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Cynthia Reid: Commentary

Cynthia Reid, Engineer.  I was recruited by John Pinkerton in 1957 when I graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge in Mathematics and Mechanical Sciences. I was based at the Minerva Road facility in Park Royal as a logic and circuit designer and left to join IBM in 1961.

I was born in Headingley, Leeds in 1935 and from an early age had an interest in science which was encouraged by my parents. I attended Brudenell Primary School, Bennett Road Junior School and Leeds Girls' High School. In 1954 I was offered Exhibitions to both Oxford and Cambridge Universities and I elected to read Mathematics at Newnham College, Cambridge. At the end of my first year I switched to Mechanical Sciences and graduated in 1957, at which time I was recruited by John Pinkerton to work in LEO's engineering design department at Minerva Road in Park Royal, Northwest London. I had little knowledge of electronics or computers but it seemed an interesting challenge and I was there for four years until moving on to IBM. There were no other women engineers at Minerva Road, but this was a situation  I was entirely accustomed to and never really thought about. I had been the only female undergraduate in the 2000-strong Engineering Faculty at Cambridge, the first and only woman member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron (I believe there were no more until the 1980s), the only female pilot at Yeadon (now Leeds and Bradford) Flying Club where I got a scholarship to attain my PPL whilst still at school and the only woman in the LEO motor cycling group where I rode a scarlet Norton 600cc Dominator. I guess being 'the only one' was just a fact of life that I accepted without question - and I am happy to say that I have never experienced prejudice on this account (although I did have to ceaselessly pester the Air Ministry for 2 years before I was finally accepted into the Air Squadron - even with my pilot licence).

At Minerva Road I worked on the very early attempts at OCR (optical character recognition) where we were trying to design an input device which retail departments could use to order stock from a wholesale or central distributor. I think we just about managed to detect a very thick black pencil stroke across a precisely circumscribed quarter-inch square! It was an exciting time in that we were moving from thermionic valves and mercury delay line storage to transistors, printed circuit boards and solid state memory. I think I still have somewhere the soldering iron I was issued on my first day at Minerva Road! The only names I recall of my days there were my immediate manager John Bruce, our lab assistant Ernie Aylott and  a couple of fellow design engineers Ivan Boskov and Yoram Azar.

Image shows Cynthia Reid, a member of the Cambridge University Air Squadron, at the controls of a  De Havilland Chipmunk in 1956, shortly before she joined LEO.

Date : May 2020

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This exhibit has a reference ID of CH58312. Please quote this reference ID in any communication with the Centre for Computing History.

Cynthia Reid: Commentary

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