Natural Science, part 1
The University of Kent at Canterbury was, in 1968, a very new place indeed. This was, for sure, not an old English institution. We were the third year of intake – long enough for the staff to have got the bugs out of the system, but not long enough for any true traditions to form. There were three colleges, a combination of Hall of Residence and general teaching place, Elliott, Rutherford and Keynes. Elliott had been built first, a great concrete white tower, on the side of the hill above the city. Next they’d built Rutherford, a left-handed duplicate. Finally Keynes had opened just that year, a black-brick contrast in styles, square and typically 1960’s-ish. There was half a library building (they built the other half while we were there), and a Physics building, with other’s still planned. For the whole time we were there it was a building site.
Rooms in college were at a premium, and went first to girls, so I was in digs in the town for my first year. A dreadful experience, having just escaped my own family I was inflicted with a strangers. Studying in digs was impossible, so I spent most of my time in the college or the pub.
I shall say little about the academic side of things, the lectures were interesting at times, but having to get through a year of Natural Science before being allowed to do Electronics was not enjoyable. I had to catch up on the chemistry that I had abandoned at Hitchin – it still stank.
In the end we had to take part 1 examinations. I failed them, and had to return in the long summer vac to re-sit them, and then passed. The calm of the summer, in college not digs, gave me time to study properly.
But I was now completely out-of-love with Natural Sciences, not least for the fact that there were precisely two, not very attractive, ladies in my year. Whereas, in almost every other course, women were in the majority. I switched faculty.
I found this totally wonderful course, Economics (maths with waffle), Statistics (easy maths), Operations research (maths applied to business), and Computer methods (better than Maths!). It was called Quantitative Social Studies, a kind of Batchelor of Business Administration Degree – QSS for short.
In the two years I had left, I managed to catch up on the economics, hold my own in seminars, learn quite lot of interesting stuff which would not be of any use for fifteen years, and then become vital, and write a lot of programs. I still love making computers do what I want.
During the final year, I studied a bit, but mostly fell in love. We took the exams, and I got a Lower Second Class Honours Degree. NO MORE EXAMS – not necessarily a fact, but my solemn vow.
I considered two jobs, just two. There were only two companies in the UK that gave good training to graduate computer programmers, IBM and ICL.
IBM, was at that time the world’s biggest company making computers, and it had labs in the UK, and paid well. But, their selection methods involved competitive examinations, so I dropped them.
ICL, on the other hand, had been formed by the forced marriage of English-Electic-Leo-Marconi (itself a merger of three firms) and ICT (also a merger). The architect of this consolidation of the British computer industry was the former Noble Lord, the Viscount Stansgate, Minister of Science and Technology, Anthony Wedgewood Benn. I still bless him, and may he rest in peace. ICL was growing slowly, and recruited 20-30 graduates every year. They recruited by interview, not by examination – my enthusiam paid off.