More for the computer, but rather programmed modules

More
than one company found that the computer reorganized de facto the lines
of effective managerial power. The computer seems an obvious place to look for
insight into the question of whether new technologies respond to need or create
it. Indeed, the numerical analysts clearly considered the computer to be their
baby and resented its adoption by “computerologists” in the late ’50s
and early ’60s . But it seems equally clear that the computer became the core
of an emergent data-processing industry more by creating demand than by
responding to it. Much as Henry Ford taught the nation how to use an automobile,
IBM and its competitors taught the nation’s businesses (and its government) how
to use the computer. How much of the technical development of the computer
originated in the marketing division remains an untold story central to an
understanding of modern technology.15 Kidder’s Soul of a New Machine again offers a quick look of what that
story may reveal. One major factor in the creation of demand seems to have been
the alliance.We undoubtedly produce software by backward techniques. We
undoubtedly get the short end of the stick in contest with hardware people
because they are the industrialists and we are the crofters. Today, in this
world software production is visible in the scale of industrialization
somewhere below the more backward construction industries. According to me its
proper place is considerably higher, and would like to investigate the
prospects for mass-production techniques in software.

What McIlroy had in mind was not imprint in large
numbers, which is trivial for the computer, but rather programmed modules that
might serve as standardized, interchangeable parts to be drawn from the library
shelf and inserted in larger production programs. A quotation from McIlroy’s
paper served as leitmotiv to the first part of Peter Wegner’s series on
“Capital Intensive Software Technology” in the July 1984 number of
IEEE Software, which was richly illustrated by photographs of capital industry
in the 1930s and included insets on the history of technology.18 By then
McIlroy’s equivalent to interchangeable parts had become “reusable
software” and software engineers had developed more sophisticated tools
for producing it. Whether they were any closer to the goal is less significant
to the historian than the continuing strength of the model. It reveals
historical self-consciousness. We should appreciate that self-consciousness at
the same time that we view it critically, inclination temptation to accept the comparisons

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among equally feasible
alternatives; some have been influenced by the needs and concerns of software
production, others by the special purposes of customers. Early on, programming
had to conform to the narrow limits of speed and memory set by factors in the
electronics industry made it possible to expand those limits, and at the same
time drastically lowered the cost of hardware, programming could take practical
advantage of research into programming languages and compilers. Researchers’
ideas of multiuser systems, interactive programming, or virtual memory required
advances in hardware at the same time that they drew out the full power of a
new generation of machines. Just as new architectures have challenged
established forms of programming, so too theoretical advances in computation
and artificial intelligence have suggested new ways of organizing processors.At
present, the evolution of computing as a system and of its interfaces with
other systems of thought and action has yet to be uncover.Indeed, it is not
clear how many recognized systems
constitute computing itself, given the manifold contexts in which it has
developed. We speak of the computer industry as if it were a monolith rather
than a network of interdependent industries with separate interests and
concerns. In addition to historically more analytical studies of individual
firms, both large and small, we need analyses of their interaction and
interdependence. The same holds for government and academia, neither of which
has spoken with one voice on matters of computing. Of particular interest here
may be the system-building role of the computer in constructing  new links of interdependence among
universities, government, and industry after World War II. Arguing in “The
Big Questions” that creators of the machinery underpinning the American
System worked from a knowledge

of the entire sequence of operations in
production,12 Daniels in 1970 pointed to Peter Drucker’s suggestion that
“the organization of work be used as a unifying concept in the history of
technology.” The recent volume by on IBM’s Early Computers illustrates
the potential fruitfulness of that suggestion for the history of computing. In
tracing IBM’s adaptation to the computer, they bring out the corporate tensions
and adjustments introduced into IBM by the need to keep abreast of fast-breaking
developments in science and technology and in turn to share its research with
others.The computer reshaped R at IBM, defining new relations between
marketing and research, introducing a new breed of scientific personnel with
new ways of doing things, and creating new roles, in particular that of the
programmer. Whether the same holds true of, say, Bell Laboratories or G.E.
Research Laboratories, remains to be studied, as does the structure of the
R institutions established by the many new firms that constituted the
growing computer industry of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. Tracy Kidder’s in
1981,the frankly journalistic account of development at Data General has given
us a glimpse of the patterns we may find. Equally important will be studies of
the emergence of the data-processing shop, whether as an independent computer
service or as a new element in established institutions.14 More than one
company found that the computer reorganized de facto the lines of
effective managerial power.The computer seems an obvious place to look for
insight into the question of whether new technologies respond to need or create
it. 

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