data, I got my first exposure to using the 'computer' of the day [the first electronic digital computer was officially invented at ISU, of course - see ABC at link] - writing initially in 'machine language' - before compilers. My first strong memory of the experience was writing code on a spreadsheet that took into account the rate of turn of the computer drum as it read the code in order to 'optimize' the processing time. My second strong memory was when, during that year, we were taught, and allowed to use, the new 'Bell Lab Language' which was a first level 'computer programming language' - a forerunner to Fortran, etc., much later on.
The memory is so strong because of the following event, for me. It was the first time in my life, working through an early program, that I was so involved in the process itself, that I completely lost my sense of 'time and place.' I was so engrossed in the project, I forgot to leave work and go home to supper, or whatever was next in my life at that time. Two or three additional hours had passed by, and I did not even realize it. It was the first time that had ever happened to me. It has happened a handful of times since, but not often.
Second, as I alluded to last Sunday, it was during this work experience that I realized I actually had much more interest in administrative work, very likely, than in the specifics of science. My boss, the scientist, sat with his pipe, conjuring how and why those electrons were whirling around in those atoms - and was completely into that. I was not. He disdained the meetings and paperwork involved in the projects - I thought they were the more interesting part.
Third, and finally, I guess, for now, I had my first brush with the opportunity to consider 'computing' as a career option. In fact, in the very short term, I chose: "Yes." I faced a three-year Air Force commitment following graduation; but it might begin anytime during the 12 months following graduation. Space Technology Laboratories in southern California offered me the position of Computer Programmer with the understanding I might be there a month, or 12 months. (More, next Sunday)
Families are Forever! ;-)