All sorts of Clever People
Having got rid of the department, I gradually moved into a kind of general-purpose consultancy role within the Advance Research Department. There were a number of PhDs and other clever people about who were doing similar things. We worked on ideas across the whole range of Computer Science.
Departmental IT Manager
One role I had was to run the IT for the Research Labs. Because, I think, of my experience with Vax, I started buying in Sun Graphics workstations, and ran the company’s first ever Internet-connected email system. I had email on my own desk from about 1984, I still have some of my archives – although quite how I’ll ever read an 8-inch floppy disk….
One research project turned out to be quite interesting for a while. Databases – big, heavily indexed disk files – are slow and expensive (in machine resources) to search. Big databases, such as the ones that the HM Government has about taxes, or health data, are very difficult to search fast enough – even today. One of the clever-chappies had had an idea that we could build the search engine actually into the disk drive itself. In effect this was introducing a second, special purpose, computer into the disk sub-system, just to do searching. So we built one, I wrote the software for it. It was a great technical success and we marketed it as SCAFS (Software Content Addressable File System). We even sold the idea to IBM, and I led a team to the USA to train their engineers and salesmen.
Now O’Hooligan, meanwhile, still the Chief Scientist and my boss, had got himself the Visiting Chair of Computer Science at a good university – which he richly deserved, I might add – and started looking for new interesting things to do. He’d built model helicopters as a hobby, so he set off to build a real one. Everyone got involved with it.
It did in fact fly, but not far and not often, still he had lots of fun taking it to air-shows on a trailer. He built a second one after that, and sold it.
In the latter days of the 1980’s we were reorganised and I was asked to become Programmes and Quality Manager for the Division. After 15 years with O’Hooligan, I moved out of his orbit and away from the Research side of things and into the business. Now the Economics.