Flashback to 1971 and the bright college days of this future IT pilot fish, who needs to take a computer programming course as a requirement for graduation.
“Our final assignment was to write a program to make change for a purchase from a $5 bill,” says fish, “and then put it on IBM punch cards to run on the new room-size mainframe, which was rumored to cost hundreds of dollars per hour to run.
“So we were admonished to keep our programs as short as possible. Problem was, I had no idea how to write the program, so I asked my roommate for assistance.”
Roommate laughs at how simple the project is, then writes out the instructions in a matter of minutes and quickly creates the deck of punch cards.
Fish turns in the deck and prepares for graduation. But not long after, he’s called into the dean’s office. There, fish is met by the dean, the head of the computer system, and his advisor — and no one is happy.
It seems the program fish submitted had an endless loop, and ran for something like five minutes — at a great cost to the university — before the computer operator shut it down.
“The dean assumed I had done this deliberately and threatened to expel me from the university,” fish says. “The head of the computer system wanted to sue me for the computer time. My adviser requested that the course instructor be asked his opinion.”
And so fish’s computer programming instructor is summoned, the situation explained and his opinion asked.
And it isn’t pretty. Instructor tells the group that, in his opinion, fish is incapable of properly writing the program, let alone deliberately putting in an endless loop.
Then he scolds the head of the computer system for allowing the program to run for more than the few seconds it should have taken, and suggests the computer operator on duty at the time be fired.
“Although it was embarrassing, I was off the hook,” says relieved fish. “The instructor gave me a C-minus in the class so I could graduate, but there were two conditions attached: First, that I never tell anyone I took a class from him. And second, that I stay away from computers!”
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