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So You Think You've Got IT Problems? You Don't Know The Half Of It

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Author: Charlotte Mooney

Can anyone else out there remember the 1980's? Big hair, shoulder pads, leg-warmers, horrendous pop music and the Miners' Strike are the first things that spring to mind. Not only that, but back in those days there were very few computers and definitely no internet. How on Earth did we survive without Email, Facebook and mobile phones? Well, as I recall, it wasn't easy...

To arrange a meeting with a friend, you had a choice of writing a letter or ringing them up. Writing a letter meant finding suitable stationery and a supply of postage stamps. Phoning involved calling from a traditional, land-line telephone. In practice this often meant using a call-box. First, you had to queue up outside the box, usually in the rain, while someone else conducted a seemingly endless conversation with their Mother in Basingstoke. Once you had managed to get inside the box you then had to be sure to have the correct denomination of coins to hand, or else use the dreaded 'Reversed Charges' system and talk to a battle-axe of a Telephone Operator. Sometimes it just seemed a whole lot easier to give up and spend another night in watching Dallas. What a wonderful, high-tech innovation it seemed when the phone card was introduced!

The world of business was an even bigger minefield. In the typical 1980s office, for example, getting the computer boffins to co-operate with you to create a simple report used to be a major exercise in office politics, communications and diplomacy. The doorway to the IT Department looked to most people like the Mouth of Hell, only slightly less welcoming and appealing. Not only did you have the spotty, smelly, aggressive and socially illiterate Computer Programmers to deal with (and I should know, I was one), there were other, even more frightening, difficult and cantankerous people to negotiate with and pacify in order to get the simplest task done.

Take for example the Key Punch Department, always peopled by an entirely female work-force and always ruled with a rod of iron by an Amazonian woman called Brenda. Even if you were clever enough to write your own computer programs, in Assembler, COBOL or FORTRAN, you still had to beg and plead with the Key Punch Supervisor to get your program onto the computer. No such luxuries as your own keyboard and mouse for data input; the mainframe was an expensive and mysterious piece of equipment hidden away from view in its own room with its own attendants and even its own carefully controlled micro-climate. Woe betide the hapless employee who wandered into this inner sanctum without the appropriate authorisation.

This place had to be approached with extreme caution, only after making an appointment, and only if you had the correct id badge and a program written out on the officially-approved stationery. As a humble Junior Programmer I used to have an awful time of it, struggling to complete coding-sheets to Brenda's satisfaction. Apparently my handwriting wasn't up to scratch, and caused alarm bells to ring all over the Data Entry area. Once you had tidied up your coding sheets to Brenda's satisfaction, cleared the Data Entry hurdle and got your program onto the mainframe, there was another, even more terrifying obstacle to overcome: the Computer Operator.

Just as all Data Entry Supervisors were called Brenda, so there was another unwritten Law of the Universe which dictated that all Computer Operators should be called Martin, and should dress in corduroy jackets and gingham shirts liberally spattered with gravy and beer-stains. The main reason for their existence was to bar access to the Mainframe to mere mortals like me. Heaven forefend that anyone should try and get the precious mainframe to actually DO anything useful. Incorrect and irresponsible programming was liable to make the whole thing overheat and possible explode, or go into an endless loop. This was my trademark mistake, and usually led to the printer spewing out interminable screeds of expensive computer paper, and to another, inevitable rollicking for me from Martin. Oh the shame and humiliation of it. Quite frankly it was much easier to just make the data up, and type up your own fictitious report yourself: a lot quicker and probably just as useful to all concerned.

Nowadays, well, you just don't know you're born! No need to beg and plead with the awkward squad in the IT Department, no need to spend hours writing out COBOL programs longhand, no need to drag your required information kicking and screaming out of the guts of a constipated mainframe computer. Crikey, not even any need for a knowledge of any programming methodologies or languages. All you need is a pc or laptop, an internet connection, and away you go, all by yourself. There's probably more processing power and storage capacity in today's average home pc than there would have been in the entire IT department of a multi-national company back in the eighties.

So stop complaining about problems with your computer, because quite frankly, there really aren't any to speak of. Intermittent internet connection? Broadband speed not fast enough? Don't make me laugh. Make the most of it, make friends with your pc; it's probably the most powerful piece of technology you will ever own, and it's so easy. Plug it in, switch it on and get online to any information you could possibly desire, all from the comfort of your own home. Research into any and every field of human endeavour, share documents and brainstorm ideas, link up and network with like-minded people all over the world! With these facilities we should be able to organise World Peace, feed and clothe the entire population of every country on Earth, and design wonderful homes, schools and employment for all, no problem. Creating a Business Intelligence Report for the Head of Accounts should be mere child's play! Bet I could even find out what my old friends Brenda and Martin are doing these days, and send them a message! On second thoughts, perhaps not. I'm tired, let's just have another game of Solitaire and a quick look at Facebook. Saving the planet can wait till tomorrow.

About the author: Charlotte Mooney is an IT professional with many years experience, currently working for International IT Software Consultancy Proswift, specialising in the Webforum online Document Management and online Project Planning Service. If this story strikes a chord with you, click here and check out what Webforum could do for you and your business -

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