Teaching mathematics in Moss Side
After my postgraduate year, I did just one teaching job at Birley High School in Moss Side, Manchester. After two terms there, I realized that I did not want to spend my career as a schoolteacher, and resigned. The school headmaster was annoyed, and told me I could finish the next day (Friday), two weeks before the spring term ended.
There were a few months before I got my first job in information technology, which would represent my professional career from then on, but I did have a couple of weeks work backstage at the Palace Theatre in Manchester during a season of the English National Opera company.
In due course I then got my first job in the computer industry programming in assembler language, which I did for a year.
Among other projects there, I wrote a sales order processing system for a clothing chain called C&A, and a GCSE results management system for (as I recall) the Northern Schools Exam Board. These systems were programmed in assembler language for computers about the size of a small electric piano with a typewriter keyboard and a roller like a wide typewriter as a printer system, and 1000 words of core store memory.
More about Manchester
Old Windsor (1974..76)
After a year (July 1973..74), the work was starting to get repetitive, and I was looking for another job in the computer industry. I saw an advertisement for a person to write courses on how to program computers for the Education and Training division of ICL (International Computers Limited) in Old Windsor, Berkshire. This was back in the south of England, and I would be able to go and see my parents who were just a few miles south-east of there in Surrey, so I applied for that job. The manager was Peter Bloxsom, who appreciated the fact that I had written a novel (although it had not been published) as well as programmed complete applications for customer businesses and public or quasi governmental organizations in assembler level language, and gave me the job. I moved south to that job and never returned to the north of England again.
So here I was back in the south of England in Old Windsor, at an establishment centred on country house called Beaumont but with lots of additional office block accommodation, working for ICL writing courses on programming and operating their mainframe computers.
Paris (July 1976..78)
When that work was finished, two years later, as I had spent some spare time attending an evening class in French A-level and had an excellent pass, I got a job as a technical author at CII Honeywell Bull in Paris, where I lived in a high-rise flat round the corner from the building and wrote or edited manuals on application software for two years.
I then took a long holiday during which I travelled in North America, and then worked for a while (January..March 1979) on contract in London. While there, I had a phone call from an agency saying that an ITT company in Germany, Standard Electrik Lorentz, needed a technical writer in Germany to work on the development of digital telephone exchange software for Deutsche Bundesposte. So I worked in Neuwirtshaus, a northern suburb of Stuttgart, for two years on that project.
I had never previously learned any German, but while I was there a young lady living in the flat below mine (in Korntal), who was a teacher of French and German language in a high school (although she spoke almost no English), decided that she must ensure that the Englishman living upstairs learnt her language. As I was fluent in French, when I did not know the German word for a thing (she told me) I should say it in French. In this way, by the time my job in Germany was finished, I was fluent enough in German so that, when I met Germans on holiday in Ibiza years later, I could chat to them for ages and then, when they finally asked me where I was from and I told them, their reaction was “Was? Du bist kein Deutscher?”
When my work near Stuttgart came to an end, I had a call from an English engineer who had worked on that project and had then worked just outside Paris for a while at a company called SESA, which needed a technical writer, and he had recommended that they hire me; after an interview they gave me a contract for a year to do some writing. The chief job was to write a major manual on how to plan, design, equip and configure a data telecoms network using SESA devices. Their main customer for this manual was Australian Telecom, so that effectively I wrote the manual which told that company how to plan, design, and implement what became the Internet for the continent of Australia.
The man who was the technical lead at SESA then was Rémi Després. As his Wikipedia page shows, he was one of the inventors of the X.25 packet switching protocol and spent a lot of time away in Switzerland at CCITT meetings. When I finished after the best part of a year (April 1981..2) writing the document they needed from me, I had to give it to his assistant to review. It ran into hundreds of pages. When I met him after he had read it, his reaction was that he did not understand how I had written this document: neither he nor Rémi Després had been asked to explain to me any of the subject of the book. How had I been able to explain it to the readers, the Australian Telecom engineers who were going to be using it to learn how to do their jobs implementing Australia's new national telecoms network using SESA equipment, when only he and really understood the subject so far, and note neither of them had explained it to me?
An American technical writer who had also worked there briefly arranged for me to go to work in Reston, Virginia, for his firm, SESA Honeywell Communications Inc. However that only lasted a few months and I returned to England at the end of 1982.
When I returned to England, I looked for a job and took a position as an employee (not a contractor) of a new company started by a man and his wife in Haslemere. As an office, we used a room in their house. His idea was that with the IBM personal computer becoming quite popular all over Europe, people would be using computers and the software running on them who were not professional computer staff, as had been the case in the days when the only computers in use were with big companies and governments; people would be buying computers and using them in their own homes and so, away from English-speaking countries, they would want the programs running on these computers to display all the information and prompts and menus in their own languages. He therefore started this company with the aim of producing versions of software for personal computers in languages like French and German, and as I knew both of these languages as well as knowing a lot about programming and documenting software, I was going to help him work on the project to produce for software companies national versions of their software programs for personal computers in languages for which they perceived a need.
I worked for him for 2½ years. During that time, he hired a lady with a PhD in French and a lady with a degree in German, who became his editors for versions of software in those languages. They learnt the business of producing new versions of software products in those languages, and oversaw the work of producing the translations which was done by translators working to produce versions in their native languages. The company owner obtained contracts from companies like Toshiba who had software which they needed translated from Japanese into English, which he also organised through an expert in translating from Japanese, and then the resulting English versions of such software could be worked on to produce French and German versions for sale in Europe.
In mid-1985 my help was no longer really needed. I left this company, started my own one-man limited company as required by the tax laws so that I could work for companies without being regarded as a de facto employee, and produced a CV for the contract agencies. I then worked on a series of contracts for companies such as British Telecom, IBM and suchlike, and worked on my house and garden or my hobbies in between contracts. I did have one contract lasting a year, in 1991, working for the European Gommission in Brussels. I lived in a flat hotel, and drove home to Headley Down every fortnight to deal with the mail and to cut the grass. It was very exhausting.
Hard disk drives in Havant and Hungary
My longest spell in one company began in February 1993 when IBM hired me for the third time for a year at their hard disk drive centre in Havant. I was in a special test laboratory department of about 50 people. The manager was an excellent man who understood that very clever people need constant change and stimulation to make sure that they do not get bored with their work. After 12 months he begged me to sign up for another 12 months in his department, and in the end I stayed working for him for five years. That was the longest I stayed anywhere.
During those five years in , My main job was to devise tests for new hard disk drives: functional tests for new models, and new software versions of the control routines which hard disk drives obey to do the job expected of them by computers in which they are installed. This meant studying the protocols with which computers talk to their own hard disk drives, and devising step-by-step tests to confirm that new disk drive models comply with the specifications adopted by the whole industry.
One member of the Department had the job of representing the company at periodic industry-wide working party meetings in America. Every couple of months, he would go off to these meetings attended by people from all the disk drive manufacturers. One time, he came to me and said that at the last meeting every company taking part had been asked to prepare a draft for a standard set of tests for compliance of new disk drives with the protocols for the command system for personal computers talking to hard disk drives. He asked me to prepare a draft for him to take to the next meeting of this committee in America. I pulled together a large body of the tests of compliance used by our department for our own work, and then edited it to make it suitable to be used as an international world standard usable by all companies. It contained about a thousand tests of perhaps a page with a dozen or two dozen steps in each test. He took it to the next meeting, but when he came back he said that my proposal representing that company was the only one offered by anybody at the meeting. So copies had been made and taken away by representatives from all the companies, and they would be studying them before the next meeting. In due course after he came back from the next meeting, he was able to tell me that nobody had found any problem with my proposal and that it had been adopted as the world standard in the industry for testing the compliance of hard disk drives with the SCSI protocol.
Another example of an unexpected experience beginning in Havant was when my manager asked me to prepare a talk, taking about a morning, on a topic which I knew about. I was to give it in an IBM building down the road to a group of people from various places who needed to know about our hard disk drive testing methods. One group of people at this talk were from IBM Mainz in Germany, who were undertaking a major project because IBM was opening up a new disk drive factory in Hungary and they were in charge of this project. During a morning talk, the speaker is expected to allow the people listening to have a coffee break mid-morning, and the people from Mainz were the first ones back; as they would the only ones back in the room, I said to them: “Wenn Sie etwas nicht verstanden haben, kann ich es Ihnen noch einmal auf Deutsch erklären” (if there is anything you have not understood, I can explain it to you again in German).
Well, I came back from that morning talk and got on with my usual work; but a week or so later my manager received a message from the men in Mainz asking him to send me to Hungary for a week to give a course on how to start testing hard disk drives using the technology which we used in our department. My manager was bemused, but the arrangements were made. I flew out to Budapest and rented a car. I then drove to Székesfehérvár, the city where IBM were building their new hard disk drive factory.
That story to be continued ...