Last updated: Feb 12 2006

How, I ended up Working on IBM Big Iron


A head hunter friend called me one day back in 78 and asked if I wanted to work on the big iron IBM systems for a while. I laughed and reminded him that I was proud of the fact I was self taught x-jarhead with an attitude. I liked being a Maverick and there was no way IBM was going to let a Hippie like me near one of their big machines. I agreed to take the interview as a favor, we had a lot of history racing sports cars. He needed to fill the last time slot for a string of friday interviews.

He promised me I would not only see but would get to touch an IBM Mainframe as part of the interview process, more than that, he could not tell me, other than IBM may not want me touching their systems, but there many ways to skin a cat. I had little choice but to go find out out for myself, this was too crazy to be believed.
I arrived at a warehouse north west of Chicago and walked in the side door to find myself in a body shop environment. Instead of cars it was computers that were being sanded and painted. A crusty Biker type put down his sander and yelled "What the Hell do you want" I replied I was there for a job and was looking for the office. He told me to wait next to a system staged over next to the loading dock, he would call up to the office.
There next to the loading dock was 370/135 and Motor/Generator with all its doors off and gates open. When no one came for me right away I began looking it over real close. I was fascinated by what I would later learn were tri-leads. There were some loose ones on an open logic book which I inspected very closely.
Three wire 50ohm flat coax replacements with grounding gold ends that bridged a gold pin and a ground plane. It looked like the entire system was hand wired and wirewrap it was great!
Some time later a man walked up and introduced himself, I was so lost in the spectacle of this great system. I think I grunted a greating and pushed my inadequate resume in his direction. I started right into 20 questions! I started by asking about the flat wire coax like waveguides that seamed to connect everything, he told me they were tri-leads. I figured that when he saw I had no formal education I would get the bums rush out of there so I wanted to gain as much info as I could about this system.

After a few minutes of questions and answers he handed me a piece of paper with a net list on it and a few tri-leads and said finish this for me. They are several missing from this board here in the center of the gate, find them. He then truned and walked away to take a phone call. A few minutes later he returned and asked if I needed any help figuring out the grid system, I said no and pointed out that I had already found and replaced the 3 wires. To my horror he powered the system up, as he said "lets see if it works now".

It powered up and he smiled and pointed to one of the lights that was flashing, and told me I was hired. I could not believe my ears. I suggested he take a look at my resume, his boss might not be so happy with my lack of education. He told me he was all the boss I would ever be concerned with, On the Job Training starts on monday morning. Three days later I went out on my first 135 gig. A trip to Philly an ICA (Intrigrated Communications Adaptor) came off and an IPA (Intergrated Printer Adaptor) went on, two days and back home again. This was to be a fun job.

I was instructed that when questions came up about my background and qualifications. I was to responded with a vague reference to my Military background, the fact I had clearance and did mostly classified or work under non disclosure. A war story or two almost always got me knowing nods and a smile from the questioner, sometimes a Wow.. cool..

The FE job was good for about a year. there was a lot of travel and some nerve racking events when things did not go so well on the first try, but all in all, it was a good job. A year later I was transferred to a mico computer startup project and never looked back :)

So that is the story how little old me got to play with the big iron. I soloed on 135 and 138's for a while, than ended up on a team that specialized in memory installs and removal on 168's.

It was during this time that I found myself between an IBM team and an Amdahl team in canada. Gee Daddy what did you do during the Computer wars ? about sums it up.
Some readers may wish to jump ahead to Turning Big Iron to Gold - The Big Iron Holocaust.
Exiting Back to the IBM-Collectables Gallery or returning to the IBM collectables Home page are also options.




All references to IBM and its registered trademarks are descriptive. International Business Machines Corporation (IBM, or colloquially, Big Blue) has registered and used numerous versions of the IBM trademark, their presentation here, along with all references to IBM and IBM collectables are used descriptively, in good faith to describe the products and publications produced by IBM in the past and to simply tell this story. All usage here is based on the Fair Use Doctrine.
(c)2006 R.C.Bradlee all rights reserved
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