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Oral-History:Jean Bartik

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About Jean Bartik

Jean Bartik was one of the original women programmers of the ENIAC computer. Bartik's work, in conjunction with a group of women programmers, would completely change the face of computing. Bartik was a pioneer in the field of computer programming and as a woman, she faced and overcame several hurdles in the field as well.

Born Betty Jean Jennings, Bartik was raised in rural Missouri and attended Northwest Missouri State Teachers College where she received a math degree. In 1945, Bartik left for Philadelphia and began working on the ENIAC project, forming part of a crucial group of women programmers.

After her work on the ENIAC, Bartik continued to work on computing. Joining John Presper Eckert and John W. Mauchly, she worked on the UNIVAC computer. Shortly after the UNIVAC, Bartik left the computing industry to begin a family and resumed professional work in the computing field in several years later. After her layoff, Bartik decided to go into real estate, where she remained for the remainder of her life.

In 2009, Ms. Bartik received a Pioneer Award from the IEEE Computer Society, and in 2008 she was named a fellow by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. Bartik died on March 23, 2011 of congestive heart disease.

In this interview, reflects on her upbringing in rural Missouri, her part in the ENIAC project, and the role of women in the history of computing in the US.

About the Interview

JEAN BARTIK: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, 3 August 2001

Interview # 576 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.


Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA or ieee-history@ieee.org. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Jean Bartik, an oral history conducted in 2001 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Jean Bartik
INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate
DATE: 3 August 2001
PLACE: Jean Bartik’s home in Oaklyn, New Jersey


Growing up in Rural Missouri

Abbate:

If I can start at the beginning, when were you born and where did you grow up?

Bartik:

I was born December the 27th, 1924, in a farm in Gentry County, Missouri. We were on dirt roads, so I grew up in a pretty isolated environment. In fact, until I was in college, I’d never been more than forty miles from home. We did have a car, but when the roads were muddy or snowy we used horses. My father was a school teacher, and he always used to have a big, long-legged riding horse; they were always “King” or “Rex” or something like that. And of course we had no tractors or anything like that, so everything was horse power! [laughs.] I have three brothers and three sisters, and we had a pony who was half Shetland and half Pacer, so I grew up on a horse.

I went to a little one-room school, the Jennings School (which was my maiden name), and then when it came time to go to high school . . . Actually, for my brothers and sisters, there were no buses, so my brothers and sisters stayed in Stanberry during the week, the town where there was a high school; and in fact, my two older brothers and sister actually once had an apartment, one year, by themselves! I mean, these three kids lived in an apartment in town so they could go to school. But when Roosevelt came in and the farm-to-market roads were built, then there was a gravel road built from Stanberry to Alanthus, which is a little town of 104. Back in those days there were towns about every five miles—maybe greater than that, but in any case, it was about two miles from where I lived; and the bus came to Alanthus, so the question was how to get to the bus. Well, the first year I stayed with my sister in town and came home on weekends, and then after that I took the bus. I started driving a car when I was fourteen. My father, who was a farmer and a school teacher, said to me one day, “Can you drive a car?” I said “Yes,” because my older brothers had let me drive once in a while. So he said, “Okay! Get in that car and back it up!” So I got in the car, and I put it in reverse, and I killed the engine—man, I did everything in the world!—but finally I got it backed up. And I got out of the car and he said, “Well, I see you can drive!” [laughs.] So the next day, I drove the car to meet the bus. They didn’t let me drive out on the highway, just on the back roads, the country roads, because I was only fourteen.

Anyway, I had three brothers and three sisters, and my grandmother, who was a strong influence on my life, lived about a mile and a half away. I went to see my grandmother every day; I rode my pony over. We were so poor that we couldn’t afford a subscription to a newspaper, but she took the Saint Joseph Newspress, and we used to go down every day and pick the newspaper up after she’d read it. I’m sure she hadn’t read it all, most times [laughs], but she gave it to us anyway. She took the Kansas City Star, which was a weekly paper, and she said, “Well, if it’s important, it’ll be in the weekly newspaper.” [laughs.] “And I read that thoroughly!” she said.

We lived in a little four-room house: we had a boys’ room and a girls’ room and a kitchen, and then the living room, and my parents had a folding-up bed that was in the living room. My oldest sister was the cook, my second sister cleaned the house, and I was the third daughter, without household duties, so I always worked in the field, and helped with raking and plowing and all that kind of stuff. We, of course, had cows to milk, and things like that, so we always had chores to do, and animals to feed, and things like that. My kids think it’s bliss—the Waltons or something, in Missouri—but believe me, it wasn’t the Waltons! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Did you have an idea about what you wanted to do when you grew up?

Bartik:

Yes. I shouldn’t say this, but: Get the hell out of Missouri! [laughs.] No; well, I grew up with seeing these farm women and seeing these kids—seeing these farm women with these gross husbands, farm husbands, and they were saying, “Oh, well, my husband won’t let me do such-and-such,” and little kids hanging on their skirts. So I took off, and I decided: one, I was not going to get married, and two, I was not having any children. I had an aunt Gretchen, who was my maiden aunt, and she had left Missouri, and she taught in Illinois and various places, and Cleveland, Ohio. She came home in the summer, and she had Hanmacher suits, and wore jewelry, and all that stuff. I wanted to be like Aunt Gretchen. I wasn’t going to get married, and I wasn’t having any children. I was going to do something outside Missouri—because I did read a lot, so I knew there was a lot out there in the world that I didn’t know anything about, and I wanted to see it!

Abbate:

Were you interested in math and science as a child?

Bartik:

Well, all my family was good in math, except my sister, who actually went to school during the most “progressive” of progressive education. We were all good at math, even my mother. I was especially good in math, and it was like a game: you know, there wasn’t really anything serious about it. Well, I skipped fifth grade. In those little one-room schools, they had fifth-and-sixth and seventh-and-eighth grades together, and then had individual grades for one, two, three, four. The year that I was in fifth grade, they were giving the sixth grade courses, so the teacher said, “Well, if you do sixth grade math, you can go into the seventh grade.” I was the only one, actually, in the fifth grade, although there were three or four in the sixth grade, and so that’s what I did. But I never really thought about math as any kind of career.

Actually, my first recognition came from being a softball pitcher! I was a good softball pitcher. We used to run around to the other towns. We’d form a team and we’d go in by trucks and play other teams from other little towns. So every summer, the coach would come up and ask my dad if I could play softball again, and I did. Actually, I got so good I got paid like two dollars for pitching a game—which is a lot of money, back in those days! I mean, when I was in college, I worked for forty cents an hour; so it was a lot of money, two dollars. Anyway, we used to go around, and actually I pitched one no-hit, no-run game. When I’d go down to this town in Stanberry, people would stop and talk to me, and tell me what I did wrong, what I should do next time, and what I did right! So that was the first time I ever had any recognition. And I did that until I got interested in boys, and I could play better ball better than they did, so I finally decided not to play! I could throw the ball harder than my brothers, actually.

But I used to practice a lot. I had a little tin can that I flattened out and put on the door of one of the sheds, and I used to practice pitching. I mean, I didn’t practice hours a day—don’t get me wrong—but I would practice an hour or two a day during ball season; I mean, I took this sort of seriously. Then when I was in high school, my brother was going to be a doctor, he said, so I wanted to be a nurse, because he was at that time my favorite brother. So I thought I’d be a nurse. Then, when I was in high school, he said, “Oh, well, you really should study Latin, because so many of the medical terms are in Latin.” So my English teacher said, “Gee, I’d had Latin one time; I’d like to review it; why don’t we get together at night and we’ll do Latin?” So I would go over one night a week and we would study Latin. When I was in high school, I was editor of our school newspaper. We didn’t have a newspaper, but we had a section of the Stanberry Headlight. They printed all the high school news, and I was the editor of that. This gave me the idea of being a writer. So when I went to college, I started out as pre-journalism.


College Years

Abbate:

You went to the Northwest Missouri State Teachers College. Was that sort of an obvious choice, or how did you end up going there?

Bartik:

Well, it was because it was so cheap! I mean, we paid $18.75—eighteen dollars and seventy-five cents—for a quarter. And it was close; it was less than thirty miles from home. So it was the obvious place. Missouri was pretty forward-looking in that they set up five State Teachers Colleges in the state: one in each corner and one in the middle. Iowa and Kansas didn’t have them, and half of our student body was from Iowa, rather than just Missouri. I think they paid more, being from out of state, because I’m sure this was the state-subsidized school. My Aunt Gretchen loaned us $25 a month to go to college, for two years. So she loaned me the money, and I worked in the bookstore. Between those two things, there was enough money. I lived in a light housekeeping room in a private home called Holt House I’d say about fourteen people lived there. It was two dollars a week, I think. Anyway, the amount that I earned, and the amount that Aunt Gretchen loaned me, saw me through two years of college.

So, I was taking pre-journalism, but I couldn’t stand my advisor. Her name was Mattie Dykes. Well, to sort of understand: My brother Bob, this one that was going to be a doctor, was a brown-noser of the first order, and all his teachers loved him, including Mattie Dykes. So I did not measure up to brother Bob, because I didn’t have the same charm. It was unbelievable; but he had other old women teachers who thought he was super. I couldn’t stand Mattie Dykes. Furthermore, I realized I could never get the money to go to the University of Missouri, which had a great journalism school. I decided I’d better be realistic, so I switched to a math major with a minor in English, and that’s how I did it.

Abbate:

And you switched to math thinking that you would teach math?

Bartik:

No. I’d get a degree and then I would do something else! [laughs.] I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I wasn’t going to teach.

Abbate:

I was wondering why math seemed more realistic.

Bartik:

Because it was easy. And if I majored in English, I couldn’t think of anything to do but teach school. I liked English, and I liked science, but I had no idea what I would do.

Abbate:

But math seemed like something that could be useful for a job.

Bartik:

Well, yes, and it was something I could do. I mean, as a last resort I supposed I could teach. I realized I wouldn’t be jobless, but it certainly wasn’t anything I would do with any enthusiasm. Everybody in my family were teachers: my father was a teacher; my grandmother had been a teacher; my sisters were teachers; uncles; aunts. So it just wasn’t something that I was interested in, actually.

When I was in college, of course I was the only math major in my class. And I took courses with the sailors—because I was a freshman when Pearl Harbor was bombed. The boys were cleaned right out of school, because they all were drafted and went into some branch of the military. My older brother was there. They had started a flight program in Maryville, the same place where the college was, so he took courses at the college and took flight lessons. Everybody was all bound up in the war. The next year they got these Navy programs, the V-5 and V-12: one of them was for recruits who were just getting into the Navy, and the other was for guys who had been at sea. They had brought them back for the beginning of officers’ training. I was actually a sophomore when I started taking the math courses: analytic geometry, trigonometry, physics, and courses like that. These were courses I took with these sailors. All the sailors knew me, because I was the only woman in the class. I also worked in the bookstore, which had a little coffee shop attached to it, so I knew most of the kids in school. I knew most of the sailors because of these circumstances. They were all very nice to me, actually, and I made lots of friends.

College was a fabulous experience! I was 16 when I went off to college. I just saw in the alumni magazine that one of my roommates had died, and a memoriam was held for her. When I went to college I had a roommate who was a freshman, named Joyce Cox. She was really the prettiest girl in school. We had two juniors as roommates, because there were two rooms set up, so we slept in one and studied in the other one. There were four of us in these two rooms; and these juniors were really nice to us. Although I was emotionally not more than a sixteen-year-old—I’d never actually been anywhere or done anything particularly—they were very nice to me. I was, the way many freshman are, shocked at things that they’d say and ideas which I’d never even heard of before. In fact, one of the teachers that I still consider one of the most influential in my life was named Dr. Horsfal. I took his course in biology. I was always a very good student, but I could not fathom how to take his tests. He gave us vocabulary tests every day—or maybe there weren’t every day, but it seemed like every day; it was more than once a week—and I could never get the definitions right. You see, he wouldn’t accept a dictionary definition; he wouldn’t accept the definition in the book; and he wouldn’t accept one from context. Now, I could never figure out what the definition ought to be, and I kept flunking these tests! This was the first time in my life I’d ever flunked a test. So, came mid-term, I got a pink slip in biology, which was almost unheard-of; and then I got an honor in Phys. Ed. The Phys. Ed. Department wanted me to major in Phys. Ed. because I was a good athlete! I liked to take Phys. Ed. courses. Most college students try to get out of Phys. Ed. as much as possible, but I didn’t try to get out of it; I mean, I took them even after I didn’t have to. Anyway, my brothers teased me about being brawny but not brainy! But I wrote to my mother and I said, “You know, mom, I’m really sorry about this, and I assure you that I will pass this course. I haven’t been working as hard as I ought to.” I got this nice letter back from my mother, saying, “We know you’ll pass the course! We know you’re a good student.” I mean, it was just wonderful—and it’s always worked with me. Do the opposite. Don’t bawl me out, but tell me how you trust me, and God, I’ll do anything for you. So my mother never bawled me out. She always worked in the opposite direction.

Anyway, I did pass the biology course. But later, when I was working on the UNIVAC, I took a computer course at Penn, and this teacher, for some reason or another, tried to compare computers to semantics, and he brought out the Count Korzybski, who is a semanticist and wrote a book called Science and Sanity. Count Korzybski said that people go insane partly due to their confusion over the definition of words! You know the old Aristotelian view of two-valued logic: “Well,” he said, “that isn’t the way words are.” If you describe a particular horse you see, and then you see a pony, it wouldn’t fit that description. But if you saw a pony and described that, then it wouldn’t fit with the other one! And if you just put their characteristics that were in common, then you’d see a horse and you’d say, “Hmm! Cripes, this horse is a lot more than this definition!” Anyway, he said people became confused because their words were either underdefined or overdefined—and all of sudden it hit me: Horsfal had read Count Korzybski, and that’s what he was trying to teach us! [laughs.]

Abbate:

To keep you from going insane! [both laugh.]

Bartik:

Well, I mean, ideas like that: I’m sure most college kids feel the same, but I just felt this was outrageous.

Abbate:

Were the other students having the same trouble?

Bartik:

Oh lord, yes! We fought over it—the whole class was one big fight! In particular we had one very bright guy. I was not a fighter at that time, you have to understand. I just sat there and listened; but this guy fought every day with the teacher. He believed that contextual definitions were the real ones; that when you’re reading something for the definition, it had to be contextual—so then they fought back and forth.

I found Horsfal very interesting when we discussed sex. When the sexual part of biology came up, he said, “I know you have lots of questions, and you’re probably too embarrassed to ask them. I’ll put a box outside my office, and any question you have about sex, just put the question in the box and I will answer the questions.” Well! This was the first time I’d ever heard of anything like this! [laughs.] There was a question of “Why not sex during menstruation?” and “Why not sex every time you go out with someone?”—I mean, there were all kinds of sexual questions. And you can imagine what college kids said! He stood up there—I’ll never forget this—he stood up there with his back to the blackboard, standing there answering every question! I mean, that was very impressive! Very impressive.

But anyway, I had a wonderful time. When my two years were up and my money from my aunt was running out, my father said to me—my brothers were away in the service, of course, and he didn’t have anybody to help him on the farm—so he said if I would help him on the farm, he would send me to school in style the next year. So that’s what I did. The summer before my junior year, I worked on the farm. It was actually one of the best experiences of my life. With seven children—and my father was a schoolteacher and a farmer—I had never had any time alone with my father. I basically didn’t know my father that well. I’d never been close to him; I never really knew what he thought, and things like that. I worked with him all summer, out in the fields. We ate our lunch out in the field, and I was with him all the time. I really got to know my father, which was a big plus, and I enjoyed it very much, actually.


A Father's Influence

Abbate:

What was he like?

Bartik:

He was very sentimental. He was not any taller than I am; I’ll show you pictures of him. He was very sentimental, very hard-working, and loved his children beyond anything in the world. That was one thing we always knew. You can’t believe how hard it was for my parents to send all of us kids to high school. Most of the farm kids didn’t even go to high school. I had a girl in my class who was every bit as bright as I am in everything but math, who didn’t even go to high school. But with our family—I mean, times were hard! There was no money. So my father [voice chokes]—they burned wood in the stove, and my father, on Saturday, would have a load of wood to take nine miles with horses! I mean, he taught school, and he worked, and chopped up that wood and took it down there. To this day I just think, “Oh my God! Would I ever have done anything like that?” And then my mother, of course, all weekend cooked food to send with them, so they’d have food to eat during the week; she’d bake cakes and bake bread and all that stuff.

He was very volatile. He had a very volatile temper, and it scared me half to death. So it left damage, the rages he’d go into. But, the one thing about my father that spoiled me in many ways: he always made amends. When he perceived that he’d hurt somebody—and that included his children—he made amends. So, even though he had this violent temper, which was very frightening, he never lost it with me that summer. Actually, he was very loved by all of his school children; they used to run up to him and hold his hands and all that stuff—but I never did: I never touched my father, when I was little. One of my second cousins—or maybe third cousins—lived in Albany, and he used to come to a farm of my cousins’. When they were threshing and things like that, everybody was working. This kid was a big fat kid and very weak, and so Dad would take him and they would take the grain from the thresher and put it back in the granary. This kid told me when he was in college—and by this time he had lost weight and he was a very attractive young man—but he said, “You know, your father was the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me!” He said, “He worked with me,” and he said he’d called him “honey dear”—and my father did; I mean, he used a lot of endearing phrases. And so he said, “Imagine this: here I am this big fat kid; my own father was dead; I’d never been around men very much in my life, and there I am working with this guy, and he’s calling me ‘honey dear’!” [laughs.] But people talked to Dad, young people, because he was a school teacher; and so many of them, when they got in trouble or anything, would come talk to him. Plus, he was the representative of the community when they had to go outside, like for state programs, or stuff like that.

Now, my father never got a degree; he only went to the normal school. In this little town of Stanberry, right after high school, he went to normal school that summer, and taught school that fall. So he was seventeen when he started teaching school! Some of the students—because the boys, when they didn’t have anything to do, would keep going to school, even after they were graduated from eighth grade—so some of those kids were older than he was. And all the time, he always had to take extension courses and things like that to keep being certified, because he never went back to Maryville to get a degree.

The one thing, of course, was that the farmers were all male chauvinist pigs. They used to pay the girls, when we’d work with the boys later on in life, less than the boys. They’d pay the boys a dollar-fifty a day, and they’d pay me and my sister fifty cents!

Abbate:

For farm work?

Bartik:

Hoeing is what we were doing: hoeing corn.

And my aunt: I used to work all day for her, and she’d give me ten cents! I never had much love for her, to tell you the truth. When I used to go down to my grandmother’s house, she would say, “You know, I think there’re some eggs up in the hay loft that I can’t get to. Would you go get them for me?” So I would go around and gather the eggs, and she would give me ten cents just for bringing these eggs in. But I think that’s a little different than working in a garden all day for ten cents!

My father was fabulous. We thought he was the bravest man in the world, and we knew he would die for us. One time, my brothers and sisters and I were going down to Grandma’s house. There were about five of us, I guess, so three of them got on Beauty, the pony, and my oldest sister got the riding horse that Dad rode. His name was King. King was an ex-race horse. He had big long legs and he was almost white, gray and white. King was perfectly peaceful and everything was fine, except if you were riding him and a horse came running up behind him. He would think he was in a race, and he would take off like a rocket! So we were riding toward my grandmother’s house, and we were just walking along, but of course King had big long legs and Beauty was a pony, so they kept dropping behind. They’d kick Beauty in the ribs, and they came running up behind King. He took off like a rocket. [laughs.] I just saw this place; I was back there where this happened. There was a little hill, and at the top of the hill there was a cemetery to the left, and then there was a big long hill. At the bottom of the hill, there were two fields. My father was working in one of those fields, and he saw us come over the hill. He knew exactly what happened. He knew King was running off! He left what he was doing, ran out in the road, and stopped that horse! He realized there was a sharp turn in the road, and there was a barbed wire fence beside the road. He realized that King would not make it around the turn and would rip our legs with the wire. Or, maybe he would make the turn, and we would go flying off onto the wire. Anyway, he got there in time. To this day I don’t know how he could have stopped that horse, but he did. King reared up when he stopped, and I fell off. It knocked me unconscious. My sister didn’t fall off the horse, but she did rip her leg on the saddle. We thought Dad was the bravest—and I still do think he was about as brave as anybody I know! And he certainly loved us; we never, never doubted that; but he did have temper tantrums that were a sight to behold.

Abbate:

So you worked for him for that summer.

Bartik:

The next year, he said, “Well, you’re too expensive for me.” The next summer I went to Kansas City and I worked in a defense plant. I did silver plating of a gear that fit behind the propeller of a Pratt and Whitney airplane engine.

[recording pauses]

[Bartnik is showing Abbate various photos of her family. The first shows Bartik in a softball uniform.]

Bartik:

When I played softball, the merchants in town would sponsor us. I was always sponsored by my brother-in-law, who had a feed and seed store. My uniform read “Alldredge Feed and Seed” across the back.

[another photo:] Here’s my father, with two of his grandchildren.

Abbate:

He looks like you.

Bartik:

[another photo:] That’s my mother, when she was in her nineties. She lived to be almost a hundred and two. She was a fabulous psychologist!

[another photo:] There’s another one when we wore short pants.

Abbate:

Oh, the softball outfit.

Bartik:

Softball outfits, yes.

Abbate:

Did you see any of the women’s softball teams that played during the war?

Bartik:

No, but I saw “A League of Their Own,” which I loved!

Abbate:

The film.

Bartik:

Oh, yes, I loved that film! In fact, that’s what Kathryn Kleiman is hoping, that somebody will make a movie of the ENIAC women. I don’t know if they ever will.

[another photo:] This is a terrible picture . . . That’s my mother and father.

The reason all these things are out is because I was taking all of these pictures back for the reunion. While we were all there, we were looking at all these old pictures.

[another photo:] Those were three of my brothers and my mother—I think that was her ninetieth birthday. We had a big party for her.

[more photos:] These are all the Jennings family. We go back in the Jennings clan; they’ve traced it back to the 1500s in England. They were in North Carolina and Virginia, and then they came to Kentucky. They were in Kentucky, but they really were Northern sympathizers, and the Civil War was being fought over their land, so they went to Texas. Then they came back to Missouri. My grandfather’s father died in Texas, but my grandfather’s mother and her children came back to Missouri. They did not homestead: they bought land. It was a dollar an acre, or something like that. So that’s how they got to Missouri.


Graduating College and Leaving Missouri

Abbate:

All right; but we were talking about how you got out of Missouri.

Bartik:

Yes. So, I was in Kansas City. During the war, although the college used to be on the quarter system, they went on the semester system. In the fall they had a short term called “intersession”—but everybody else called it “intercourse.” [laughs] I needed twenty-four credits to graduate, and most of them were education courses, which I considered gut courses. I figured I could graduate in one semester. I actually worked during the intersession and didn’t come back until about October. When I came in to the school to register, and they said I’d have to go see the Dean. His name was Dean Jones. I came into his office, and he said, “What makes you think you can graduate?” So I said I only needed twenty-four credits. Sixteen credits was considered a normal load. In any case, I said, “Most of these courses are pretty easy, and I only need two math courses.” So he said, “We don’t even give those math courses! You can’t graduate.” It was ridiculous! I was crying, and I ran up to Dr. Hake, who was my advisor and also head of the Math Department. Her and Dr. Horsfal were sitting there. I was crying like mad and told them that Dean Jones said that I couldn’t graduate, and that you didn’t give the math courses. Dr. Hake pulled himself up and he said, “Well, I happen to be head of this Math Department. We can hardly offer a degree in math if we don’t give the courses. Since you’re the only math major, we’ll just arrange those courses for your convenience.” So that’s exactly what he did! He took retired teachers to teach the courses. One was Colbert, who had taught my father, the summer he was in school many years before! The other one was named Helwig. Helwig taught modern geometry, and Colbert taught theory of numbers. That’s the first time I had heard of the binary number system, when I was a senior in college. [laughs.] I’d never even thought about that kind of stuff. Now I understand they teach it in first grade, but I’d never even thought about it.

My calculus teacher for a long time had taught my brother Bob. He had been one of her favorites, and I never quite measured up to my brother Bob. A student from South America and I took calculus and advanced calculus with this woman. Her name was Dr. Lane. She knew I did not want to teach school, so she came in with job advertisements. One was to work for IBM as a systems service girl—which I did apply for, actually—and one for Aberdeen Proving Grounds, to be a “computer.” She had these ads from math societies she belonged to. They were recruiting, and Aberdeen was recruiting women math majors, because the men were all away, and most math majors were men.

She had worked for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. She said, “Go to Penn. They have a differential analyzer!” She said there were only three in the world. That wasn’t true; but anyway, she said there was one at Dayton, at the Air Force Base there; and there was one at Penn; and there was one at MIT, where Vannevar Bush had invented it. That wasn’t quite true: Aberdeen had one; I think someplace else had one. But anyway, she said, “Go there, because there’s a differential analyzer.” So I applied. I also applied for IBM, and I wasn’t hired as a Systems Service girl. In fact, I probably wouldn’t have gone, because one of the girls that was hired wrote back that it was horrible: that they expect you to dress like mad, but they don’t pay enough money, and you’re expected to live in the New York area, which is very expensive, et cetera. And she said you work like a dog! So it wasn’t that appealing.

But anyway, everybody was trying to get me to teach school—the college and my father, I mean—because they really needed math teachers. I went back home and said I was waiting for a response from Aberdeen, every day my father would come home and say that somebody else had told him how they needed math teachers. So I sat there, and finally I got a telegram, saying, “Come as soon as possible!” I was on the Wabash out of Stanberry the next night! I was hired as a computer.

[Looking through papers:] Somewhere I have that paper . . .

Abbate:

Oh, really—that telegram?

Bartik:

Yes. Not the telegram—well, the letter that confirmed the telegram. Yes, I do have it.


Reflections on ENIAC and Beginning of Career at Aberdeen

Bartik:

[Pulls out a copy of ENIAC by Scott McCartney .] Have you seen this book, by the way?

Abbate:

I don’t think I actually have.

Bartik:

That’s the best book that’s —I mean, there are a lot of things wrong with it, but it still is the best book out so far, on the subject.

Abbate:

But you think this is fairly accurate, this ENIAC book?

Bartik:

Well, it’s not accurate about the BINAC; and the other thing that pisses me off about him . . .

[Pulls out pictures:] That’s the ENIAC. This is the BINAC; that was a successor.

Here’s a picture of Pres Eckert [J. Presper Eckert]. And John Mauchly gave me away when I got married!

Abbate:

Ah, I didn’t know that.

Bartik:

Here it is. Here’s the paper.

Abbate:

So this says it’s a promotion from Computer to Mathematician.

Bartik:

Oh, it is? Excuse me, I got the wrong one, then. I do have it . . .

Abbate:

I’m curious about that, though. So that’s when you switched from . . .

Bartik:

That’s when they made us professionals! We were called sub-professionals up to then.

Abbate:

This was January 1946. [Looking at document.] So you started out at $2,000 a year in March ‘45 . . .

Bartik:

Right.

Abbate:

And you’d been getting $2,320 per year from January 1946 . . .

Bartik:

That’s because we worked six days a week.

Abbate:

And then they were going to promote you to $2,980 per year from a “Computer” to a “Mathematician.”

Bartik:

Yes. [Shows letter confirming her initial job offer.]

Abbate:

I think I’ve seen this one, the first one; but I don’t think I ever saw the promotion one.

Bartik:

Well, that “S.P.” meant “sub-professional.”

Abbate:

Oh, I see: so you went from SP-6 to P-2.

Bartik:

Now the men had professional ratings, but they didn’t give them to women.

So, anyway: This is the one of the articles from the Wall Street Journal. Here’s a copy. There were two of them, on two succeeding weeks.


Building Relationships: The Women of ENIAC and Aberdeen

Bartik:

Now, I’m curious if your friends [at IBM] didn’t talk about Betty Holberton, Betty Snyder Holberton, because she was very instrumental in FORTRAN. And also COBOL—which Grace Hopper never gave her credit for, but she was!

Abbate:

I don’t know about Grace Hopper giving her credit for it, but certainly other people have.

Bartik:

Yes. Well, Grace did say that Betty was the greatest programmer she ever met. Betty said, yeah, that’s because she found there was a mistake in Grace’s program that Grace couldn’t find! [laughs.] She didn’t take it too seriously.

But Betty continued her career, you know. She had a long, long career, particularly in the standardizing of FORTRAN. She traveled all over the world for it. She’s had a stroke, and her memory’s not that reliable now, and she has a hard time communicating now. One of the things that they tell me about intelligent people: If they have a stroke, and they lose part of their memory, they tend to fill it in. For example—she always tells me I’m wrong on this, but there’s no way I could be wrong on this—anyway, when she and I were asked to do the test programs for the ENIAC for the first demonstration, Adele and Herman Goldstine invited us over to their apartment. Now she’s always telling me it was in the summer and the cat was all over us, but it wasn’t in the summer; I mean, it was like two weeks before the demonstration, and the demonstration was in February: February the 14th. So she said, “Oh, you just don’t remember it!” And she argues about these things, and I say to her, “Betty, it couldn’t have been, because, they asked us just before the demonstration!” It’s a shame, but her memory’s not reliable about what happened. I mean, somewhere she said, “Oh, we were just so tired from lifting those trays, and doing those cables.” Well, that was ridiculous! [laughs.] I mean, they were little trays, and you’d set them up once, and maybe it’d take you five minutes! Nobody was exhausted from lifting those trays. I mean, it was very ridiculous! But anyway, that’s why it’s a shame that the story wasn’t told sooner, because people die, and forget; things happen to them.

So: I came to Philadelphia, and I used a Monroe calculator to calculate trajectories.

Abbate:

I should clarify: You were officially working for Aberdeen, but they had you posted at Penn.

Bartik:

Right! One of the things, when they built the differential analyzer, was that the stipulation was that in wartime, or an emergency need, that the differential analyzer would be at the disposal of Aberdeen. So the people that ran the differential analyzer—and they had well over a hundred people using hand calculators; the group I was in had about seventy of them, but there was another group with more—that’s what they were doing. Everybody was calculating trajectories for firing tables for guns.

Well, I got there at the end of March. I was there April, May, and then in June they sent a piece of paper around saying they were looking for programmers for the ENIAC. We didn’t know anything about what the ENIAC was, and never saw it or anything; and I didn’t know that they’d already picked all but one. They picked the two people that ran the differential analyzer, because they already had experience with that kind of a thing; and then Betty Holberton—they had her on many of their new projects; and then these two other girls: Marlyn supposedly never made a mistake in her calculations, and the other one was a young girl from Hunter College—she was a little older than me, but not much. So they were already picked, but nobody knew that. There were about thirteen of us that applied for the job, and I was not picked; I was second alternate. The first one that was picked had a very nice apartment in West Philadelphia; and housing was very bad, and Aberdeen was a hellhole as far as everybody was concerned—because people had been down there; I mean, it’s just a bare Army base—so she decided that she wasn’t going to take it. At that time, they knew that ENIAC was going to go to Aberdeen, so she decided not to take it. Then the first alternate—she also was from Missouri, by the way—was away on vacation. So they called her and told her she’d have to come back to go to Aberdeen the next week—to study punch-card equipment, was actually what we went down there for—so she decided she didn’t want to cut short her vacation. Also, she knew Aberdeen was a hellhole! Well, they called me in on Friday afternoon and said, “Can you be ready to go to Aberdeen on Monday?” I said, “You bet!”

They’d brought about five or six women math majors from different colleges to Philadelphia, and we had run around together and everything, and three of them were living in a crowded apartment, so one of them was delighted to take over my apartment while I was gone. So there I was. Monday morning, I jumped on the train, and they were all saying, “Where did she come from?” [laughs.] They didn’t even know me; I hadn’t been there very long! “God, where did they get her?”

Abbate:

You mean the other . . .

Bartik:

The other programmers! Because they were on the train, too. They hadn’t met me either.

Abbate:

Why were you so eager to go?

Bartik:

It was something new! I mean, I didn’t know what it was, but I knew that it was boring sitting there and pounding the calculator, and [this] was something new. And I always believed that I could do anything as well as anybody else, if I were on an even footing. Basically, from my career point of view, I thought, “Geez, I’m never going to get anywhere. They’ve been doing this for four or five years! I’m going to be sitting there, running this little calculator.” But I figured if I was on a new project, that I could do as well as anybody. So it was the fact that it was new. And Aberdeen wasn’t a hell-hole to me; I’d never been there. What did it mean to me?

Actually, they were fabulous with me, those girls! Betty was a Quaker, and lived in Narberth; and Kay was born in Ireland, and was Irish, and lived in Chestnut Hill; and Ruth went to Hunter College, and lived at Far Rockaway Beach; and Marlyn actually was in accounting—she did not have a math major—and she was from Philadelphia. So Ruth said, “I get to show her New York!” Because I couldn’t wait! I mean, I couldn’t imagine people living here and never going to New York or Washington or anyplace like that. Well, I couldn’t wait, because I’d read all these books, and I had all these fantasies about what I would do. I would eat lobster—you know, I’d never even seen a lobster in my life! [laughs.] I mean, all of these things that I’d read in books about how people ate lobsters. Anyway, Ruth took me to New York, and it was really a fabulous sight to come in on the train and to see the Empire State Building and the skyline of New York for the first time. We came in, and I had a fantasy of putting my foot on the brass rail and having a drink, so we went right from the train and she took me over to the Brass Rail Restaurant, and I put my foot on the rail and sat there and had a drink! [laughs.] And then we went to Radio City Music Hall to see the show, and to see a movie, and she was leaning over in her seat watching me when that stage came up [laughs]—she expected me to flip out—and my eyes I guess were pretty big, as I saw that. So then we got on the subway—and the New York subway, of course, I’d heard about all my life—and rode for an hour to Far Rockaway. You can’t believe that people say they live in New York and then get on the subway and ride for an hour! [laughs.] But anyway, we went to Far Rockaway; that’s where her parents lived, so we stayed there for the weekend. That was fabulous. And then Marlyn said, “Well, you got to show her New York; I get to show her Washington!” So she and I went down to Washington one weekend. And, again, coming in on the train and seeing the Capitol for the first time was really fabulous. So we went to, you know, all the places: the Lincoln Memorial, and the Jefferson Memorial, and the Washington Monument. We went all over the place, and it was fabulous!

And then Kay took me home with her, one weekend. I didn’t have any place to go, because my apartment was taken up, and I didn’t have any relatives anywhere. Of course, we worked six days a week, so you were only off one day; but they normally went home. So Kay invited me one weekend with her family. Well, when she got there she began to speak with a Gaelic accent; I couldn’t understand a word anybody said! [laughs.] It was really very funny. She had a bunch of brothers and sisters. In fact, she was born in Ireland. Her father came here and was a stonemason apprentice with John B. Kelly—Grace Kelly’s father. He was here, I guess, for four years, and then he went home and had some land, and he was going to build a house. So he decided that he was going to marry Kay’s mother, which he did, and he built this house. When Kay and I were there, we went to see the house; it was still in the family. They were there, and he was very active in the I.R.A.—and John B. Kelly also was very interested in Ireland and raised a lot of money for the rebellion, so one of the things that I think that Kay’s father did was to take money back [to Ireland] that they had raised through John B. Kelly. So he was there and farming, and they blew up a bridge one night (or one day), and all the others ran away and hid, but he came home because his wife was having a baby—it turned out to be Kay. So he came home, and they arrested him at home, and they took him off to prison, and he was in prison for two years in solitary confinement. Once he got out of prison, then I guess he decided to come to the United States, so he came back and worked for John B. Kelly for the rest of his working life.

Betty took me home to her family. Her father was an astronomer and a teacher. They treated me like their child; I mean, it was absolutely fabulous! When we were in Philadelphia I used to spend a couple nights a week with her family, and then if my roommate was gone, she came and spent the night with me down in my apartment. We were almost inseparable. We worked together. She was older than I, but I really loved to work with her. She was a very logical, very hard-working—of course, we all worked hard.

I’m getting this story crooked! Anyway, we went to Aberdeen, and we learned how to wire up those boards for the punch-card machines—because the input of the ENIAC was a card reader, and the output was a card punch; and our printer was a tabulator. We had a sorter and a key-punch and a collator, and a few other things; and we had to wire up the boards to do whatever we wanted to do. We were down there for two months, and then we came back, in August, and nobody had anything for us. There were no plans. We didn’t even have a room; we all had to go around scrounging for rooms. I don’t know where Kay was, and I don’t know where the others were, but Betty and I just took a classroom at the Moore School. They gave us these great big block diagrams of the ENIAC, and we were supposed to sit down and find out how the ENIAC worked. It was hot—it was August—and humid; and they were putting a third floor on the Moore School, so the jackhammers were going; I mean, it was terrible. So we were sitting there, trying to figure out how the accumulator worked, and this man walked in the classroom. He looked all around at the ceiling, and we didn’t know who he was. He said, “Well, I was just checking to see if the ceiling was coming down in here.” And then he said, “I’m John Mauchly.” We said, “Oh my God, are we glad to meet you!” [laughs.] We’d never met him before. We said, “Oh, boy, are we hung up on this accumulator! We can’t figure out how it works.” So he came over and helped us figure it out. He said, “Well, look, my office is right next door. When you have any problems, you can come in and I’ll help you!” So we began to save up our problems, and in the afternoon, if he was there, we would go in and ask him all our questions. So that’s how we learned how to program the ENIAC.

Then, when the students came back in September, they did give us a room where we were all together, finally. John Holberton was our manager, and then Dr. Dederick came up from Aberdeen to supervise the whole megillah.


Understanding ENIAC

Abbate:

What was it like trying to figure out the ENIAC? You just had diagrams of the logic circuits?

Bartik:

Yes.

Abbate:

And you were trying to figure out how to actually make it do something.

Bartik:

Well, it isn’t as bad as it might seem, because all of us had had experience on the calculators. John Mauchly at one time described this as though you had hooked together twenty calculators, because he had twenty accumulators, and that’s basically what an accumulator was. But we had to worry about the switch settings, and how you got it to do what you wanted, and it had digit trays and program signals. If you can think of it, to some extent, like these calculators, then you can understand how we figured it out. This was a decimal system; it was not a binary system. You hooked these accumulators together; you could tell this one to send, and this one to receive—well, you’d tell it to add or subtract, because if you told it to subtract, it would send out the nines complement, and then the other one you would just put “receive” and it would come in and add or subtract or whatever; but it was based on the sending unit. And you had to hook up digit trays, so the digits would have something to run on, and you could use more than one digit tray. However, if you sent digits out along those trays, you had to make sure that it didn’t cross circuits with some other unit sending something on those trays. In other words, you could add and subtract between two accumulators, and add and subtract between two more, but they couldn’t use the same digit trays.

Abbate:

Now, a digit tray is a communications link?

Bartik:

It’s nothing but a memory bus. From a computer today, it’s a memory bus. And then the program trays were like the program counter, except we didn’t have a program counter. You would do an instruction, and you had this switch on the machine where you would tell it what to do, but you had a program input and a program output. So now let’s suppose you had a signal, A-1, and you want two accumulators [to add]—A to add to B and C to add to D: then you would use the same program signal to signal them all, and you had this tray that went around—it was called a “program tray”—and we labeled each of these little outlets, and it was just a wire running between these two things; that’s all it was. So you would send a signal out from the last operation, and then you would pick it off every place you wanted to stimulate the next operation to occur. You would take the output of the longest operation. For example, you could add and subtract while you were multiplying; well, multiplying takes a lot longer, so you would do the add and subtraction, and you wouldn’t use the program output from those things, but you would use the program output from the multiplier to get yourself back in sync again.

And then you had a master programmer: you could send signals in, and they could repeat an operation. I mean, let’s suppose you want to repeat it five times: you would repeat it five times, and then you’d get another signal out, which you could use to do the next operation. Or you could check the sign of a number, and feed that in, and if it turned negative—you know, as long as it’s positive you’d get one output, and as soon as it’s negative you’d get another output, and you would use that output to stimulate the operations. It’s very similar to a program counter today. It’s like conditional transfer. This master programmer acted as a conditional transfer, is what it did.

[interrupted by sound of fire alarm.]

That’s a fire alarm, but these buildings have cement walls and everything, so nobody pays any attention until the firemen actually come and knock on your door! [laughs.]

Anyway, it’s all very logical. And once you got the hang of how these things were going, by the way, you could go to the next unit and the same kind of logic—I mean it was different in its details, but once you got this basic structure of how this machine was going to work, then it was just a question of filling in how these individual units fit in this whole structure. It was an interesting machine. It had a square rooter!—which no machine today has [laughs]; they do square root by subroutines. But this machine had a multiplier, and a divider, and a square rooter. To multiply, it was a very interesting multiplication: it was a function table. You sent, as your arguments in, let’s say 7 times 8; you would come out with partial products. You’d come out with a “six” and you’d come out with a “five.” The tens partial product went into one accumulator and the units partial product into another. Once all the partial products had been collected, the two partial products accumulators were added together to get the final product.

[DISC 2]

Abbate:

This is Disc 2. We may have missed a little bit between discs. She described how the ENIAC worked, and was talking about how to re-use code.


Working with J.Presper Eckert and John Mauchly

Bartik:

The thing that made Pres Eckert such a great engineer was that—and I guess nobody had really thought of it up to then—those decade counters were made up of a series of flip-flops, and they just flipped back and forth, like the binary system; but the working of this machine did not depend that much on the amplitude or the cleanness of the signal, because he arranged it so these signals only had to act like a trigger: either it triggered or it didn’t trigger. So you didn’t have to have that good a signal to do it. Everybody said, “Oh, well, these vacuum tubes won’t work, because the signals would fluctuate”; but he designed it so that they didn’t have to work very well for them to still work.

Abbate:

So it was robust.

Bartik:

Robust? [laughs.] Well, I guess you could say that! It was robust, but it was clever, and nobody thought it would work. But Pres said, “If we’re careful, it will work.” He was a brilliant man. They were so much fun to work with! You can’t imagine.

Abbate:

Eckert and Mauchly?

Bartik:

Yes, both of them. Well, I loved John; John gave me away! I was crazy about him, and then afterward I worked for Pres, and when I worked for Pres, I was crazy about him! They were so honest. They were good men. And Pres worked constantly, and neither one of them were concerned with the women issue. They were problem-oriented, so that I don’t think that they worried one iota about whether we were men or women! [laughs.] It was, “Can you do the problem, or can you not do the problem?” And Pres—I mean, he was so focused that I think a train could have run into him. (I used to be focused too, but I’ve lost a lot of it.) When he was so focused on a particular thing, it was all-encompassing. I’m sure no noise got into this system! And he used to tell me so many things, and talk to me about so many things that I didn’t know anything about, and I would say, “Pres, I don’t anything about this.” “Well that’s all right; I’ll explain it to you.” The fact that I would ask questions helped clarify his mind—I’m sure that’s what it did—and if I would keep asking him questions, saying “I don’t understand; I don’t understand, Pres”; he would say, “Don’t worry about it. You don’t have to have it for the rest of this.” But I never lied to him: never said “uh-huh”—like people say something to you and then you say “uh-huh,” and you have no idea what they’re talking about! [laughs]. But I never did that with him, because he would remember! He would remember that you implied you knew something, and you didn’t, because he had such a fabulous memory. But both of them were fabulous teachers.

[recording pauses]


Working with others on the ENIAC project

Abbate:

Now, what kind of interactions did you have with the other people on the ENIAC project? There was the group of you, the six women doing the programming . . .

Bartik:

Oh, you mean the engineers!

Abbate:

Well, with the engineers, the maintenance people: How did that all . . . ? Were you all in the same room, or were they somewhere else?

Bartik:

Oh, no. The engineers: once it was built, they were worrying about the EDVAC, the next machine. When we first started working, the engineers were there to debug—they used to tease us about program error, blah blah blah. “It’s not the machine; it’s the operators”—that’s the way they talk! But in our group, what happened was: Ruth and Marlyn calculated the trajectory the same way the ENIAC did it—add time by add time. It took a long time to do this, because just to do a trajectory took about 40 hours, by hand.

So, anyway, they did that. Betty and I were working on the trajectory, because at that time we knew that the acceptance test was going to be around trajectories, because that’s how that was designed to do.

Abbate:

The acceptance test for Aberdeen.

Bartik:

Yes. Now, when we started, all of us started working on how to program a trajectory, and we were all talking to each other about how to represent it. You had to have a time line—because it was a parallel machine; we could do more than one thing at once, so you had to have a time line to make sure that everything got in sync periodically—and then we had to have all the units. We had these great big sheets with units across the top, and then at each time, what the switches were setting, and then at the time what the program pulse was, and then at the top we had the different digit trays—you know, memory buses. So we had to represent all this on a flat piece of paper, so part of our problem to getting started was to just figure out how to represent everything, so that we could reproduce it and know what we were doing.

All of us worked on that kind of stuff, and we all worked on trying to figure out how to get all this on this machine. And then we began to learn how to repeat, and things like that, and Kay was very creative on doing that. Betty and I were the workhorses—I mean, we just plodded along and kept going; and then Marlyn and Ruth did this trajectory. So we were all busily working away, and we got along fabulously.

The later person that came on board was Fran [Bilas], who was the sixth one. Now, she ran the differential analyzer [with Kay] during the war, and then Kay had left, so when we came back to Philadelphia, then Fran joined the group. Fran, of course, had not been in the course for the punch-card equipment, and as far as I know, Fran never programmed. Nick Metropolis and Stan Frankel from Los Alamos came to put a problem on the machine, and so Fran and Kay did a lot of the operating of the machine. (Betty and I never did that, because we were still busily working on this trajectory.) And Johnny von Neumann used to come down; they’d have lunch with him; because he was the one that was the instigator, I guess, of this Los Alamos program.

Anyway, we got along great! I never had a quarrel with any of them, never.

Abbate:

So operating the machine was a separate task? Someone else might figure out the program, but the person operating it would just be plugging in all the . . .

Bartik:

Yes, okay: The first time we put a problem on was the Los Alamos program . . .


Los Alamos and ENIAC, 1945

Abbate:

That was 1946?

Bartik:

It was ‘45; it was the fall of ‘45. They came, and we met with them. Now, they never told us what the problem was, although we went through all the rigmarole of what you had to do on the ENIAC and on the punch card equipment

Now, they had had extensive experience on punch-card equipment, because that’s what they did most of their calculating on at Los Alamos. Then they had come and spent time with the engineers and learned how to program the ENIAC; but they’d never run it or anything. So anyway, they came back—and I can remember the day we set up the machine. Actually, we hadn’t even seen the machine up till that time, by the way.

Abbate:

Really!

Bartik:

No. We didn’t see the machine because it was classified, and they didn’t let us see it until our classification came through.

Abbate:

So this is a couple of months after you returned to Philadelphia?

Bartik:

Oh. yes. We’d never seen it.

Abbate:

And you were just working out stuff on paper.

Bartik:

That’s right. We never saw it. So then when they came, we all went down to the ENIAC room to set this problem up—and Herman Goldstine was sitting there like the director of an orchestra! [laughs.] “Hey, switch 1 on accumulator 1: set it to alpha! Input from program line A-1! Output to A-2!” Et cetera. And we were standing all around all these units doing the work, and it was really ridiculous, when you get right down to it! But that’s the way the first one went on, with us standing around doing this.

Nick and Stan were pretty exciting, from Los Alamos, and they had seen the Alamogordo test on the atom bomb, so we were all excited about talking to them, about the test and everything.

Abbate:

So you knew they were working on nuclear bomb issues.

Bartik:

Yes, but we didn’t know what the problem was. It turned out to be—years later we found out it was the feasibility of using a nuclear bomb as a trigger for a hydrogen bomb. It was actually a hydrogen bomb problem, but it depends on how you look at it, I guess. But anyway, it had something to do with triggering in a hydrogen bomb.

Abbate:

You must have had a general idea it was some kind of weapon.

Bartik:

We had no idea what it was. Johnny von Neumann was behind the calculations, because at that time there weren’t that many people in America—in the world—who were busily figuring out how to calculate things numerically.

Douglas Hartree from England, who came over: he was a consultant almost as much as von Neumann was, and they called him a Numerical Analyst; and actually he evaluated us. The Army Ordnance had him evaluate and give them recommendations on who they should have running these things. Everybody used to say, “What you need are Numerical Analysts.” And they’d say, “What’s a Numerical Analyst?” “Well, we don’t know, but Douglas Hartree is one!” [laughs.] He was as cute as a button! He worked with Kay on one of his problems; she worked with him to teach him how to program the ENIAC, and also they ran the problem. We were down at Aberdeen for the 50th Anniversary, and they’re still working on the same problem! [laughs]—which she found very interesting. Anyway, Douglas Hartree: We loved him. We used to go out to dinner with him. At that time in England, there were food shortages, and rationing, and all this kind of stuff—so he liked to come over here to eat! [both laugh.] In fact, he suggested that some of us might like to . . . They built—Maurice Wilkes at Cambridge built—I’m trying to think . . .

Abbate:

EDSAC?

Bartik:

EDSAC! Okay, I keep forgetting which of these names belong to which. Anyway, when we were in England in ‘51, we went to see him, and he took us all through Cambridge, and [the EDSAC] was really a sight to behold. They had wire strung all everywhere, and they had little covered bridges to walk over it. The ENIAC was so neat, there were no cables or anything on the floor. When they built the ENIAC, there were a lot of Bell Telephone people available because they weren’t adding telephones and all that stuff during the war, so a lot of those guys didn’t have jobs. Penn hired them to build the ENIAC, the wiring, and the cables, and the way they ran them: it was neat as a pin! But over there, you’d wonder, “How on earth can they keep this running? Why don’t they stub their toes on these wires?” [laughs.] I’d never seen anything like it!

Abbate:

I’ve seen photos. Yes, it’s a mess.

Bartik:

It’s unbelievable how bad it was!

But anyway, Douglas Hartree was a fabulous person. He had built a differential analyzer using Meccano parts (which are like Tinker Toys in England) that ran! It did jobs. He was a brilliant man. He loved us, and we loved him. He gave a party for us before he left. That was one of the cutest parties I’ve ever seen. We played games, and we had dinner, and then his wife played the piano and he sang all the Gilbert and Sullivan songs! We thought, “Gosh, we’ve never been to a party like that before!” It was really wonderful.

So, how did we get along? We all got along famously.

Now, back to the engineers! Bob Shaw was a fabulous engineer and he did the function tables; Chuan Chu did the square rooter/divider; Kite Sharpless, I think, did the master programmer; Johnny Davis did the accumulator; Harry Huskey did the input-output—getting the punch-card equipment interfaced; and Arthur Burks did logical design on the multiplier.

Abbate:

Right.


From ENIAC to UNIVAC

Bartik:

Anyway, we found out, from doing this trajectory the same way the ENIAC did, that we could debug better than anybody else. We could debug down to the vacuum tube! [laughs.] Because we'd run the trajectory and if it didn't come out right, we’d just put in break-points: Check the contents of the accumulators. If wrong, we would go back and put the breakpoint in earlier. We could hone in on a problem very quickly. God, they were so impressed! And not only that: they didn’t have to debug it anymore, which they didn’t want to do. And I’ve always said in my lectures: You know, if you want to get along with an engineer, just do something for him that he hates to do himself, and he’ll love you forever! [laughs.] And it’s true: they thought we were wonderful, particularly Bob Shaw.

He was an albino who had to put papers up close to his face to read them. He was very frail, but he certainly didn’t pamper himself at all, and he was very funny. He had a quirky sense of humor and quirky logic—like he’d go from A to Z to Z to B, and you’d be going A to B—and when Bob would explain what his logic was, it made perfect sense, but it was unusual. [laughs] I worked with him again on UNIVAC. He drew all of the logical diagrams for the UNIVAC in a month. Now, of course, I’m not telling you that he thought up all the design. What I’m saying is, they had meetings and decided how to do everything, but Bob sat down and actually did the logical diagrams. And Pres, when I was working for him and we were doing the logical design of a machine for the UNIVAC—in case the mercury delay-line memory didn’t work, we designed one with cathode ray tube storage—he said, “Well, you’ve done so well,” and he said, “When the UNIVAC comes out, I don’t want us to spend a lot of time debugging it simply because we’ve got flaws in the logic. So I want you to check the logic of the UNIVAC.” When we checked the UNIVAC logic, we found no major flaws in the logic of the UNIVAC—and [Bob] had drawn them all in a month! It was unbelievable.

This was another case of the engineers loving you: When Pres said to them, “You can’t make any changes in these machines without discussing it with us, too.” We were the programmers, and of course, the engineers thought programmers were far less than engineers! So, I don’t know whether it was because they had to check in with a woman, or a programmer, but I imagine it was both: they complained bitterly. But then when they found out that if they checked in with us when they made changes, they didn’t have to worry about the ramifications of it—that we were going to worry about it for them; we were going to take that change throughout the whole machine, and make sure everything worked together—then they loved us!

Abbate:

So this was the UNIVAC?

Bartik:

This was the UNIVAC. This was back in 1948, actually.

Abbate:

How did you get from ENIAC to UNIVAC?

Bartik:

Okay, well here’s what happened: The ENIAC was moving to Aberdeen, and I was going to get married, so I was not going to go to Aberdeen with the ENIAC; and there was a guy named Dick Clippinger who worked at the wind tunnel. You’ve heard of him.

Abbate:

Yes.

Bartik:

Yes, well he was one of the most fun people I’ve ever worked with in my life. He was something else! [laughs.] So, Dick Clippinger. Everybody from everywhere were asking to have problems put on the ENIAC; so they didn’t have enough programmers to start with, then not enough people knew how to program it, so Dick Clippinger decided to grab me.

Also, he and Johnny von Neumann were working together to turn ENIAC into a stored program computer. Now, Pres and John knew this could happen—because after the war was over nobody cared about firing tables, and one of the things the ENIAC had were three function tables to store the drag function for trajectories. Since there was no need for the drag function anymore, there were over three hundred 12-digit numbers that could be used for something else. Dick and Johnny von Neumann proposed using them as program storage, to store the program.

Abbate:

Aha!

Bartik:

So this system used two decimal digits, which were read out of the function table, in the same way the program counter works today. Two digits of the twelve-digit number were sent to the master programmer. They made changes to the master programmer to allow it to translate the two digits into a particular instruction, like “add accumulator.” And then, the next two digits were used to address one of the twenty ENIAC accumulators. Thus, 4 digits could select an instruction and an address.

Dick's programs were really too big for the ENIAC . . .

Abbate:

Von Neumann’s?

Bartik:

No, Dick Clippinger’s. So he talked to von Neumann—and at that time, everybody was worried about what the optimum instruction set for a computer should be; everybody was discussing this. So von Neumann proposed a certain set of instructions to implement on the ENIAC. Once that was done, programmers never had to set switches again; all they did was change the digits in the function tables. The program was performed by these digits in the function tables.

Abbate:

So before that, there weren’t really instructions, because you were just wiring up what you wanted to do?

Bartik:

No instructions, that’s right! We were basically doing the logical design of a machine. We actually built a machine every time.

Abbate:

So it wasn’t just having a stored program, but even having the concept of a fixed instruction set, that was new.

Bartik:

Yes, we had a fixed instruction set.

Dick Clippinger decided to use me as his entree into the ENIAC. He wanted to set up a group at the University of Pennsylvania under my direction. I could go out and hire four programmers. He would buy our programs, so to speak! It caused a little bit of trouble, because he said “What are these programs?” Well, the first four or five of them were for turning the ENIAC into a stored-program computer. He expected me to do this while I was training these programmers.

Abbate:

[laughs.]

Bartik:

He helped too! Because there was a period of time when they’d torn down the ENIAC and were shipping it to Aberdeen and putting it back together. I used to travel down to Aberdeen while I still worked for Aberdeen, before this project at Penn got going. I went down to teach Clippinger how to program the ENIAC. He learned to program the ENIAC; he really did.

Anyway, they were worrying about the instruction set. The first four or five programs—because the Army insisted they buy something, so they were buying a program—so the first of them were programs to turn it into a stored-program computer. From then on, we actually programmed his problems. He finally got Penn to agree to this. They were a little concerned about the project. Travis—who turned out to be an ass in the long run—and caused Pres and John to leave Penn—was head of Research and Development. When I made this proposal to Travis, he said, “What makes you think you can do these in a month?” And I said, “Well, Dick has already promised me that whatever I turn in, he’ll buy.” [laughs.] “He’ll say, ‘That’s it!’” Well, Travis didn’t think too much of that; and he kept hemming and hawing and hemming and hawing, and all of a sudden I realized he was afraid I’d get pregnant and quit the project! [laughs.] I was sitting there, and he was hemming and hawing and carrying on, so finally I said, “No, I don’t intend to have any children for a while, so you don’t have to worry about that.” He finally agreed to the project and I hired four people.

Abbate:

Who did you hire for that?

Bartik:

They all had outstanding careers: Art Gehring, Ed Schlain, and Kathe Jacoby, and Sally Spear. Sally’s the only one that I haven’t kept in touch with, but all the other three had long careers in the computer business. Ed Schlain still works; he hasn’t retired yet; he works for I think it’s the F.A.A., down in Atlantic City. Art went on to be a logical designer for many years, and Kathe did programming of all different kinds for many years. She was brilliant, and so was Art; very smart—well, they all were!

Anyway, I didn’t know this till years later: Nick Metropolis wrote in an article about the misconceptions about the ENIAC and about the computer industry—one of which was that Johnny von Neumann did not invent the stored-program computer—but one of the things he says in there, which I didn’t know, was that he and Klara von Neumann had learned to program the ENIAC. Now, I never saw her, never met her; I don’t know if she was any good; I don’t know anything about it; but Klara von Neumann and Adele Goldstine and Nick Metropolis tried to turn the ENIAC into a stored-program computer and couldn’t do it. Which is very interesting—because I never knew that anybody had, other than us.

Abbate:

They’d done this shortly before? Or when . . . ?

Bartik:

Yes, apparently, because they wanted to do some Los Alamos problem on it.

So anyway, Johnny von Neumann and Dick worked out this instruction set. We used to go up to Princeton to consult with him every couple weeks, and we would work all day and then we’d go in late in the afternoon and talk to him, and then we’d go back and work and tell him our ideas. So what we did was to shrink down the instruction set and make some instructions simpler—not have such complicated ones—till we had an instruction set that worked.

Abbate:

So his original one wasn’t practical, in terms of . . . ?

Bartik:

Well no, it wasn’t that. I mean, there wasn’t anything wrong with it, other than the equipment.

Abbate:

In terms of implementing it on what you had . . .

Bartik:

It couldn’t be implemented the way it was structured. Please understand, right at this time everybody was talking about what instruction set was needed; it wasn’t cut and dried the way it is today. Also people used different instruction set architectures. The ENIAC instruction set was built around a central accumulator. The ENIAC no longer added accumulator A to B; it added the addressed accumulator to the central accumulator—so it was a central accumulator system, which is much simpler, logically.

Abbate:

Is this a stack, sort of?

Bartik:

No, it was just an accumulator, but the same central one was always one of the two accumulators used in an operation. Most computers today are designed using a central accumulator logic. The instruction would transfer to the central accumulator and add the contents of another accumulator to the central one, then would transfer it back to someplace else, and you’d subtract accumulator, and stuff like that. It made the ENIAC a lot slower, because it was serial and did not use the parallelism that was built into it. What it did was to make it simple to change from one program to another. No longer did programmers have the horrendous task of building a new machine for each problem. It was much easier to program. Our generation was the only generation that used it as a parallel machine; all the rest of them used it as a stored-program serial machine. As a matter of fact, this was the first stored-program machine, by the way: the ENIAC operating as a stored program computer.

Dick Clippinger, Adele Goldstine and I really did the programming. Dick had two mathematicians, John Giese and Galbraith, working with us to learn how the ENIAC did calculations so they could set up some of their problems with the wind tunnel to run on it.

It’s funny: John Giese complained constantly about being there, because he wasn’t interested in this kind of stuff—applied math; he really wanted to do theoretical math. I saw him at the 50th Anniversary, and I said, “Well, John, I guess you’ve changed your mind.” He looked at me as though he’d never heard of such a thing! He’d complained constantly—but 50 years later, it was as though he’d loved computing all his life[laughs.]


Reflections on Dick Clippinger and the McCarthy Era

Dick Clippinger, of course, eventually became head of the Ballistics Research Lab. During the McCarthy era he got ousted. It was really a tragedy. He was one of the most fun guys I ever worked with. He was building a house, and so after we worked on the ENIAC we went out to his building site. When I used to go down to teach him about the ENIAC, his staff were always interrupting; so we used to go into hiding, and sometimes we’d have two hours before they found him! [both laugh.] One time, we went down to the furnace room—we were working down there—but they found him by noontime. And sometimes we’d stay home. He had about four kids, and he’d turn up the hi-fi so we wouldn’t have to hear the kids. [laughs.] And then after work I’d go out and help him pick up rocks on his land where he was going to build a house. He was fun. One time, he got up on the table and lay down, and he had a handkerchief. He rolled it up and made a little pyramid out of his handkerchief and put it under his head for a pillow. This little pyramid was his pillow! And he said, “Yup, I learned that on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.” [laughs.] And it was true! He had really been on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

He worked hard, but he was adorable. And when they finally got the hearing on his clearance—and that was like two years later, after his job was gone and he’d moved up to Boston—the hearing took about a half an hour. I mean, he had Johnny von Neumann, Dick Lehmer, and Dederick—great scientists—testifying for him. There was a man at Aberdeen that was a security risk. They fired him, and then they were going to deport him. Well, a group of scientists at Aberdeen signed a petition not to deport him. They did not complain about them not using him, but they didn’t feel he should be deported. I guess he’d been here a long time; I don’t know just why. But anyway, that was one [point against Clippinger]. Two: on Thursday night, he used to catch the overnight train to Boston. He taught a math class at Harvard on Friday. He would catch the Friday night overnight back to Aberdeen. One of his students was supposedly a communist.

Abbate:

At Harvard?

Bartik:

At Harvard. Can you believe this? I mean, that’s how bad the McCarthy era was.

Abbate:

So that was the evidence against him?

Bartik:

Well, yes! Well, the evidence against him was absurd. Of course, Eckert-Mauchly lost its clearance and everything because it was questioned—I mean, somebody undoubtedly wrote them a letter. It was all cleared up, but then the FBI office at Philadelphia protested. Eckert-Mauchly lost a lot of contracts, you know; one of the reasons they had to sell Rem Rand was because of that.

Abbate:

I don’t follow: Why did they lose their clearance?

Bartik:

Because somebody wrote to Philadelphia and told them—I mean, that’s how bad it was. Bob Shaw lost his clearance; you know why he did? He was an albino and obviously couldn’t drive a car. He liked to go places and do things, so he bought himself a car. People would drive him places; he never drove it himself. At that time, not that many people had a nice car, so he never had any problem finding people to drive him someplace. One weekend, one of the people that drove him places said, “Could I borrow your car for the weekend?” He wanted to go to Washington to visit friends. He went to Washington, parked the car on the street, and went up to an apartment to see friends. There was a demonstration in Washington that week, and the Washington police went up and down the streets and took all the license numbers of cars parked on the street. The assumption was that Bob Shaw was in Washington taking part in this demonstration, and he lost his clearance. I mean, it’s outrageous! Well, it’s outrageous today. You have a hard time fathoming this, but that happened. And then, John Mauchly’s secretary supposedly at one time had belonged to the Communist Party. Frankly, I’m sure—I mean, in my heart, I feel sure—that somebody wanted them to fail and wrote the letter. And I have visions of who it could be. It was an outrageous time.

Let’s see: Where were we?


Reflections on the EDVAC Report and the Transition from ENIAC to EDVAC

Abbate:

So after you finished turning ENIAC into a stored-program computer. . .

Bartik:

Then Pres and John asked me to come work for them. So Art Gehring took over this project—because by this time the programming in the ENIAC was entirely different, and he was a very bright guy, so he took it over—and then the next year, Art came to work with me, and then Ed took it over for a year! So I think it lasted for like three years, and I guess Dick Clippinger was probably gone by then.

That was a very exciting time, turning it into a stored-program computer. We worked with Johnny von Neumann, and he was a very exciting consultant. He spoke with a very ingratiating manner, almost as though he were apologizing for what he was saying, although he knew he wasn’t. Goldstine claimed that he used to walk over to his open door when a pretty girl walked down the hall, he’d be talking away and he’d walk over and watch her walk down the hall. [laughs.] I don’t know if that’s true or not! He used to scratch himself inadvertently at times, and stuff like that. But he was very ingratiating, and very logical. I mean, we’d go and tell him, “This isn’t working well; we need to do something different," and he’d make various proposals of things we could do. We’d try them out and come back and tell him the results, and things like that. That’s basically the way it worked.

Abbate:

You had said that he didn’t come up with the stored-program concept. Who did come up with that?

Bartik:

Well, it was the engineers at ENIAC. What happened was, Johnny von Neumann—they never even told him! He was a consultant at Aberdeen; [the Army] never even told him about the ENIAC, because they didn’t think it would work, so he didn’t know a thing about it. So one time, he was standing on the railroad platform, because he used to come down from Princeton to Aberdeen; and Herman Goldstine used to come from Philadelphia to Aberdeen, because he was the liaison between the Army and the University of Pennsylvania. He saw Johnny von Neumann on the platform, so he went over and started telling him about the ENIAC. Now you understand, ENIAC was a classified project, and people were not allowed to write about it, or publish about it; [but] he told him about the ENIAC. So Johnny von Neumann was excited about this and he asked if he could come see it. So Herman said “Yeah,” and he invited him down. Now before he came, Pres said, “If he asks a particular question, I’ll know he knows something about this business. If he doesn’t ask the question, I’ll know he doesn't know anything.” He did ask the question, and the question was: “How do you control it?” That was his question, and that was the question that Pres had said was the important one.

He came to see the ENIAC; but the ENIAC design was already finished by this time, and they were working on EDVAC. They were already working on EDVAC. So he said, “May I come to your meetings?” And they said “Yes.” So they would have meetings every couple weeks—and that’s what pisses me off about this McCartney's book because he describes these meetings, and he describes them based on my descriptions of our meetings with von Neumann—you know, when we were turning it into a stored-program computer. I know damn good and well they didn’t work that way—and I know nothing about the EDVAC, because I had nothing whatsoever to do with it! That’s what really pissed me off: he used what I described in some other situation as though it happened at EDVAC.

Abbate:

This is Scott McCartney?

Bartik:

That’s Scott McCartney. Anyway, von Neumann came to their meetings, and they were designing the EDVAC. One time when he came, he said he wouldn’t be able to come for a while, because he had to go to Los Alamos. So he wasn’t there the next time. Then Herman came in with this paper and showed the paper Johnny had written.

Abbate:

The EDVAC report.

Bartik:

The so-called EDVAC report. And he never even mentioned anybody else—as though these were all his ideas! Gave no credit to anybody! Well, they thought it was like minutes of the meeting; but Herman, being the Security Officer, sent it to about 200 different places—universities and different places in the military—and that’s how that got started: the EDVAC report got distributed. It was a confidential project and Pres and John were not permitted to talk and write about it. Then, when Pres and John finally went to patent the EDVAC, Herman and von Neumann had already applied for a patent using the EDVAC report. Von Neumann said the reason that he did it was because he wanted it in the public domain, while Pres and John would use it for commercial purposes! He professed to be the good guy; while they were the bad guys. Really! Pres and John hated him to the day they died. They despised him. They despised Goldstine. Pres wouldn’t be in the same room with Goldstine for years, but his wife told me that just before he died, she was in the hospital one day, and they said, “A Goldstine wants to talk to you.” She said, “Oh, forget it; he doesn’t want to talk . . . ” and Pres said, “Oh, yes I do!” He said that Herman had been calling him, and they had been talking. Nobody knows what they talked about—well, Goldstine probably does, but who would believe him? I mean, he has Parkinson’s now. But anyway, he did talk to him before he died, and apparently he had a number of conversations with him.

But they despised von Neumann. The ENIAC patent just broke John. John never got over it. He was just so hurt at the idea that the judge would say that he got his ideas from Atanasoff. Atanasoff had never even said that he invented the computer. It was Honeywell that went out and found him, and told him he did. In fact, those people at Ames, Iowa even say that he invented the binary number system! That’s an invention? [laughs.] That’s so stupid! You will see a bunch of [reviews of the McCartney book] if you go on Amazon.com. I have one in there, too, but you have reviews from people from Ames, Iowa. Then some say Zuse did it; and you have people that say that Enigma; and then some say Atanasoff. It’s very interesting, the readers’ comments on Amazon.com about that book.

That was a very bitter experience, and a betrayal as far as Pres and John were concerned, and as far as I’m concerned. They were betrayed. Other people feel the same way. Nobody thinks Atanasoff invented the computer; I mean, that’s just a joke. Now [McCartney] says in this book—and you may know more about it—he feels that the judge played God. UNIVAC, after they got the patent, began figuring out how to collect money from royalties on the use of the patent. One of the things they did, first, though, was to sign a cross-licensing agreement with IBM for ten million dollars. Then they sent Honeywell a bill for what they figured they owed, and Honeywell figured it was cheaper to challenge the patent than to pay the royalties. According to Scott [McCartney], he believes the judge was ticked off because he felt that cross-licensing agreement was restraint of trade, but the time had elapsed so they couldn’t be prosecuted. He was concerned because at that time, in the computing industry, they talked about “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” IBM was Snow White, and all the other computer companies [were the dwarves: Sperry Rand (which had acquired UNIVAC), Honeywell, Burroughs, NCR, Control Data, RCA, and General Electric]. He was afraid that the six other Dwarves would be ruined. He couldn’t do anything about the restraint of trade, but he could fix them by denying the patent. Scott believes that the judge played God, and that’s basically what he did.

Abbate:

Could be. There have been a lot of bad computer patent decisions.

Bartik:

Well, it’s hard. I mean, for example, it’s very interesting what software is!

I don’t know. A lot of people say, “Well, everything’s just building on something else," which is true. Nobody just goes out and invents something in a vacuum. And the interesting thing is that at the time John and Pres were thinking about the ENIAC, others were thinking about other computers—I mean Aiken, with his machine [at Harvard]; MIT with its Whirlwind; Germany with its Zuse ; and so on. It seems to me that things are developed when the time is ripe, and somebody will pay for it. That’s why so many of the things that people had thought of before came through during World War II. Somebody would now pay for them, and the technology could be implemented. But prior to that . . . I mean, like radar. Who would have paid for radar, if it hadn’t been for the military? So I think that’s true.

I’m just telling you the history of the computer and what I think are the really important events that have occurred. Well, software development is one of them—which I didn’t have in there, by the way.

Abbate:

In where?

Bartik:

When I was giving you that list of the important things I thought happened in the computer field; the important events.


BINAC and UNIVAC

Abbate:

That’s true. Well, maybe we can get to some of the software milestones.

So, when you started the EMCC, what were you actually working on?

Bartik:

I was hired to be a programmer, and they were doing the BINAC. The BINAC was designed to control a Snark missile, and it consisted of twin computers. They did exactly the same things and checked every operation along the way. I did a little bit for math and sort subroutines. Mainly, after I started, I began worrying about programming the BINAC to control the Snark missile.

Pres became very concerned about whether or not the mercury delay-line memory would work. They really built the BINAC as a test for a lot of the components of the UNIVAC, so it used a lot of the same components. Pres was so concerned that the mercury delay-line memory might not work that he wanted a backup machine. It would use cathode ray tube memory. He didn’t want to take any of his engineers off the UNIVAC, so they think programmers—you know, that it didn’t matter what you do! [laughs.] So he came in and asked if he could have two programmers, and John came to me. I remember when John came to ask me to work for Pres. Pres had a volatile temper, and I’d heard him yelling and screaming at engineers. Due to my father’s rages, I’ve never been able to deal with angry men. I haven’t quite ever gotten over being a little girl, I guess. Anyway, I said to John, “If he ever flies into a rage at me, I’m outta here.” And he said, “Well, I don’t think he will.” And he never did! He never did.

So Art Gehring and I worked together. I’ve had three great partners in my life, programming: one is Betty Holberton; the second is Art Gehring; and the third one was Adele Goldstine. It’s the most wonderful way, I think, to do anything like that. Errors are really fatal to the final output. If you have someone that’s almost equal in intelligence to work with, and you try to find flaws in each other’s work, it is a wonderful working environment. Instead of getting mad when either finds flaws, you’re delighted. You can’t build something that’s got mistakes in it. So it’s fantastic. In fact, after I was out of the business for 16 years, I came back in the business, and was looking for a job. UNIVAC asked Art about me. He said, “I don’t care how long she’s been out of the business; she’s the best logical designer I’ve ever worked with. Hire her!” [laughs.] Isn't that wonderful. We were great partners.

Abbate:

So you would each code for a bit, and then what—swap your code and check it? How did that work?

Bartik:

No, we worked together. Somebody would say, “How do you think this works?” and then we would start arguing back and forth how it would work. So we worked together, constantly. No, we didn’t do it separately. We didn’t know the logical design, either.

Abbate:

Was that common, to have people working in pairs like that? Was that sort of the norm?

Bartik:

I have no idea. But I had comparable experiences with Betty Snyder Holberton programming the trajectory for the ENIAC Demonstration and with Adele Goldstine on the Taub problem. They were great. I know for the ENIAC, Kay worked with Dr. Hartree. That’s the way they did it there: they had pairs; but generally one of the them would be the person that knew the problem and the other one would be the programmer. But actually, with Adele and me, and Betty and me, and Art and me, we were on the same level—and it was fantastic.

Abbate:

So Mauchly was asking you to actually design this machine?

Bartik:

Yes, logical design—and I didn’t know a thing about logical design! It was also the first time microcoding was done, but UNIVAC in its wisdom: all of ours records of the electrostatic UNIVAC have disappeared. But anyway, Pres said “I’ll teach you.” We didn’t know anything about it. “I’ll teach you everything you need to know.” We were not allowed to discuss it with anybody except him and each other.

Abbate:

Because it was secret?

Bartik:

Because it was secret. My husband was an electrical engineer. One day, Eckert gave Art and me this article to read and we couldn’t understand it. We worked on it most of the day. Art said, “This is disgusting. The only reason we can’t understand it’s because we’re not engineers. An engineer will understand this. I’m going to ask Bill when he comes in.” We were planning to go out. Art had a girlfriend, and Bill was coming in, and we were going to go to dinner and to the opera. So Art said, “When Bill comes in, I’m going to ask him.” I said, “Oh, you know what Pres said.” “I don’t care,” he said, “It has nothing to do with what we’re doing”—you know, there was no link that anybody else would make. And he says, “It’s simply because we’re not engineers!” So Bill came in, and Art said, “What does this mean?” So Art showed it to Bill, and he was reading it when Pres walked into the room! [both laugh.] Oh, my God! Pres wanted to throw a tantrum so bad. But he said, “Listen: I told you you’re not to discuss this with anybody but me.” He said, “That includes husbands, mothers, relatives, wives, whatever. Nobody but me!” And Art was saying “But, but, but” [laughs], and Pres wasn’t listening!

My husband had a contract to shield the centrifuge at Johnsville Naval Air Development Center. It’s just by Hatboro, off of Street Road. They were building a centrifuge, and the centrifuge was to test the human reaction to G’s of gravity. In fact, the astronauts came to be swung around on this centrifuge. The signals from the human body are so small that they wanted to make sure they had a perfectly shielded building. His task was to shield this centrifuge building. Anyway, Pres was interested in it, so he turned to him and began talking to him as though he had never thrown a fit! He talked and talked. Art and I were getting nervous, because his girlfriend was waiting downtown for us. It was time for us to get going. We got up and put on our coats. I got my pocketbook, and we walked out of the room. We were on the seventh floor of this building, so we hit the button for the elevator. Pres was talking to Bill, talking, talking, talking. We got in the elevator, and Pres got in the elevator with us! [laughs.] Talking, talking, talking. We got out of the elevator; Pres got out of the elevator; and we got on the street corner, and Pres looked up and saw all this traffic and said, “I guess you people want to leave!” [laughs.]

But that’s how focused he was. We did not laugh at him. We thought it was wonderful, actually! [laughs.] We were very fond of him!

One time he got mad at me, and he wanted to yell at me so bad; it was funny. He had told me this particular instruction; it was a complex instruction, so he said, “Now I’m afraid I’m going to forget this. I want you to write all this down and keep a record of it.” And I did, but they moved us and switched desks around. I had put it in my desk drawer and I could not find it. So one day Pres came and asked me about this instruction, and how it worked. I told him I couldn’t find it. He had a little knife on the end of a chain, like a watch chain, and he used to twirl it, walk around and twirl it. He walked back and forth twirling and twirling this around! He said “I told you to keep this,” and I said, “I know you did, Pres! You did tell me, and I’m sorry, but I don’t know where it is.” So he left the room. Pretty soon he came walking back, and he says, “Sit down. That’s all right. I remember how it was done.” And that was the end of it. [laughs.] He was fascinating. I loved working for him, loved it. So did Art.

So we were designing this mercury delay line backup. One day he told us he wanted to make sure there was nothing wrong with the UNIVAC logic when they built the machine. He told us that we were doing so well, he wanted us to check the logic of the UNIVAC. We did that. One day he came in and said he was really concerned, because there were no check circuits in the UNIVAC except the even/odd check on the memory. They would count the bits in the memory and make sure the number was always odd. If it turned out it was even, the UNIVAC would put a bit in so it would be odd. That was so that it would indicate an error if all of the memory was wiped out. He was really concerned that the UNIVAC didn’t have any check circuits in it, other than the one on the memory. He wanted us to put in some check circuits.

Abbate:

And what would the check circuits do?

Bartik:

Well, that’s an interesting story too, because we began telling the engineers that they had to put these check circuits in. They complained bitterly, because they had to duplicate a lot of things, if there wasn’t some other way for it to be checked. The engineers complained that we were putting in too many check circuits. We said that this was what we are supposed to be doing. They thought we were crazy. Pres was always busy, but, finally one day, we had a meeting on the check circuits. It took about ten minutes. He said, “Well, the rule is: You know, if you have a police force and you want to check for corruption, you do not have every policeman checking every other policeman. You have one policeman—at least one policeman—checking every other policeman. And the assumption is that you’re not going to have two corrupt policemen!” He says, “It’s the same thing here. Everything in the machine must be checked by at least one other thing, and if it isn’t, you duplicate—period.” The meeting was over! [laughs.] He was fabulous, really. So that was the end of it. I mean, we just went back and put the check circuits in.

Abbate:

So these were to check the hardware operation. It wasn’t for software debugging?

Bartik:

Oh, no no no. At that time they were still using machine code. In fact, that’s how Grace Hopper got in the business. Up until this time, we had programs and we had subroutines. John Mauchly got the idea for Macros, and that was the first thing they did in the assembly languages for these computers. Programmers could call a macro—let’s say a square root, or whatever. Programmers developed macros, which programs could call. That was the way the first assembler programs were done.

Betty was busily designing the console for the UNIVAC, and also the sort routines—because we realized it was a commercial machine, and file processing and bean counting are the two things that they do. We didn’t have anything but mag tapes, which were serial, so master files were sorted. When transactions were made to the master file, we called it batch processing: batches of transactions were sorted and run against the master file to update it. Everybody realized that the sort routines were the crux of commercial processing. Betty worked on the sort routines. She also designed the first console. She did most of the design, although other people had input to it.

Abbate:

I’m sorry. She did most of the design for . . . ?

Bartik:

For the console, for the first UNIVAC.

Abbate:

For the actual physical interface?

Bartik:

For the actual physical unit. I mean logically; I don’t mean electrically. And she also was very responsible for the instruction set that we used for the UNIVAC—because everybody was arguing; I mean, there were “Code 3” and “4” and whatever that people had proposed; different instruction sets.

Abbate:

How different was it from the EDVAC instruction set?

Bartik:

Well it was the same, sort of, except the EDVAC was assumed to be for scientific processing, so you had a lot more things with the UNIVAC that would be for file processing.

The thing is, you see—the thing that Travis . . The reason that Pres and John left Penn is they had the agreement with Penn that they got the patent on the ENIAC, and presumably the EDVAC; however, Penn, and any other educational institution could use the patents. Well, Travis came back—he had been in the Navy—and they made him head of Research and Development, and the first thing he said to them is, “You don’t get the patents on the EDVAC.” And he said, “Either you sign this agreement . . . ”—at first he said like 24 hours, I think it was, but finally he gave him two weeks—“Either you sign it or you’re out.” Well, the guy was too stupid to understand that he didn’t have anybody else to build the EDVAC! Because as soon Pres and John left, the other engineers went too. I mean, what engineer wouldn’t want to work with the greatest engineer in the world! I mean, they realized how smart these guys were, and they just cleaned out immediately; they didn’t have anybody! So then they were trying to build the damn thing. Well, it took them years, and finally a guy named Sam Libkin finally got it together, but it was way, way late. [laughs]

These people just didn’t understand that we were onto something new, something different. And UNIVAC: Rem. Rand bought UNIVAC, and they made the same mistake; they had no concept about computers and what it would take to run them. I worked in Washington: they’d called me Archimedes, and they called Pres and John dreamers. They weren’t dreamers! They knew that you had to have software; you had to have maintenance; you had to have training—the whole thing—and Rem. Rand just didn’t understand it. They never even trained their salesmen to sell them! They didn’t know a thing about it, the salesmen; they used to take me out with them, to talk about UNIVAC. I was out with this guy, and I said, “My God, what are you guys doing with me out here? That’s not a UNIVAC application!” He said, “Don’t say anything! Don’t say anything! I’m selling ‘em typewriters.” I mean, these salesmen didn’t do a thing except use it to sell equipment they knew about. They didn’t know a thing about it. And they didn’t even develop a commission schedule for them; no training; I mean, they were stupid.

Abbate:

When Remington Rand took over the EMCC . . .

Bartik:

Well, we have another whole era in here, which we’ve skipped. A guy named [Henry] Straus, when they began to have financial problems, and they realized they had . . . Your customers were the Census Bureau, which had ordered one; American Totalizator—well, when Straus was on it, they were very interested in it, because what they do are the odds at the race tracks; and ACNielsen bid money on it for tracking the entertainment business; and Prudential Life Insurance: this guy—he was very influential; what was his name?—from the Prudential Life Insurance Company. So those were the financers. And then when they needed more money, Straus got interested in them, and he had a very good relationship with them, and I think if he’d have lived the story would have been quite different, because he was popular with the engineers and the programmers and with everybody. What happened was, they were on a private plane, and most of the top management of American Totalizator was on the plane, and the plane went down and killed them all. So American Totalizator was without their top management, so they wanted to pull back; they didn’t want to have anything to do with it—because nobody there other than Straus was really that much involved with it—so they pulled out. Anyway, Rem. Rand came along and bought them, and then their crew came in.

Now, I don’t really know much about that, because I still worked for them, but my husband took a job in Washington and I went to Washington, and I worked at their sales office down there. One of the things I was to do was to train the Census Bureau—the programmers—so I did. Then the Aviation Supply Office for the Navy was about to kick out their [old] equipment, so they said, “Can the UNIVAC do this?” So I was given the job of figuring how to do this Aviation Supply Office—and it was perfect for UNIVAC, because it was an inventory control problem. So I worked on that.

It was interesting [laughs]: they had the Vice President of Sales come down from New York, and they had these Navy guys. These Navy guys were really the workers—they were not above the point; they were Commanders, and Lieutenant-Commanders, and on that level—and they knew how the problem worked, and they used punch-card equipment and stuff like that, and they used this system from Rem. Rand—Cardex system it was called— that took control of their inventory. They had the meeting, and [Remington Rand] were very concerned about a woman doing this for the UNIVAC, so they had a guy come down from Philadelphia to talk about its feasibility. I mean, he didn’t know anything, except just in theory. So they yammered away all day until late in the day, and then they had this guy from Philadelphia talk, and then I got up and told them how to do it. They went wild! They . . . went . . . ape! [laughs.] I mean, it was one of those ideal situations where one would object and they would answer each other’s objections back and forth! So it was really one of those—I mean, these guys knew what the problem was; they saw the solution; it was fabulous! Well, they said I couldn’t go to dinner with them, because they were probably going to tell some risqué jokes and I’d be the only woman there, so I couldn’t go; so they had me go out to dinner with one of the Commanders’ wives. So we went out; and then they left the dinner as soon as possible and came out to the bar to talk to me—it was really unbelievable—because they really wanted to talk about this!

And they never let me give another presentation. Can you believe that?

Abbate:

Because you had upstaged the other person?

Bartik:

Do I know? I have no idea. They used to have the Assistant Manager give these talks, and they’d take me along to answer questions. Well, he used to give the most horrendous talks you’d ever seen in your life! But anyway, that’s what they did, and I hated it, so I was happy to get out of it. When I came back to Philadelphia—my husband took a job with UNIVAC, and they didn’t allow husband and wife to work in the same place, so they were going to set up a special office. By this time, Bob Shaw’s clearance had been questioned, and I couldn’t work there because of my husband, so they were going to set up a special group at another site, so we could all work. But by this time I was so sick of Rem. Rand, and so sure that they were going to screw it up, that I just took sixteen years off and had a family.


Family Life & Coming Back into the Business

Abbate:

And you had four kids?

Bartik:

Three. So, that was it.

But I was very lucky, too. When I came back in the business: I never was on mainframes again, but when I came back in the business, minicomputers were just starting, and I worked for a publisher, and I developed a service on minicomputers for them. At that time, there were about fifteen minicomputers that came out in a year. So we were going crazy!

Abbate:

And this was ‘67?

Bartik:

This was ‘67, Yes. And it was also interesting. When I came back to work, I worked actually for Isaac Auerbach, and he had also worked on UNIVAC. I worked in their publishing of reports on computers, and they said, “Well, the way to get you back in the business is to be a technical editor,” so I could read all the reports about all these things. So I’d no more than gotten there when there was going to be an ACM meeting in San Francisco, so they said to me, “Hurry up and edit this. We’re going to hand this out in San Francisco.” And I looked at this thing, and I began to laugh, and I said, “You know, Pres Eckert described this to me back in 1945!” And it was an ink-jet printer.

Abbate:

Really!

Bartik:

It was an ink-jet printer that was being implemented. It was one off the new—well, ink-jet printers: that’s when they came out.

Abbate:

But I mean, he had thought about this ?

Bartik:

It was very interesting: There was a salesman, his name was Brown. He was their salesman for the UNIVAC, so he kept saying to Pres, “Everybody wants to know how you’re going to print, what the printing’s going to be like.” Pres said, “Oh, I’m too busy, and there are lots of ways to do it.” And so Wistar Brown kept pestering him, [and Pres would say,] “Oh, I’m too busy to do this. Don’t worry about it; we’ll have a printer.” He didn’t know what to say to his customers, and so he’s still pestering him, so one afternoon Pres sat him down and told him what the possibilities were for printers for this thing, and he gave him about twelve! [laughs.] Wistar came out of there reeling! He was absolutely reeling, because he had all of these proposals that Pres was thinking about—because he thought Pres hadn’t thought about it at all! [laughs.] I don’t think he ever doubted him again, when he told him something like that! So anyway, this ink-jet printer was one of the things that he was thinking about. He described it to me. And I can understand, to some extent, why he did [think of it], because the way it works is somewhat similar to the cathode ray tube storage, because it’s stored as dots.


Touring and Speaking at Microsoft

Abbate:

You were taking a tour of Microsoft?

Bartik:

We were at Microsoft. The Hoppers invited us to come, which is a women’s group.

Abbate:

Oh, right.

Bartik:

So we were there for three or four days, and during the course of this we had lunch with some of their women managers. So we walked into the room, and of course none of us had ever met each other before, and it was a little awkward; nobody knew quite what to say. So finally one of them said, “What are you women really doing?” So we said, well, we were trying to set the record straight, as far as we knew it—that there was so much misinformation about the beginning of the computing industry that we wanted to set it straight. Well, they began to jabber and chatter like mad! “Boy, you can say that again!” And they began to talk about who got credit for what, and they hadn’t done it—today! Today. I mean, it was unbelievable! It really opened them up.

But when we were there, we asked them, “If you have an idea, how do you get it implemented?” And they said, “Oh well, you make a proposal to Bill, and Bill makes a decision.” [laughs.] Can you believe that? It’s what they said!

Abbate:

It’s probably true. [pause]


Working with Grace Hopper

Abbate:

Did you work with Grace Hopper?

Bartik:

Well, she came there. She was an alcoholic when I knew her.

Abbate:

How much did you overlap there?

Bartik:

Over a year. She came there from Aiken—from Harvard—and John hired her, because he had this idea for an assembler language for UNIVAC. So then she brought in one of her cohorts, Herb Mitchell, and the two of them . . . I don’t know why Herb isn’t credited, because Herb actually was brought in to be the boss of all of us, as I understand, but he never was.

Grace: she was an alcoholic. She used to reek to high heaven! When I was in Washington, after I left there, she was supposed to give some presentation, and got drunk and couldn’t do it; and she was always trying to get the men in bed with her. So they finally said to her, “Either clean up your act or you’re out.” So she went to a treatment center and got cleaned up, and as far as I know, she never drank again.

But women didn’t like her, because she always had these boy toys on her arm. [laughs.] And she never gave anybody credit for anything, except herself! Women didn’t like her. In fact, I don’t know if anybody went to her christening of the ship that was named after her, because they called me up, and I certainly wasn’t going, and I don’t know of anybody that went.

This little university, my State Teachers’ College: they had her out there twice—with her little piece of wire! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Well, she was supposed to be a good speaker.

Bartik:

Well, she did it for about twenty years. And then she was sort of an old curmudgeon. I told you I developed this book—a loose-leaf notebook service—on minicomputers. There were all these minicomputers coming out, and then some of them were being implemented with microprocessors, and I was really having a hard time keeping up with the field. So one time I went to a meeting—I guess it was ACM, out in Chicago—and I walked into the hotel room, and here’s old Grace Hopper. She comes stomping up to me, and she doesn’t say “Hello, how are you?” or anything; she says, “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT MICROPROCESSORS?” [laughs.]

Betty Holberton despises her—absolutely despises her.

Abbate:

Because she felt she didn’t get enough credit?

Bartik:

That’s right! She didn’t give other people credit for what they did. Kathryn Kleiman doesn’t like for us to say anything bad about Grace.

Abbate:

She’s kind of an icon.

Bartik:

She wasn’t that bright; come on. She wasn’t any brighter than the rest of them. She certainly didn’t hold a candle to Pres and John. There was no innovation in her life, so far as I know. But that’s why women don’t like her. [pause]

I guess that as far as Kathryn Kleiman’s concerned, the women should all stick together. And I think they should too—if people are worth it. What gets me is the women that don’t promote women because they’re women, for God’s sakes! They take on the prejudices of the men.


Reflections on Women in Technology & the Workplace

Abbate:

What kind of experiences did you have, in your working life, as far as: Did you feel that as a woman, you were not given opportunities for promotion?

Bartik:

Well, I was flatly told that at Honeywell. When I worked for Honeywell, I was too blunt, and the next generation of women would be the one that made it, not people like me.

Abbate:

I’m sorry: When was this?

Bartik:

Well, that was in 1978.

Abbate:

So after you came back and—you were at Auerbach for maybe four years or something?

Bartik:

Nine years.

Abbate:

For nine years. So you were there from ‘67 to ‘75.

Bartik:

Or ‘76, maybe. Let’s see: I was in Northern New Jersey; I was in Minneapolis ‘78 to ‘80; I was in Florida ‘76 to ‘77. I guess I was in Northern New Jersey ‘75 to ‘76. [pause]

But I have other characteristics that make me not management material, and I came to realize that. One of them is: I am blunt. I’m not a yes-person, and I can’t pretend to be. I feel as though if I screw around with my brain, then I don’t have anything to sell. What I sell, really, is what’s in my brain, what’s in my mind; and if I start playing funny games with it, I don’t have anything to sell.

I can give you an example of one of the things that happened. I had two jobs in a row that basically—I got out of them, or I didn’t succeed in them, primarily because I was too open and honest. I was in Florida and was Market Support Manager for this minicomputer company, Systems Engineering Labs. My manager was named Sam Bosch; he was from Digital Equipment. They had hired a man to be head of Research and Development of Hardware and Software from a company on the West Coast, and the reason they had hired him was that their equipment was getting aged and they needed a new processor. Well, the President of the company could not make a decision unless his back were to the wall—anyway, they didn’t do anything about it—and finally, when their back was to the wall, one of their Executive Vice Presidents knew this company on the West Coast that had a microprocessor that implemented their system's instruction set. He went out and made arrangements to buy this microprocessor, which they did. When the President of the company went to Wall Street for financing, they told him that it didn't look as if the company had anybody that knew how to do anything with integrated circuits. They didn't have any expertise in microprocessors and they needed that expertise. They went out and hired the man that supposedly had been behind the development of this microprocessor. They brought him in, and he wasted six million dollars and didn’t come up with any new products.

When I was there, the systems were beginning to age, and they needed something new. They decided to have an off-site meeting, and I was the only woman there. We met in the morning. The President was there, the Vice President of Development, the Vice President of Sales, and all the product line managers. I was there. The Vice President of Development began talking about COBOL and database management systems. Our systems were designed for control applications, and one of their biggest customers were the people that did the Link trainers for airplanes—like Singer. I’ve forgotten who the others were. Singer was one of their biggest customers. Theirs was strictly a FORTRAN environment. I had just come from Interdata, which also had a powerful processor, and they were coming out with a new FORTRAN 4 compiler, which was an optimizing compiler that really optimized code. The customer didn’t care how long it took to translate a program; what they wanted was for the resulting program to run like lightning when it was really controlling a Link trainer. Nobody cared about COBOL! Nobody cared about database management systems, because it was not a commercial application in any way. It was strictly a FORTRAN environment, a scientific application, you know. That was it!

I didn’t say anything as they were talking about all this. My manager, when we had a coffee break, came up to me, and he said, “You haven’t said anything.” And I said, “Well, Sam, this is too idiotic! I have nothing to say to this.” Sam said, “Well, I brought you here; you’re the only woman here. I expect you to speak. ” He goaded me to say what he knew I’d say, and I fell for it. I decided to let ‘em have it! [laughs.] I went back in and sat down and told them that our competitors are going to eat our lunch; that our users were interested in FORTRAN. They weren’t interested in COBOL and database management; Interdata had a new optimizing compiler. I told them that our math routines didn’t even work, that they didn’t give accurate answers. Interdata, on the other hand, had had the Bureau of Standards fix up all their math routines, and they doubled the throughput of the machine just by fixing up the math routines! I proceeded to tell them all of this. There was silence in the room. The Vice President of Research and Development was whispering in the President’s ear. I'm sure he was saying, “She’s full of shit! She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” But not a soul supported me. After the meeting, one software person came up and said, “Yeah, you were absolutely right, but I was not going to say anything at such a meeting.” One of the Product Line Managers said I was a fool, and what right did I have to say these things? But within four months, the VP of Development and his cohorts were out! [laughs.] They were locked out of the building, all their crew, and left.

In the meantime, they decided to come out with new machines. Well, they didn’t have a new machine. We used to call it “SFC”: the Same Fucking Computer, because they didn’t have anything—they just put new skins on the old ones! As head of Marketing Support, I had to do product bulletins, and the users’ group, and the communications with the field, and all this stuff; so I was supposed to write brochures about these faster machines. I was beside myself, because there wasn’t anything to write! So I sent these product bulletins to all the Product Line Managers, and said, “If you don’t tell me any different, this is what I’m going to publish.” Not a one of them responded: not one responded. So anyway, I was standing there one day by the copier, and the Vice President of Sales came up beside me and he said, “You will have new product bulletins for the new computers.” I said, "What new computers?" He said, "You heard me."

Abbate:

Okay, so: You didn’t have the product brochures.

Bartik:

Well I did, but they weren’t anything other than they’d been before. I mean, what can you say? It’s the same old machine. And they had a high school marching band, and making this announcement . . .

You know Honeywell: one of my friends was setting up a competitive analysis group there, so she asked me to come up and work for her, so I quit. But, I guess it was less than a year later. Well, my boss really made out like a bandit from this, because they turned to him to find some machines, so he was in the catbird seat. I’m sure he had a lot of stock options; I didn’t have that many, but I lost all but one year’s worth, leaving. I met my ex-boss down in Phoenix, at a meeting we were having, and Sam said, “Oh, I’ll never forget as long as I live, you sitting there and saying, ‘Now, I’m going to tell you some anecdotes!’” [laughs.] And he said, “And you know the President never forgave you for telling him he’d pissed his money away!” [laughs.] He said, “He never forgave you for doing that.” Which I’m sure is true. He didn’t like me anyway.

It was kind of interesting—it’s interesting how men are—but this guy was scared to death of his users: scared to death of them! Because he felt they would criticize him—and a lot of times they did have things to criticize. But anyway, I was in charge of the users’ group as part of my responsibilities, so I knew what the users wanted and what they thought. We were going to have a users’ group meeting, and I ask him to be the keynote speaker for lunch; and he said, “Oh, I’m not going to do that!” And he said, “I’ll only do it if she writes the speech.” So I said “Fine!” So I wrote the speech, and I started off by telling the President that there are three things the users are interested in: one is that you’re going to continue developing high-speed computers; two, that you’re going to support the computers you have, with software and everything; and three, that you’re going to upgrade the hardware and software. And I said that’s all they’re interested in. Anyway, when he got the speech, he said to Sam, “It is childish and naive. I’m not going to give that speech!” He had a finance guy that pumped up their stock—you know how they do: they have the people that pump with the media, and they pump pump pump. He had the guy that pumped the stock write a speech. He took the two of these speeches. Oh, and he told Sam he wasn’t going to answer any questions, because they’d ask him embarrassing questions. And I said, “Sam, these people are not going to embarrass him. They’ve laid their own career on the line to pick this machine! They want him to succeed; they don’t want him to fail, because their own success rides on it. They’re not going to embarrass him!” Well anyway, he did give the speech—half mine and half the other one—and then they began to ask him questions. And the questions were all easy questions, and he was having such a good time. He had a blast, answering these questions! We finally had to call a halt to it, to get him off the stage! [laughs.] If I’d had a stick I’d have pulled him off the stage. He was having such a good time!

But anyway, he just didn’t understand. He didn’t understand his users, and actually he didn’t understand marketing: how you have to have a new product; as soon as you get a product—before you even get a product on the market, you’d need to be working on the next one. He didn’t understand. He always waited until the last minute and his back was to the wall, and then he would make a decision.

So I decided from this that I’d probably—even if I’d have been a man, I probably wouldn’t have made it, because I noticed that the guys that they keep are yes-men around them; they don’t want bad-news people around them. And the surprising thing is that that’s what kills them in the end. Honeywell: the same thing happened to that guy. And remember Ken Olsen, at the end of his career? Ken Olsen: I used to go to the press conferences with Ken Olsen, and I thought he was the most wonderful person in the world.

Abbate:

You were working for DEC?

Bartik:

I was working for Auerbach—that was the publisher’s—and I would go to the press conferences, because I wrote on all the minicomputers that they produced; and I thought Ken Olsen walked on water, practically. But towards the end of his career, he was surrounded by those marketing people; they wouldn’t let him say anything. It was like he was stifled. He’s President—and they have a hard time knowing the truth. Now, some of them have “kitchen cabinets,” like the President’s. You haven’t heard about the kitchen cabinet in recent years; I don’t think since Eisenhower; but it used to always be that Presidents had kitchen cabinets. Nixon had Rebozo. Most of them had a kitchen cabinet—you know, some people that they can go to to tell them what’s really going on. I know that Honeywell’s president had some; I know Isaac Auerbach did, when I worked for him. But they have a hard time knowing what the truth is. Now, the President of Honeywell, when he started to hire the competitive analysis group, said that one of the things he wanted us to do was tell how Honeywell is perceived by others. He wanted a meeting with us, and we were to tell him how Honeywell was perceived product by product. At first, we were each to give a presentation of over a half hour; and then it got down to twenty minutes, and then it got down to ten minutes, then it got down to five minutes when we had the meeting. We met with him to tell him about the different product lines. The marketeers around him wouldn’t let him ask us any questions! I mean, it was frustrating—that man was so frustrated, I don’t know why he didn’t just fire them all. He kept saying, “But I want to ask . . . ” And they said, “Oh, no, you have another meeting; you have to do this; you have to do that; you have to do something else”—and pulled him right out of there. So I came to see that Presidents of companies have a hard time really knowing what’s going on within the company.

Abbate:

So you didn’t stay long at Honeywell.

Bartik:

Well, I stayed there. [Clancy] Spangle, who was the President when I went there, was basically forced out; and the reason he was forced out was because top management lied to him. Honeywell had mainframes that were built by G.E. in Arizona; they had the next level of business machines that competed with the lower end of the [IBM] 360 line, in France; they had a group with small business computers, in Italy; and they had minicomputers in Billerica, Massachusetts. We were at headquarters in Minneapolis. Now, do you know “matrix management”?

Abbate:

No.

Bartik:

Well, it’s the most idiotic management scheme that I ever saw—I mean, some few companies have got it to work. You know, the hierarchical type is: You have a guy at the top, and he has managers beneath him who are responsible for everybody below. Then the next level of managers are responsible for the ones below them. So it’s pretty clear what the lines of responsibility are.

In Matrix Management, the President had a staff in Minneapolis that mirrored the field staff. Now in order to do anything with a product, like minicomputers, they had competitive analysis there in the field, and I was head of competitive analysis for minicomputers here at headquarters. They had a Vice President of Small Computers in the field and one back at headquarters. So there was a big staff of people, back at headquarters, and all were supposed to keep the President advised. Everybody advised him of what’s going on—and this gave him control of what’s going on.

Honeywell had a policy that the field could not spend more than a million dollars developing anything without specific instructions from headquarters. Well, they just divided their projects up! [laughs.] After Spangle was forced out, the guy that eventually became President was at this time head of North American sales—I don’t know exactly what his positions was, but he was head of everything North American. He despised us at headquarters, because everything he tried to do out in the field he had to get permission for from these bozos (as far as he was concerned) back at headquarters.

So Spangle got kicked out because Phoenix produced a large system only 20% faster than its last system. Honeywell did one thing that was very smart, and that was: they developed multi-processor systems long before anybody else did. They developed the software to control them, and I think they could multiprocess maybe up to five, or something like that. But what happened was, they didn’t develop powerful new systems, because they were multiprocessing. Eventually their customers wanted to upgrade, and people were coming out with processors that were two, three, four times as fast as the last one.

Phoenix was supposed to build a new mainframe processor, and everybody was telling how fast it was. They planned marketing for it—and it was only twenty percent faster! Twenty percent while other companies developed systems several times faster than the older systems. The field, and Spangle's people back at headquarters, lied to him. I can’t believe they were that ignorant, but they were. Spangle left—got out—and so then this other guy came in. His first job was to get rid of the group back at headquarters, so I ended up, instead of having a group there, reporting to field people. So I left.

I was offered a job with Data Decisions, which was a new publishing company, and I was to develop a data communications product. At that time, data communications, internetting minicomputers, was the way it first started.

Abbate:

Right.

Bartik:

The military really had started data communications, and most of the early people in data communications came from the military. These companies got founded by people who learned communications while in the army. We had a company in Cherry Hill called Infotron—and not a one of its founders had a degree in engineering! Every one of them had gotten their training in the military, which was better than any college could have done.

ARPANET was the network where they really did link computers. Back then, all these companies had their own protocols for their own systems—like IBM had SNA; Honeywell had DSA; UNIVAC had DCA. All of them had protocols for all their systems, and then Ethernet was being used for the minicomputers. When I came back to the Philadelphia area, I had a chance to develop this communications product. I was really excited about that.

Abbate:

So this was in the ‘80s at this point?

Bartik:

This was in 1980.

Abbate:

You were really always on the cutting edge.

Bartik:

I was just lucky! I just happened to be lucky. Because I was involved with minicomputers and local area networks. I used to do a little check on how efficient these were for local area networks, and people were so impressed with this! [laughs.] Really, I just counted how much it took to interface to the system, and put on a number of terminals, and see what it looked like. It wasn’t that I did anything too exciting—but at that time, because other people weren’t doing anything, they were pretty excited. So, yes, I really enjoyed that.

So, the end of my career was in data communications.

Abbate:

And that was at Data Decisions?

Bartik:

Data Decisions, yes.


Becoming a Charter Member at ACM Records

Abbate:

One thing I wanted to ask: You’d mentioned a couple of times going to ACM conferences, and I had actually noticed—I found some old ACM records from 1948 . . .

Bartik:

I was a charter member!

Abbate:

. . . where you were a charter member. I wanted to ask you about that.

Bartik:

Well, they never put me as a charter member, because I think there was a meeting before. Berkeley was from Prudential. He got Prudential to fund UNIVAC. Berkeley was one of the moving forces behind ACM. They had had a meeting of Stibitz, and Aiken, and Berkeley, and I don’t know who else. Then at the first meeting, there were about forty people there. They had a meeting at Columbia University, and Betty Snyder Holberton and I went; and that was the founding of ACM.

Abbate:

And what was that for?

Bartik:

It was just for the distribution of knowledge. Basically there wasn’t any other reason. No, that was all: people just wanted to know what others were doing. They used to crowd these meetings. People would give speeches on the “Ideal Instruction Set,” let’s say; and people would talk about cybernetics—I mean, everybody read Cybernetics as soon as that came out. So it was really just the distribution of knowledge. People realized things were happening, and they had a hard time keeping up.

Abbate:

Was there a sense that they were trying to raise the professional image of programming by having these meetings?

Bartik:

[pause] I don’t know; I have no idea. You’d have to ask somebody that was more into software; because even though I started out in software, I really wasn’t in software very long. I was much more hardware-oriented during most of my career, after I began doing logical design. I understood what software did, but I never programmed in any of the languages! I took courses in FORTRAN, ALGOL, and COBOL, and so I knew how they worked; but I have no experience programming in them—none whatsoever.

Abbate:

So really, after the ENIAC you weren’t doing a lot of programming.

Bartik:

No. I mean the only thing I did was, for my many computer reports, I just did a little sample program! [laughs.] To test how fast the processor was. That’s about all.

Abbate:

And the ACM was pretty welcoming to women?

Bartik:

As far as I know.

Abbate:

I mean, I noticed there were a number of women on the first list of people who attended. I just wondered, because I know some of the engineering societies seemed to be very hostile towards women.

Bartik:

Oh, yeah: engineers think they’re much better than programmers. They did. I mean, computers were engineering-oriented for a long time. Like Pres saying, “You don’t need software people; come over and do hardware!” [laughs.] Which is a perfect indication of what he thought of it!

Abbate:

Right. Although he obviously didn’t think that because you were a woman, you couldn’t do the hardware side.

Bartik:

Oh, no, no, no. I don’t think that at all. It was just because I was a programmer. Yes, well, that was part of the problem with all of this. [laughs] I don't know whether or not they were prejudiced because I was a woman or because I was a programmer! Mainly, I never had trouble with engineers, really. Even to this day, my best customers are engineers. In fact, one of the engineers—the one that had complained most vociferously when he found out he had to ask me and Art before he made a change in his equipment—one day he said to me, “You must have a beautiful marriage!” And I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “Oh, you’re so logical! My wife is so illogical.” [laughs.] He said, “Oh, you’re married to an engineer; you must have a beautiful life.” And I said, “Well, Bernie, most decisions in marriage are not logical; they’re emotional,” and that I didn’t think I had any more beautiful a marriage than anyone else! [laughs.] And of course, all these so-called “logical” people plaster over the fact that what they really want is something emotional. I mean, it’s just plastered over.

They were very supportive of me, actually. And Bob Shaw: I mean, I had a very warm, wonderful relationship with him for a number of years. And I just saw Al Auerbach: UNIVAC had a 50th anniversary of the introduction of the UNIVAC, and they had a proclamation from the mayor, and they had lunch, and one of the guys that was there was Al Auerbach. That’s not Isaac; no relation. Al Auerbach was an engineer on the BINAC and UNIVAC, and he is the one who primarily got the BINAC to work. If you could ever get him to write an article about BINAC, I advise you to do it. I’m planning to get with him and really twist his arm. The problem is, Al and Bob Shaw went off and formed a company called Digitronics, and then they sold it for a bunch of money, and Al took his money, and decided to go back to school and get his Ph.D. in biology, which he did. Then he worked in the medical field, and he worked with a guy that got the Nobel Prize, so that wasn’t too shabby¬! And then he formed a little medical company, which he ran for a while, and then he sold it. Well anyway, he has pressures on him to write for the medical field as well as this, and I said, “Please, please, Al: write this article about the BINAC, so the truth gets out!” He lives right here in Philadelphia: I advise you to go after him, before we die! Now, he’s in good health right now; he just had a cataract operation, and he was telling me, “I can’t believe it; it was so fabulous.” He said, “I didn’t know what I didn’t see before!” So he’s having another cataract operation to do the other one. But he was wonderful; I was so thrilled to see him. So, IEEE really should: if they want the true story of the BINAC, the place to get it is Al Auerbach. You want his number?

Abbate:

Sure, I’ll get that from you before I go. [pause]


Reflections on the Progress in the Field of Computing

Abbate:

How do you feel the field of computing has changed? I mean, you’ve seen the whole thing, practically, over time.

Bartik:

How has it changed? Well, it’s changed considerably! Banks couldn’t even see any use for computers—and bankers are such far-reaching individuals. When Pres and John went to borrow money to run their company, banks couldn’t see how they would ever benefit from computers. [laughs.]

How’s it changed? Miniaturization is what’s changed it! The integrated circuit. Because when I left the field, in the early ‘50s, they were just starting with transistors. I remember Pres describing them to me: how wonderful transistors were, and how they were going to change things. And of course it did; and these photographic techniques and everything else to miniaturize. I mean, if you didn’t do anything else but make things smaller . . . Can you imagine, this little thing like this [points to laptop]. In a mainframe, signals would have to go a hundred feet! I mean, just the fact that signals don't have to travel so far increases the speed fantastically.

It’s the miniaturization; not only the cheapness. Now, we’d visualized this, because Dick Tracy had a radio on his wrist; and we used to talk about these things. We talked about computers all the time. Somebody would say ,“And oh, so-and-so’s getting married.” “Oh, is that right?”—and then back to computers! [both laugh.] It wasn’t as though we didn’t realize another world exists; it was just that we were so interested in this that we talked about it and speculated all the time.

Of course, we never imagined everything that would happen. Cybernetics came out, and we all believed that they were going to take the drudgery of life away from a lot of us —and of course it has. My son is an economist now, and he worries about jobs for the poor. It’s very interesting, because everybody says, “Oh, training, training, training!” I mean, you train the poor, and what do you have? You have competition for the jobs that are already there! [laughs.] It helps, maybe, some individuals; but what you really need are more jobs, because you just have competition for the jobs if you train the poor. So it’s very interesting when we talk about taking away drudgery in jobs and stuff like that: I mean, we do create social problems.

I find it exciting. I don’t find—Do I find any of this shocking? I do find the Internet a little shocking, because I can’t quite figure out how that damn thing works with nobody in charge! [laughs.] That’s like Linux, this operating system with nobody in charge. I can’t quite imagine how this works, with nobody in charge. Now, I understand there are standard interfaces—and some interfaces are still the same ones I wrote about, because every once in a while I run across where it tells you what’s behind it. Yes, I find the internet puzzling. I also find it amazing, the way they’re able to keep people from making a fool of themselves and ruining systems. Believe me, when I see what some of the real estate agents do, I could scream! They will get in and change the company’s password. One agent got on, and I don’t know how he got into the system, but he got in so that everybody went in under his name. Then he called up and complained because he couldn’t use the system because his name was busy. He was the one that had done it so that everybody that wanted to get on the computer went in under his name! I mean, how did he get in? He got in the innards and put his name in. And believe me, he’s ignorant of computers! But every once in a while, these people get to the internal workings; somehow there is a glitch that allows them to get in, and I find that amazing.

Now, the biggest fear I have is the fact that software’s not tested. And Star Wars scares the hell out of me. When I was product line manager for the Megamini at Interdata, we had an operating system that worked very well. Then we developed a memory management system. We started shipping the memory management system to people, and they started installing it and using it. All of a sudden their computers were going all to pieces. We found out what the problem was. The problem was that the system increased the program counter before the software calculated where the block of data was to go in memory. It worked fine until it came to a boundary, and then at the boundary slipped into the bank of memory beside the one it was supposed to be in. It meant that we had to change when we increased the program counter. That fix took over a hundred cuts and straps on the board to get the changes made! [laughs.] Anyway, nobody checks all the possibilities of the software. I mean, a system could be doing calculations in an absolutely crucial situation, and it reaches one of the situations that wasn’t tested, and it doesn’t work! It could do almost anything. And I don’t think anybody in the software business wants Star Wars. I don’t think anybody wants it. They just don’t understand. That’s really my biggest fear about what’s going to happen.

What happens to our kids when they start out in computers? My campus is now all electronic; every room has its own computer.

Abbate:

In Missouri.

Bartik:

Yes. Every dorm room: they all have exactly the same software; same computer; they only pay $170 a year.

Abbate:

Do you think the culture of computing has changed?

Bartik:

Well, I’m sure the people at Microsoft worry about stock options and all that crap a lot more. We certainly didn’t in my era; I mean, I got stock options at [only] one company that I worked for. Twenty percent of Microsoft employees are millionaires.

I spent some time with them. Microsoft’s such a big company. It’s so different: the culture of a big company and the culture of a small company are so different.

Has computing changed? I’m sure the problems for the ages are still out there. The funny thing is, John Mauchly thought about a computer because of predicting the weather, and they still don’t know how to predict the weather. So many of these problems of the ages, they haven’t solved them yet.

The one thing, though, that I think we all speculated about, and everybody has for so many years, is travel in space. Now, I don’t think we’ll ever have travel in space until somebody comes up with something totally new, because I don’t think, with our current technology, that we really can travel in space.

Abbate:

But is it new computer technology? Or other types of technology?

Bartik:

I don’t know. I mean, have you ever taken a marketing course?

Abbate:

No.

Bartik:

Well, in marketing they talk about the “expanding puddle” or the “big drop theory.” Now, most companies do the “expanding puddle”: that is, the software gets better, the hardware gets better, the product gets better, the sales force gets better—and so it spreads like that. Now, the “drop theory” is: something drops out here that’s totally away from the puddle. So you start something that’s really new. And I think somebody is really going to have to come up with something totally new for us to travel in space with any amount of ease. Who knows what it will be? I don’t know. I have no idea what it would be, but I can visualize that this is what happens. Everybody goes along thinking in one direction, and then here’s a genius out here that everybody’s ignoring, who’s thinking about something totally different, that makes the difference! I’m sure we’ll just keep getting faster and better and, you know, the expanding puddle.

Abbate:

I guess. [pause]


Reflections on the Progress of Women in the Field of Computing and Career in Computing

Abbate:

Do you get the impression that it’s gotten easier for women to get into computing?

Bartik:

No, I don’t think so. I was speaking at ACM: there’s a women’s group of ACM, and I was going out to speak; I was on a panel or something. And the day before, I came in and I went down the hall and was looking at what they were doing little seminars on. There was this room where the women were packed and out in the hall—standing out in the hall—so I looked to see what the seminar was, and it was “Coping With the Glass Ceiling.”

There’s a very interesting book that I read about what happened to the first Harvard Business School class that included women? Have you seen or read that?

Abbate:

I haven’t read it, but I’ve heard about it.

Bartik:

More than 20 percent of the class was women, and so what she did was to follow what all of them had done. And actually, only one had it all. One was probably going to be CEO: she did not marry, did not have children; she socialized primarily with people like herself. The one that had it all just happened to be lucky. She was married to a consultant who could live anywhere, because his consultancy was so wide he didn’t really have a home base. She had children. Her company wanted her to move to New York to advance, and he just moved with her! So this woman was the only one that had it all. Now the others, most of them, weren’t even working; whatever they were doing, it was really just very modest. I mean, it was very disappointing, actually, what happened to them.

Abbate:

Did you find it an issue trying to have a career and a family?

Bartik:

Oh, yes! My husband’s a male chauvinist pig! I mean, I’m divorced. It’s interesting: he used to always tell me I was fighting a war that was already won, about women.

Abbate:

Hmm..

Bartik:

And I grew up with male chauvinist pigs in my family. The one thing my father and my family never said, which I didn’t tell you, was that men were smarter than women: never. I’d never even heard it. I was never, never given any indication that I couldn’t learn anything I wanted to. But I never had any money, and the reason I didn’t was because my father did provide for the boys. The view was that someday they were going to have a family and have to support a family, while you would marry somebody and your husband would support you. [laughs.]

Now, my husband had his problems, in terms of being a male chauvinist pig. He grew up with a disapproving father and a doting mother. I still see him, because he’s married and lives close to my daughter, and I see him and his wife when I go out there for Christmas. I think he really believed that I wanted to do whatever he wanted to do—that whatever he wanted, I wanted. And I think that came from his doting mother. He would say, “Oh, no, you don’t mean it.” I’d say, “Yes I do; I hate this!” [laughs.] And I think he really thought I was kidding. And I think it’s not just being a male chauvinist pig; I mean it was this particular environment that he grew up with. The other thing: he was a manic-depressive, and so when he was manic I was the wife that he took care of, then when he was depressed, I was to be superwoman and take care of everything. So he alternated between making me superwoman and making me helpless. But that I blame on his emotional make-up, as much as anything.

I don’t know of any women that I would like to trade places with. I mean, it’s pathetic, isn’t it, that I’ve really only been involved with two men in all my life: two! Now, since I was divorced, I’ve been in singles programs and met hundreds of men—and I see no marriages that I would want. And I think it’s pretty pathetic, because I think men in our society are ruined. It’s also my prejudice, too. I mean I’m prejudiced too, with my bias, saying I never wanted to get married. It’s been very interesting, because I never wanted to get married and never wanted to have children, but my relationship with my children has been the greatest thing that ever happened to me! I adore all three of them and loved taking care of them when they were little. But I still don’t think much of marriage! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Well, you mentioned your aunt—I forgot the name . . .

Bartik:

Gretchen.

Abbate:

. . . who was, I guess, maybe one role model for you; and she had never married and had children.

Bartik:

She did marry, when she was 40!

Abbate:

Oh, but when you were little . . .

Bartik:

When I was little she wasn’t married.

Abbate:

Did you have other people who were role models or mentors for you?

Bartik:

Yes, Dr. Blanche Dow: She was my teacher in college. Actually I only had three college professors who meant anything to me—and I don’t think you need any more, really: Dr. Hake, who said, “I’m head of the Math Department and I’ll give you the courses!” Dr. Horsfal, who really changed my life in the way he made me start using my mind; and then Dr. Blanche Dow. When you’re in school they have you take cultural courses that pass on the culture. They called them Humanities in my college. These courses told us about art and music and social science and all the things that were supposed to make us cultured people. Well, Dr. Dow taught those courses, plus she also taught French. She was a little, dynamic woman, and I was really intrigued, because at that time I never thought much about art, music, or any of those things. The fact that she enjoyed them and believed they were important made me think, “Oh, I really should find out about this, if Dr. Dow thinks so.”

I took French with her. This is kind of an interesting story. We were in French class one day, and we were talking about farm subsidies. She started talking and complaining about farm subsidies, and I got so mad—I was really mad. I said, “Yeah, the farmers: When we have a big crop, the price is low, and we don’t make any money; and, when we don’t have any crop, the price is high, so we don’t have anything to sell!” And I said, “No matter what you say, we have to have money to buy clothes, to buy machinery; we have to buy things.” And she said, “Well, I certainly wish that I could have a big, fat chicken any time I wanted!” [both laugh.] Oh, I was mad at her! I was really mad. So I went home that weekend and asked my mother to dress a chicken for her. So I took her a chicken! [laughs.]

About 1950 I was in Washington, and I walked across the street to the cafeteria to have some lunch, and who should walk in but Doctor Blanche Dow! She was standing in line, so I went up to talk to her. She had left my college and become President of Coty College in South Missouri. She told me how she spent most of her time fund-raising. She was in Washington for a meeting because she was President of the American Association of University Women. She tried to talk me into joining. Finally she said to me, “Remember the time you brought me the chicken?” [laughs.]

So yes, she was my role model, Blanche Dow. She was a lesbian, by the way. She was really a fabulous woman, and that was it! Yes, she was a role model.

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women who might be thinking of going into computing?

Bartik:

Well, I think people should always do what they want to do. I think that a job takes up too much of your life to do something you don’t like to do. And I’m sure that there are lots of good things about it and lots of bads things about it. There are so many different computer jobs. My daughter is in the business, too. But I really believe you should do what you want to do: what you enjoy doing and what you can do well. Most people don’t like to do things if they don’t do them well. I just believe, “When opportunity knocks, open the door.” But you’ve got to be prepared. It doesn’t do you any good to talk yourself into a job you can’t do; that is just courting disaster. So I think you should be prepared, and work hard—everybody that succeeds must work hard—and open the door when opportunity knocks. Opportunity comes in a lot of different ways. But I do believe that you should enjoy what you do.

No, I don’t really have any advice. I mean, it depends on what you like! I’m in the real estate business now, but believe me: I’d much rather work with things than with people! [laughs.] They drive me crazy at times! And I’m not that good. I used to think when I worked with engineers—because I was so much more of a "people" person than they were—that I was great with people; but in comparison with sales people, no. I’m not a "people" person; I’m a "thing" person.

There’s another thing: I took the Myers-Briggs test. Have you ever taken Myers-Briggs?

Abbate:

No.

Bartik:

I thought it was the most insightful thing that ever happened to me. When I decided I was going to get out of publishing and go into marketing and sales for a minicomputer company, I went to Bernard Haldane’s, which is a consultancy for job hunting, basically. They’re not a placement bureau; they just teach you how to network and job hunt. My particular mentor was a physicist—Ph.D. physicist—who had had his own company. He had had a serious heart attack, and couldn’t really pursue that any more, so he was working at Bernard Haldane’s. One of the things they did was to give me the Myers-Briggs personality test. They took it very seriously: knowing what you are, and knowing what other people are and knowing how to work with them. One of the things they taught me about going to a meeting. The first thing I was to do was to determine what personality everybody has. Then I wasn't to give a thinking argument to a "feeler," or vice-versa. I wasn't to try to get a perceptive person to make a judgment, because they’re not that way. I was to understand that introverts can internalize things and make decisions. I found out what I was, and I realized that in my career up to then, I had always thought "sensers" were stupid, because I’m "intuitive," and I would go from A to E—and a senser goes, “A, B, C, . . . ” They used to drive me crazy. I had to go through all of the steps and I had to wait for them! The other thing I thought was that "non-judgmental" people, "perceptive" people, were weak—because I thought, “If you had any balls at all, you’d make a judgment!” [laughs.] But that’s not the way they work. Also, I’m an extrovert, and there’s no way in the world that I could ever come up with conclusions that meant much to me unless I tested them in the outside world. That’s basically the difference between an introvert and an extrovert. I thought that was one of the most valuable things I learned.

When I was just back at Maryville, they had me meet with the head of an academic academy they have there for high school students to come to college. Do I disagree with it! They brought 30 kids in from area high schools, and the students go in math and science and all their other courses; but they just live within themselves and talk to other geeks! “Well, what do you do for recreation?” “Well, just hang around with the other people.” I mean, there’s more to life than the intellectual life! I think those kids need to meet with their peers that are not like them, because we have to learn to get along with people we don’t like—and people that are very different from us are very interesting at times. I have very little artistic talent, but God do I love to see artists at work! And music—I couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate music. I don’t know. I just feel that young people should develop the things that they’re good at and that they enjoy doing.

It’s like real estate, by the way: You cannot buy a house with logic and reason. If you do, you’re never happy in the house. You must buy a house emotionally, I really believe that. You must buy it because it satisfies you emotionally. Now, if you have a good real estate agent, the agent is going to make sure that it’s not a bad real estate investment; obviously you do not want to do that. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to have a good real estate agent—so they don’t let you piss your money away—but you really need to buy it emotionally so that it satisfies you. You want to be happy when you drive up to the house; happy when you open the front door. You like the way it feels and looks. So I think the same thing is true about a career: you like the way it feels.

Abbate:

What aspects of your work with computers have you found the most satisfying?

Bartik:

The most wonderful job I had was on UNIVAC. And then the second-most was on ENIAC, because it was new. I made this statement to Isaac Auerbach [laughs]. I worked for him for nine years, and Isaac came in before I left and said, “I never thought you’d leave me.” And I said, “Well, you haven’t done anything with me for four years. I mean, I’ve been here doing the same thing, so why wouldn’t I leave?” Anyway, when I got up to make my farewell speech—they gave me a gift, and I was supposed to make a speech—I said, “Well, they say two of the happiest days of your life are the day you take a job and the day you leave a job.” And I said, “Today is the second happiest day of my life!” [laughs.] And I think everybody is all excited, when you do something new.

I liked the prestige. I had prestige. I guess I didn’t have any prestige at Honeywell, but certainly in the publishing business I did. I think most people like to have some recognition for what they do, and they like to have people appreciate what they do. And the funny thing is: Pres or John never said that to you, but you just knew they did! It’s interesting that you don’t have to say, “I think you’re wonderful”—you just act as though they’re wonderful, I guess! [laughs.] I’m not quite sure how it works.

Abbate:

I should thank you for spending all this time with me! Unless there’s anything else you think I’ve left out.

Bartik:

Not that I know of, really. You didn’t ask me much about Johnny von Neumann, but that’s all right.

Abbate:

Should I?

Bartik:

You didn’t ask me about Herman, and what I think of him.

Abbate:

I think I’ve already heard!

Bartik:

It was kind of interesting, Herman was a Ph.D. mathematician. Adele and I worked together on a program for a Dr. [Abraham] Taub up at Princeton. Adele wrote all the manuals for the ENIAC, but, of course, they didn’t come out until after everybody had already learned how to program it. She was a very smart woman. She and I worked on the Taub program, and Herman had already gone up to Princeton to work with von Neumann. He came home at night, and he wanted her to hurry up and get this job done so she could go up to Princeton with him. We used to have dinner with him at night. I never once heard him make a technical, valuable remark. All he ever did was manipulate people. He was a manipulator.

Abbate:

Was he doing anything technical for the ENIAC? I thought he was sort of managing . . .

Bartik:

He was a liaison, although he claims he did [technical work]—and for the EDVAC, too; why would he be on the patent? He attended the meetings. In fact, Douglas Hartree was here one summer—he was teaching out at Haverford College, lecturing—so the Goldstines invited us up for dinner. So we went up there for dinner, and I said something about Herman being an assistant of von Neumann. He hit the roof! “I’m not an assistant to von Neumann!” I said, “Well, how come you’re at the Institute?” So he said, “I’m here because I’m being honored for the work I did during the war!” Well, that is true to some extent, because most of the mathematicians that worked at Aberdeen were given three months at Princeton, at the Institute. You know, Einstein was there at that time, and Veblen, and von Neumann; there were a lot of people there. I mean, they even had tea with Einstein, for God’s sakes! [laughs.] So they were given three months. But that wasn’t true [about Goldstine’s situation]. So anyway, Douglas Hartree, when we were on the way back, said, “Oh well, it doesn’t matter what he says: that’s what he is.” [laughs.]

But anyway, Adele I loved. So we were working on that project—we really worked hard—and she said, “Oh well, he always gets me these jobs and then complains when I do them!” [laughs.] She died of cancer very early on in life. But I think she was brighter than he was, frankly. She was his student at the University of Michigan—or was she Chicago? I think it was the University of Chicago.

Abbate:

I’d like to know more about her. I mean, she was active in computing, as far as I know, until she died.

Bartik:

Well, she did these little jobs. I guess she must have taught Klara von Neumann to program the ENIAC.