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Mike Cowlard: Reminiscences of a LEO Operator

Background and Peter Bird

My father was a GPO engineer and graduated to managing several telephone exchanges in the London area. (Was never sure what he did but he was exceptionally talented and when he retired he was floor manager for Ladbrokes taking and laying off large bets.).
When I left school (with 2 x ‘O’ Levels … but hey!! Maths and English) I was employed by the GPO as a Clerical Assistant.  The role was part of a team collating statistics from 20 regions and formulating them a National Report. I was very good at it mainly because my father had (I realised later in life) nurtured a natural ability I had with numbers and patterns, like doing Jigsaw puzzles, picture down, just using the shapes. 
I was quickly promoted to Clerical Officer.  My manager at the GPO also noticed my natural ability and said and I quote "You need leave here and get into computers you could do it here at the GPO but it would take 2 years as you need to be at a senior level or have a degree”. He then provided me with ads that were related to computers and an amazing letter of recommendation.  Within 3 months I had 2 IQ tests both of which I got maximum marks, 1 at Heinz but 3 people passed and the other 2 had degrees and the other at J Lyons.  After the test at J Lyons which I finished in record time Peter Bird interviewed me and asked me 2 questions:
1.How did you manage to finish the test so fast?
2.What newspaper did I read?
My answers were 
1.I did the same one at Heinz last week and got them all right
2.Don’t really read a newspaper but we have the Mirror at Home.
The following Monday in May 1968 I started work at J Lyons …. Peter Bird had started me on a 50+ year Computing career.

Operator/Shift Leader/Shift Supervisor - LEO II/III

Excellent at reading paper tape correcting and binary hacking into console to correct `Parity issues’ if we would have had Face Time it would have saved my late night trips back from Reading!! And cleaning tape heads which came in valuable for music cassettes.
Managing the crazy Autolector.
Migrated to IBM - Operator/Shift Leader/Shift Supervisor/Programmer/System Analyst.

Other Stuff
Initiation as an Operator was having your tie cut off whilst loading Mag Tape.
Reversing lorries at night (with guidance) into parking spaces.
Testing foods before market.
Using Read/Write Rings as Frisbees to score points if you hit your opponents' Room divider. (Quite difficult and painful, especially with the lights off.)
Having your tea leaves read by Edie, the dinner lady when you had a meal in the Lyons canteen on nights.
Being covered in white foam when Engineer was testing Fire Protection when it was on auto when it should have been on Manual – when I got outside I was holding a box of punched cards.
Telling the time in HEX.

Date : Unknown

This exhibit has a reference ID of CH56579. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Mike Cowlard: Reminiscences of a LEO Operator

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