When I first started in this industry, I worked with Chris Burton who’d worked on Baby (and later led the team which rebuilt it); he had known Turing, as had another man I worked with later. Our team was led by Charlie Portman, who gets a credit in The Mythical Man Month. It’s pretty amazing how close we are — two generations away — from the legendary figures who founded our industry, who built the first computers.
Chris was famous in our team because we had some new Mannesman Tally inkjet printers, which could only print ASCII, and we needed them to print bitmaps. The processor in the printers was one that no-one in the team had any experience of. So Chris took the datasheet for the printer, the datasheet for the processor, a dump of the printer ROM, and a square ruled pad home with him on the train, and came back in the morning on the train with code for a new ROM for the printer, written not in assembler but in the actual opcodes (hexadecimal), in pencil on the pad. We blew them into the ROM and it worked first time printing perfect bitmaps, no errors, no bugs to fix.
That’s how good the first generation programmers were. I am still in awe of that. And he was a very modest man, very generous with his experience. I’m proud to have learned from him.
(Hat tip to our Slovenian guest.)