38
arches
winter
2013
technology
I
t was 1969, the VietnamWar was raging,
and I was a junior transfer student at Puget
Sound. I had just earned an associate de-
gree at Centralia College in a relatively new
subject called “data processing.” Since it seemed
logical that computers and accounting would go
well together in the future, I enrolled at UPS and
began working toward a B.A. in accounting.
My campus job was in what was then called
the Data Center, but the equipment there was
antiquated even for 1969. Registration, class lists,
report cards, and transcripts all were processed
without any magnetic media. The technology
we used was called “unit record equipment” and
was manufactured by IBM. Programming was
done by plugging wires into panels that were
then inserted into individual mechanical units
that sorted, merged, or tabulated and printed
information.
Our small staff included our manager, a key
punch operator who would type information
onto paper cards, an operator who ran the equip-
ment, and me. My job was to learn all I could
of each of the jobs in order to fill in where I was
needed. It would be at least seven years until Jobs
and Wozniak would invent their first microcom-
puter, and more than a decade until IBM would
release the first PC.
The university system may have been anti-
quated, but amazingly it all worked. The process
of registration was really clever. Prior to the
registration period, instructors asked for a cer-
tain number of punched cards for each of their
classes; these represented the number of students
allowed to register. To enroll, students received a
number of cards equaling the courses for which
they could sign up. At the mad-dash mash-up
in the field house that was registration in those
days, students ran from table to table, turning
in cards with their information on them. Their
cards would be paired with the class cards; when
the class cards were gone the course was full. The
registrar’s office then received the decks of cards,
and we in the Data Center used our clackety
machines to key in the information.
Grading was a similar process. Sorting and
reporting and even calculating grade point aver-
ages could be done. The method was analog to
the max, but the process had been perfected and
worked smoothly, with the necessary checks and
balances to make sure everything was accurate
and reviewed by the registrar and professors.
It was a great learning opportunity for which I
got paid. Plus, as an employee, I got a discount
on tuition. Little did I know I was soon to learn
more than I expected.
I was the oldest of nine kids in a family in
which my youngest brother was 18 years young-
er, so I felt at an early age I had natural qualifi-
cations for management. All I really needed was
to obtain my degree in accounting and continue
my experience in computers, and I had a career.
Near the end of my first term, the Data
Center manager told me she had landed a job
with the General Accounting Office for the U.S.
government and would be moving on. She said
that she and Registrar Jack McGee had agreed I
should become the Data Center manager. And
so that career thing got going a little sooner than
I’d anticipated.
Within the first week it became obvious I
had a lot to learn. Nothing in the Data Center
was written down; all the processes and proce-
dures were in the heads of the two long-term
employees who ran the equipment. As I began
to document how everything was done, I found
that study time and work time often were in
conflict—so much for happy college experiences
like hanging out with buddies.
At the time, the university had just hired
a new financial vice president, Lloyd Stuckey,
from the University of the Pacific in Stockton,
Calif. Dr. Stuckey sent me to visit and meet
the data center manager at his old stomping
grounds. The experience gave me a vision for
what was possible at UPS. But with no experi-
ence working with computer vendors or con-
structing a request-for-proposal, I relied heavily
on the support and wisdom of Jack McGee and
the vendors who were hoping to obtain the uni-
versity’s business.
Toward the end of 1970 the university made
the selection of a Univac 9300, and I began writ-
ing the programming to convert our existing
process to a tape-operating computer. As a point
of reference, today’s iPhones have more memory
and capabilities than the university’s first com-
puter, but coming from where we had been, it
was revolutionary.
Shortly after we converted registration,
grades, reporting, and transcripts to the comput-
er system, Dr. Stuckey asked if I could automate
the university’s accounting system. Back then,
individual student accounts as well as the entire
accounting system for the university were run
on ledger-card posting machines. The machines
were kind of like a combination between a fancy
calculator and a printing unit. While Dr. Stuckey
pledged his full support to the project, he hadn’t
fully explained the project to his staff. As I did
the analysis to see how the accounting was being
done, I discovered the posting machine was run
by the university controller, a man who had been
at the university a very long time. He actually
wore one of those green eyeshade visors. The last
thing he wanted was change.
This forced me to look for creative ways
to solve problems while still letting Mr. Green
Eyeshade keep his ledger cards. The eventual
solution was a paper-tape punch that attached
to the posting machine. The punch captured the
information being typed into the machine, and
that information could then be fed into the com-
puter. For some time the university ran both the
ledger card system and the computer accounting
system I eventually wrote.
Punching in
How I purchased and installed the college’s first administrative computer system
—while I was still a student
by Larry Briggs ’71