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Oral-History:Marjorie "Marge" Devaney

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About Marjorie "Marge" Devaney

Marjorie "Marge" Devaney was born on March 3, 1931 and grew up in Pomona, California. She earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Denver and a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Mexico. She became one of the first computer programmers in 1951, when she started working on the Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer (MANIAC) program at Los Alamos National Laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico. She remained in the computing division there until her retirement in 1991. During this time, Devaney worked on weapons programs, editors and operating systems. She was also one of the principal designers of the laboratory's central filing system. Devaney died on September 20, 2007.

In this interview, Devaney talks about her 40 year-long career at the Los Alamos National Laboratory. She describes the various projects on which she worked over the years, including the MANIAC I and MANIAC II computers. In addition, she discusses the working and living conditions at Los Alamos, particularly for female employees. Here Devaney also provides a firsthand view of early computing culture. Finally, she offers advice for young women who are considering a career in computing.


About the Interview

MARJORIE "MARGE" DEVANEY: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate for the IEEE History Center, 4 April 2002.

Interview #586 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic 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, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. 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:

Marjorie "Marge" Devaney, an oral history conducted in 2002 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Marjorie "Marge" Devaney
INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate
DATE: 4 April 2002
PLACE: Devaney’s home in Los Alamos, New Mexico

[Notes courtesy of interviewer Janet Abbate]

Background and Education

Abbate:

This is an interview with Marge Devaney on April 4th, 2002.

Just to begin at the beginning: can you tell me when you were born and where you grew up?

Devaney:

I was born on March 3rd, 1931, in Bell, California, which is in Southern California. It used to be a suburb of Los Angeles; now you can’t tell where it starts and where it ends. But I moved, when I was four, to Pomona, which was a nice town outside of the area. I grew up there, graduated from high school there, and went to the University of Denver for my college.

Abbate:

What did your parents do for a living?

Devaney:

My mom was a housewife, although she had taught piano when she was younger.

My dad had been a farmer in Wisconsin—they had been farming in Wisconsin—and the Crash wiped them out. They were relatively new, and they lost everything. They went out to California, where his sister was married to a man who ran a monument business—they made gravestones—and he had a job waiting; so he was very lucky. So they got out there with essentially no money and two kids, and had me soon afterwards! [laughs]

He made gravestones all his life. I always thought it was intriguing to go, because there were all these chips of granite and marble, with little pieces that were polished, that had been cut off the stones; and to see the layout of the designs and the names and everything, I thought was interesting.

Abbate:

So there were three kids in your family?

Devaney:

I have an older brother and a sister—and then the surprise! [laughs]

Abbate:

Did either of them go into computing?

Devaney:

No. My brother became a civil engineer, and worked in water projects and dams in Southern California. My sister became a kindergarten teacher and worked in Northern California all of her life.

Computers: when I graduated from college, there were only a few in the world, and I had read a couple articles in newspapers about these "big brains" and big computers and things, and so that was sort of interesting. When I went through college, I didn’t declare a major until I was almost graduated. I had enough credits to have a major in psychology or mathematics, and minors in sociology and English; but I had to declare only one. If I took psych, you had to have, really, a Ph.D. to do anything, even back then; but math, you could get a job right away. So I declared math! [laughs] But the job offers . . . I think it was easy to get a job, because I don’t remember being turned down at the places I applied.

Abbate:

Now, when would this have been?

Devaney:

This was in 1951. I started college in September of '48, and graduated in August of '51.

Intrigued by Computers: Getting a Job at Los Alamos

Devaney:

Most of the jobs were with insurance companies, computing actuarial tables, which sounded deadly dull. I knew teaching was not my thing. I am not suited to it, despite . . . My sister was a great teacher! [laughs] So: there was a job offer in Long Beach, at Douglas Aircraft, that was attractive, that was more interesting; but the [job] here [at Los Alamos] was on a computer, and that really was intriguing to me.

Abbate:

Here at Los Alamos?

Devaney:

Yes. And they also flew you out for an interview, which was fun; and it was a little closer to a boyfriend, who was in Lubbock at the time; and the final touch was that their salary was higher: because their per-hour rate was lower, but they were working six-day weeks, so you were working a 48-hour week. So you got more money, and so that was a sort of deciding factor. But the computer was, I think, probably the major thing that was interesting.

Abbate:

Had you seen one at that point, before you came here?

Devaney:

No, no. And in fact, MANIAC was just being finished; it was not done yet. I started work October 8th, '51, and the machine started running test problems in March of '52. So they were still building. In fact, when it started, they didn’t have, I think, either the multiply or divide instruction; you had to do them with a little routine. So it was bare-bones, and [as] part of the training you recoded something that everybody had done, like the multiply or divide instruction. They also had you design the gates, as a sort of training; they didn’t expect to use it, because they had their own design already! [laughs]

Abbate:

So you were designing logic gates as if you were going to design the hardware?

Devaney:

Yes. It was just a matter of training.

Abbate:

So they had told you all about the hardware, and how the various things worked, and the components?

Devaney:

Well, you had to know most of that, because there were no assemblers; there were no compilers; there were no editors. You just punched bits in a pattern into a paper tape, because that was our input form; read it into the machine; and then you could look at it in the registers.

Abbate:

So you’re doing this all in machine code, with absolute memory addresses. "I can see, there’s my data right there!" [both laugh]

Devaney:

I used to joke that our early editor was a clip lead! Have you ever seen a clip lead?

Abbate:

No, I haven’t.

Devaney:

Have you heard of the alligator clips that engineers use to clip onto one source over here and then another source here, and then they have a wire?

Abbate:

I’ve seen those.

Devaney:

Okay, well that was our early editor. Because the registers were right there, and you could short out the register so it could become a "zero" or a "one," depending upon what you touched. So you would change the instruction register to a command to bring the word out of memory; and then it would appear in another register; you’d change it; then you’d change the instruction to a "store," and you’d put it back. [laughs] This led to not knowing what you’d done, what was actually in the machine! [laughs]

Abbate:

I’ll bet. It sounds very occult! [laughs]

Devaney:

It was very close. You were very close to your machine.

Abbate:

So the actual interface was punched paper tape for input?

Devaney:

Yes.

Abbate:

And then, output was what? Lights?

Devaney:

Output, we could punch paper tapes; and then we had a Flexowriter, like a typewriter, that would print on paper that was sort of a roll. I’ve forgotten what the paper source was on that, but it didn’t have the complete alphabet. I’ve really forgotten; but it was sort of bare-bones output. You didn’t put much out. You didn’t have the time, really.

We finally got a magnetic tape, but it was like a reel-to-reel tape, and what you’d do is, every so many minutes you would dump the entire machine onto the tape, because the errors were frequent. So you’d take a dump so that when it started doing something crazy, you could go back and start up partway along in the program. But in order to find that dump again, you had to clear off some of the recording surface with alcohol, so that you could advance it so many bits past those blank spots.

Abbate:

So you would clear a blank spot in the tape and then do the dump?

Devaney:

Well, you’d write the dump, and then you’d clear the space.

Abbate:

At the end of it.

Devaney:

Yes; and then you’d write another one, and clear another space. And you’d try to advance it a little bit, because it wasn’t exact in size, so in order to use it again, you would clear it off.

Anyway, I’m jumping ahead.

Early Interest in Math

Abbate:

Let me go back a little bit. Did you have an interest in math or science as a child, or in school?

Devaney:

I always liked math, because it was a little more—"challenging" isn’t quite the right word. It took a little more thought to figure out what was going on, whereas the other things: they were okay, but they weren’t as much fun as getting the math problem worked! [laughs]

Abbate:

Did you have good math teachers in school?

Devaney:

I only remember one math teacher in high school. When I went to high school it was during World War II—at least some of it; I guess it was right afterwards. Anyway, we had a combination junior college and high school in the building, so we had joint classes in some of the math classes and things like that. One of the instructors ended up quitting and going to the University of Denver—he was actually an astronomer, and they gave him a position as a professor in astronomy—so that’s how I’d heard of the University of Denver.

Abbate:

I was going to ask how you ended up there.

Devaney:

I wanted to get out of California. I’d lived there all of my life; we only took one trip, because my dad worked all the time; and I felt I was going East to school, because I was going east of California! [laughs] And when I got there I met all these New Yorkers, who had come to the far West to school! [laughs]

But yes: I liked math; and science was fun, too. Our class, before they were seniors, had taken all the math, all the science, all the Spanish, all the French that they gave; and so they had to make up some more classes for the seniors. They made an advanced biology class; they made a fourth-year French class; they didn’t do any more math, but they added some things, so that we could keep going on. And it wasn’t just one or two [students]; it was essentially the whole class that were interested in that.

Abbate:

Did your parents encourage you or expect you to have a career?

Devaney:

The answer to that’s probably "yes." My mother always said it was very good for a woman to have a skill and a training that she could fall back on, and that she could use in case she needed it, either for herself or the family. She always thought teaching was the right way to go, because she figured they’d always need teachers. And I agree that that’s a good field, although it doesn’t pay a lot; but it still seems like they need teachers. She always felt that you should get through college and work for a few years, so you had complete independence, and you could do whatever you felt like you wanted to do, without having to do something for this child or for the husband or whatever. So from that standpoint, I was certainly encouraged; but both of them seemed to think that whatever we did was marvelous. If we did this: "Oh, that’s great!" If we did that: "Oh, that’s great!" I was never told that women shouldn’t do math, or that they shouldn’t do science, or they shouldn’t do this, or they shouldn’t do that.

My dad, especially, was very proud of whatever we did. His father thought third grade was enough for anybody. He was a farmer, and if you had got through third grade, you could add, subtract, multiply, divide, and read, and what more did you need other than to learn how to raise crops? But Dad really loved school and loved education, and he managed to get two years of college, although he had to work so hard to pay for it that he couldn’t study the way he wanted to; and then World War I came along, and he dropped out. My mom went through one year of college. My aunt claims that she was following after my dad, and that could be! [laughs] But she went to sort of a conservatory that was associated with the college, so that she could follow her music.

My dad always declared that his children would go through college, would not have to worry about money, would be able to enjoy it, be able to have time to study and time to do other things—and he did. My brother sort of fouled him up a little bit: my brother didn’t want to go to college. He went to junior college for a while, and then got a job, and was in World War II, and then went back to school. My dad tried to help him, financially, and my brother wouldn’t take it. By then he was older and married, and had the G.I. Bill and various things. But my sister and I: he did that with both of us. And every time I would suggest getting a job—because I thought I had plenty of time, at least for weekends—he’d say, "No, no, no. If you have time, go do something fun!" [laughs]

Abbate:

Wow!

Devaney:

Yes! [laughs] He’s a very unusual man; a very wonderful person—and so was my mother. My mother was not only intelligent, but she was wise. There’s a difference. So I was very lucky in parents. They encouraged me to do whatever I wanted to do.

The Work Environment at Los Alamos

Abbate:

So, you took this first job at Los Alamos, and spent your whole career there.

Devaney:

That’s right.

Abbate:

You must have liked it!

Devaney:

[laughs] I did. I did like it. Also, after I’d been here a few years, I got married; and we liked the area as well as the jobs, and consequently we just stayed here. Every time we thought about leaving, there wasn’t any [other] place we wanted to live! [laughs] So, I think that makes a difference.

When I first came, I thought I was going to work for a year or two and get married and leave. I said, "I might leave in a year or two," and they said, "Oh, that’s a long time. If you can work a year or two, that’d be great!" [laughs]

Abbate:

Was there a lot of turnover among the women there?

Devaney:

When I came, there was a woman who was leaving within a month, and she’d come two months before, and so her term was only three months. But no: most of the rest of us, when we came, we stayed. Sometimes you’d change groups or divisions, but most of them stayed. There was one that left after quite a few years; but her husband went back to work for Pratt-Whitney at Hartford, and so she went with him at that point. But there wasn’t really turnover where people would say, "I’m dissatisfied. I want to leave." There were some, obviously, but not a lot. It was a good place to work.

Working on the MANIAC I Computer

Abbate:

Who were you working with when you first came?

Devaney:

What groups and things, you mean?

Abbate:

Yes. I mean, you were immediately in this MANIAC group?

Devaney:

Yes. I was hired into a group in T Division called T-7, run by Nick Metropolis; Nicholas Metropolis. The person in charge of the programmers, who were called "coders" back then, was Jack Jackson, who ended up working for IBM in Washington and at various places. And then there was a man named Jim Richardson, in charge of the engineers.

Our group was half engineers building the machine and half programmers using it, so there was close communication. If the engineers thought of an instruction or a change that they thought would be helpful, they’d come talk to the programmers and say, "Would it be helpful if we built this instruction, or that?" And vice-versa, the programmers would say, "Hey, we could really use this or that," [and the engineers] would go away and think if they could build it or not. It was a fairly unique group, I think, in that respect. Mostly, I thought, the engineers were sort of off by themselves, and the programmers were off by themselves, and they didn’t communicate as well.

Abbate:

You mean in other . . .

Devaney:

Other installations, yes. We were the only computing machine here until I think around '53, when an IBM 701, I think, came in. That was their first electronic computer; stored-program computer.

ENIAC was always sort of debatable as to whether it was really a stored-program computer, because . . .

Abbate:

The one at Penn? The ENIAC ?

Devaney:

Yes. Because they did all those wires; they really had to do all the wiring to make the instructions do the things they wanted to do.

Abbate:

Right.

Devaney:

And so it really wasn’t that you’d put in an instruction, and then it would access it and do it. So it was always sort of borderline.

Abbate:

It was programmable, but it wasn’t stored.

Devaney:

Yes.

Abbate:

Unless it was stored in your head!

Devaney:

Yes. [laughs] And SEAC was sort of running when MANIAC started. We had twice the memory and twice the length of time between errors that anybody else did at the time.

Abbate:

Hmm!

Devaney:

It came up, started up with one thousand and twenty-four forty-bit words, which is approximately 5k bytes. You can pick up a little card that holds more than that now! [laughs] The machine was about seven or eight feet long, and about six feet tall, and about three feet deep. And then it had a battery room outside, where they had all these batters in series so that the power supply would be not as fluctuating as the power supply off of the lines. It had Williams tube–memories that were little—they were only like two-inch tubes—and they were all up on top of the machine, and on each end was a monitor. It was a little tube, but you could set it to any one of the memory units that were up there, and so you could see the pattern of bits that were in those things. So sometimes we’d play, and we’d make it write "Hi!" [both laugh] Or whatever! [laughs]

They attached speakers to it, because the commands made sounds as they went along, and so you could listen to your program, and it would have a pattern to it, and you could detect—almost before anything else—when there’d been a goof, because the pattern changed. So you’d know something had gone wrong, and you could stop it and start it up again.

Abbate:

You could debug by ear.

Devaney:

Right.

Abbate:

"Hmm, sounds like it’s stuck in a loop!" Right?

Devaney:

Yes.

Abbate:

Was it noisy?

Devaney:

The machine room itself? I don’t associate noise with it. I don’t think they had big fans and blowers or anything like that, which is what makes noise now. I think the first high-speed printer we got might have been somewhat noisy. But the sound [from the computer]: you could turn that off if you didn’t want to listen to it.

They used to have open houses, where people from all over could tour, so we set up a little demonstration of computing. We had it play "Hail, Hail, The Gang’s All Here!" [both laugh] And then later on, there was an engineer who was also a musician, and he calculated the exact frequencies that you needed to produce proper notes. Instead of sitting there saying, "I think that one should go up or down," he knew exactly, and he would play Bach’s Partitas and things at the open houses! [both laugh] So that was sort of fun.

But at the beginning, we spent those first few months training. When the machine first turned on, they had what they called an "inversion program," and all it did was, it would write all ones in the memory and then it would write all zeros, and all ones and all zeros. And when it first turned on, you could watch that little scope—that little monitor—and it would start filling up with ones, and then it would break. And then you’d start it up again, and it would go further, and then it would break. And it would go further, and finally it did the whole thing, and then it just thought, "Oh, I’ve learned what I want to do," and it just didn’t break at all; it just kept going and going and going! [laughs] It was as though it was sort of figuring things out. Now, I’m sure it wasn’t, but it was sort of like that.

Those first days, those first years, were quite exciting, in that it was a new toy, and so world-famous scientists like Fermi and von Neumann and Bethe and Gamow—all these names that were powerhouses back then—would come and watch the computer and ask questions and things about it, because they wanted to use it. They didn’t want to do the programming themselves so much as to say, "I’d like this problem put on it." So it was exciting from that standpoint

Abbate:

Would a visiting scientist actually ask you to do things? I mean, would someone visit for a couple of weeks or something and get a program run?

Devaney:

Whether it would run in a couple weeks, I don’t know! But yes, they would come, and they would talk to Nick, and they would discuss what kind of things might have to be done, or what the problems where, what they were really trying to do. Then he would assign it to some particular programmer, and then you’d work together with him and with the main scientist, who would come off and on; so you’d communicate. I didn’t really work with those—although Fermi taught me how to calculate in hexadecimal on my Marchant calculator! [laughs] I was sitting there sort of upset and angry at it, because all it would do was decimal. [The technique] was something that wasn’t extremely clever; it was sort of brute-force; but it worked.

So there was interaction. I don’t think they ever knew me personally, but there was still interaction.

On Early Computing Culture: Coding as Women’s Work

Abbate:

Were all of the programmers women at that point?

Devaney:

No. Mark Wells was here before I came. It turned out he also had been at the University of Denver. And Harold Agnew: he wasn’t a programmer, but he became a Director at the Lab: he was from the University of Denver. There was little cadre of us. I think Jack Jackson had been at the University of Denver also! Although I didn’t know them [then]; I did take one course with Mark, but I didn’t know him.

Anyway, I don’t remember if there were other men. They were almost all women. I think that was because they thought of coding as taking something and doing sort of brute-force clerical work into putting it into the machine; bits in the machine language. We used hexadecimal—you know, four bits per character—so that you might say "A," but when it punched, it punched “one-oh-one-oh.” It punched bits, but you’d type in an "A."

And I think they thought it was sort of low-level, secretarial, clerical kinds of things, and that that’s one reason they started thinking women. It wasn’t until later, when it started to get more complicated and the pay started to go up, that men started to come into the field, really.

Abbate:

When was that?

Devaney:

Oh, in the fifties, still.

Abbate:

So, not that much later.

Devaney:

No, not that much later. By the sixties, there were lots of men in it.

Abbate:

Did the job title change or anything?

Devaney:

We went from "coders" to—what was the next one? "Programmers"? I think there was something in between. So the title sort of changed. Then "computer scientist" came in there someplace, later in life.

As far as Lab titles were concerned, they didn’t use those so much. Those were sort of like a job description. When I first was hired, I was hired as a Research Assistant, which was an hourly position; and it meant, I guess, that I had a degree, but only a Bachelor’s. I don’t know quite how they made the difference; because when I first started really doing major stuff on the computer, it was weapons work, and I was working long hours and seven days a week, and they couldn’t—they found out it was illegal to have a woman work that much. There were special rules about women and working. So they made me a Staff Member fairly quickly, which meant that you were hired not for any particular number of hours, and so you got a monthly salary instead of an hourly salary, so they didn’t have to worry about the rules. So I could still work my long hours. I didn’t get paid any more [both laugh], but I got an advance in title. "Staff Member" was what most people at the Lab, I think, still are. That’s sort of the general title for people that have scientific backgrounds at all.

Abbate:

So was that actually beneficial in terms of moving up in the Lab?

Devaney:

I think it was. I think that if I hadn’t gotten the change fairly early, it would have been harder to change later, and without that you were very limited. It could have been that it would have happened just automatically anyway, after a period of time, because I believe it ended up that most people in later years who had a Bachelor’s were made Staff Members. But I didn’t really worry about it.

It was interesting; it was fun; it was sometimes exciting; it was sometimes frustrating [laughs] to try to find what was going wrong. Program debugging was a fine art! [laughs]

The Challenges of Early Computing

Abbate:

What were some of the most challenging things about it?

Devaney:

Keeping track of all the addresses, and making changes—patches, we used to call them—if you found an error. We had two instructions per word, when we first started.

Abbate:

This was a forty-bit word?

Devaney:

Yes. So you had twenty bits per instruction; and you had two hexits, so that was eight bits, for the command; and the rest was for the address into the machine. So if you had to transfer someplace, you had to make certain you’d transferred to the correct half of the word, so they had twice the number of transfer instructions that current machines have, and you had to make certain you got the correct one. And if you made a change: you had to use every half-word you could, because there wasn’t much space in the machine; so you would put in a transfer out to a spot of the memory that you weren’t using, do whatever you had to do, and then transfer back; and after a while, you would have transfers to transfers to transfers to transfers, and it got confusing.

Abbate:

Is that like a "jump" instruction?

Devaney:

Yes.

Abbate:

That must have been complicated. I mean, I don’t know if you did flow charts or diagrams . . .

Devaney:

Oh yes! We did very detailed flow charts—flow diagrams. And in fact: They say that you think in the language that you first learn forever, no matter what other languages you learn; and I think that my first language was flow diagrams, and that that’s sort of what I did for many years after that: think in flow diagrams. They might have changed forms and changed how much detail you put on them and so on, but . . . That’s probably good, because if I had thought in absolute machine language, I probably wouldn’t have gone very far! [laughs]

Abbate:

Well, when did people stop—as far as you know—using flow diagrams?

Devaney:

Oh, dear!

Abbate:

Well, when did you stop? Or do you still use them?

Devaney:

[laughs] I don’t program any more—although I’m tempted sometimes! I don’t think I stopped until probably the seventies; some place in the seventies.

About the first ten years, I worked on weapons programs. About the next ten years I worked on editors, with some operating system stuff thrown in. And then the last—well, from 1978, essentially, until '91, when I retired, I worked on a filing system. By that time, we had these big computer centers, with the machines all connected in networks and going to outlying sites and everything; but the major supercomputers did not have any permanent storage on them. They had a lot of disk space, but it was for programs while they were running; they didn’t store data, really, on them. So, we developed this common filing system, where people could send anything they wanted to store, from any machine, and then they could ask for it back on any machine, and we’d send it over. It was quite important to the computer center. And, much to my amazement: this started running in 1979, I think around May or June, and I just talked to a man from the Lab a couple of weeks ago, and he said they think April 26th [2002] they’ll turn CFS off. So it has lasted all this time, which is remarkable for any kind of a program like that!

Working on the Central Filing System

Abbate:

That’s "Computer Filing System?" What’s CFS?

Devaney:

It was called the "Central Filing System."

Abbate:

Would that have run over the ARPANET?

Devaney:

No, this would be local networks.

Abbate:

Because this was just within the Lab?

Devaney:

Yes.

Abbate:

Okay. So you had several computers within the Lab . . .

Devaney:

I don’t know: a hundred? They had a big computer center with a lot of big supercomputers, and then lots of ones off-site. They had trillions of bytes of data—it didn’t seem like it took that long to accumulate that much. It was a big system, and it was heavily used.

There was another woman, Emily Willbanks, that I mentioned to you.

Abbate:

Right! I’m seeing her . . .

Devaney:

Are you going to see her?

Abbate:

Tomorrow.

Devaney:

Oh, good! She’s great! She quit before I did—a couple years, I guess—and then I quit, and we had been the last two that knew anything about the [filing] program. Because it was a fairly big program—I’ve forgotten how many hundred thousand instructions were in it—written in PL-1. [laughs] I actually ended up liking PL-1. I was never a FORTRAN fan. I didn’t do much in FORTRAN, but it was very frustrating. But PL-1 wasn’t bad.

After we left, they really didn’t have anybody who knew what was in there, so I thought it would die quickly; and instead it’s lasted ten years! Over ten years. So I’ve been surprised.

When we first started, we had to write our own subroutines, which were things like sines and cosines and things; but you had to actually insert the code into your program, because there wasn’t any assembler or anything. Then we also had utility programs, that would print a file, or do things like that. Again, you had to load it all yourself. But because we started with paper tape, and because editing was such a mess, we soon built editors, so that you didn’t have to re-punch that whole tape to make the changes, to clean things up. And then assemblers followed, pretty much at the same time.

Then Mark Wells developed a programming language that he called MADCAP, which I think has features in it that current programs should have—and never did! [laughs] One thing: because the engineers worked closely with us, we got them to put in a superscript and a subscript key on the typewriters, so that it would advance it a half a space up or down. So you could actually type in "x squared sub i plus y squared sub I" [x2i + y2i], and then the compiler would interpret those and make the program work—so that your program looked like a math textbook. It didn’t have to have the star in it; if they were together—like if it said "10A"—it knew to multiply 10 times A. It just was like a math textbook, and it was a really great language. The super- and subscripts is one thing that no [other] language has, I don’t think, done yet.

The other thing was that he made tabs meaningful. Do you know anything about programming?

Abbate:

I do. I’m trying to think what you would do with a tab.

Devaney:

Well, it’s . . . I’m not sure if they have DO loops; do they have DO loops anymore in FORTRAN?

Abbate:

I think they still do.

Devaney:

Or they say, like, "DO i = 1 to 10," or whatever? Well, you have to have some way of telling where that loop ends. Well, if you say "DO i equals," and then you tab over one, and put everything in there that should be done for the DO loop, you don’t have to put an END, because you tab back (you don’t tab in as much), and that ends the DO loop.

Abbate:

Hmm.

Devaney:

So it’s very visual. When you look at it, you know exactly where that loop starts and where that loop ends. The indentation is meaningful.

Abbate:

So that sounds like you would be getting printouts of the program.

Devaney:

Yes, but then we started . . . We got a disk to help storage space, but I never really used it. It was a mess; you had to get fifty words at a time, and stuff. Then they got a fast printer—and they learned that they didn’t know how to write contracts for a fast printer! [laughs] It came out on paper that was in a roll, that reminded me of a cross between paper towels and those old kids’ Big Chief notebooks: really cheesy tan-colored paper. And it came out upside-down, so that to read what was coming out, you had to sort of lean over it [laughs]; sort of pull it over to the table to mess with it. There was no paging with it, and the lines weren’t straight, because the characters didn’t print exactly on the line, so that sometimes it was hard to tell which characters were on which lines. I tried to measure how much space it would take to make an eleven-inch size paper, so I could make lines on it, so I knew where to tear it off—because you had to tear it up if you wanted to put it into a notebook or anything—but those lines: the pages would vary from like this to like this! [Makes wide gesture with hands; laughs] It was a really crummy printer. But it was fairly fast, and it did have a lot of characters on it; so that was really nice, to have more characters.

Things were primitive! We finally got some higher-speed tapes, magnetic tapes, that we didn’t have to clear off the surface coating for. Loading them was a little intricate, but it wasn’t too bad. They had sort of arms with fingers sticking out of them, and the tape had to run between those fingers, so that they could go like this to keep the tension; and so you had to manage to get it through those in some way. It wasn’t too bad. And you could sort of flip it up so that you could move it over to do that.

Abbate:

So it was kind of running back and forth, like a shoelace, sort of?

Devaney:

Yes, although just one lace—sort of.

Abbate:

Did you write any assemblers yourself?

Devaney:

No, I don’t think I did. At one point—but that was later, when Mark went back to school—I took over the maintenance of the MADCAP program. I didn’t really have to do much, but we went through it in great detail before he left, so that if I had to make any changes, I’d know what was in it. In classes I’ve written BASIC compilers and things like that, but I’ve really not been in the language end of things all that much.

Designing the Operating System for the MANIAC II Computer

Devaney:

I did work on operating systems a little. After the Lab stopped having offices around the pond—(my first office looked out on the pond, which was all full of rushes, and the wild ducks would come in, and the newts would come into the building sometimes [laughs] and we tried to get them out safe and sound)—and they moved over across the bridge, they didn’t move MANIAC. MANIAC at that point—MANIAC I—was a fairly old machine, and they claimed that the soldering joints were all loose, and that the move would probably destroy it, and they didn’t have the diagrams to really see exactly what was in it; they hadn’t been kept up to date quite enough. So the UNM bought it—or it took it; I don’t think they had to pay for it.

Abbate:

University of New Mexico.

Devaney:

Yes. They didn’t have a computer, at that point. A man named Dale Sparks managed to get it running again, and the local engineers were very surprised! [both laugh] And I guess it ran there for several years before they replaced it with something else.

But in the meantime, they had built MANIAC II out at the Lab site across the bridge, and then that moved to another spot. By that time they probably should have called it MANIAC III. The engineers kept changing it: like one day, we changed from having a machine that did two instructions per word to one instruction per word—so everything had to have been recompiled and tested out. So the engineers would build little switches, and if you wanted to check it out with one instruction, you’d turn a switch, and it would work that way for a while! [laughs] They were fabulous. The engineers were really marvelous.

Abbate:

So they were sort of building debugging features into the machine?

Devaney:

Well, they kept improving the machine. The only debugging features that I remember that were sort of built in was: back in MANIAC I days, they had the two hexits [for the command], and the first bit was always a "one," because they always used alphabetic characters for the instructions. So the engineers built it so that if you made that a zero, and had what we called a "breakpoint" switch turned on, the machine would stop at that spot; and you could record what you wanted to, and then push a button and it would go on. Lois Cook Luergans, who was here before I came: she used to be able to hold three writing tools in her fingers; so she’d have a regular pencil, a red pencil, and a green pencil in her fingers, and she would mark some of [the breakpoints] with red, that she wanted—because there were two of these bits you could use: red breakpoints and green breakpoints! [laughs] And that’s what they were named: the red breakpoints and the green breakpoints, after her ability! [laughs] I could finally get two, but I couldn’t ever get three. And they did help debugging; but the later machines didn’t really have that.

But the last machine that we had: it had things like virtual memory, and priority interrupts, and terminals. This was back in the days when most people didn’t use computers with terminals.

Abbate:

These were printing terminals?

Devaney:

No, just . . .

Abbate:

CRT’s?

Devaney:

Yes: monitors, essentially. Now you log onto a computer, and you may ask it to access some other computer to run your stuff on. That was not common back then.

Abbate:

This is the ‘70s?

Devaney:

Yes, I would say this was the '70’s. The terminals, actually, we designed. There was a firm under contract, but they didn’t want to [provide all the character sets that we wanted]. It had three sets of characters: it had the regular set, and then it had cases, so that we could have all the Greek characters and all kinds of other characters on it. So another friend and I designed these characters. You could make a grid of a bunch of circles, and if they were a certain size, and you stood back a certain number of feet, then that’s the way they would look on the screen. And so we colored in these circles—we had an aleph; we had all kinds of fun things in there!— and then we’d stand back. You know, we’d post them all on a board and stand back and say, "Yes, that looks like a 'lambda'"; "No, that doesn’t look like anything." [both laugh]

Abbate:

So you were designing a font, sort of?

Devaney:

Yes, essentially. But they had all the regular characters done—although we had them switch the "o’s" and the "zeros." A lot of times "zero" has the slash through it; but when you write an "o" officially, with proper script, it has a little circle on the top, and the zero is clean; it doesn’t have anything in it. So we left the zero clean, and we made the "o" have the little thing on the top, and that way you could tell them apart easily, and they looked like writing. So that that was sort of fun, but it took a lot of time, circling those things.

But then we had these great terminals. I’ve often wondered what happened to them, because they killed that machine, finally; they just threw it out.

Abbate:

That was the MANIAC III?

Devaney:

It was still called MANIAC II, I think, but it really had very little relationship to what MANIAC II had been like.

We built the operating system to work on that, with the virtual memory and interrupts and everything.

Abbate:

So you worked on the operating system.

Devaney:

Yes, my friend and I wrote it; this other woman that I worked with for many years. We started working on editors in the '60’s, and we continued working together, and went into the operating system—and the editor on the operating system: we messed with that, too.

Abbate:

Who was that?

Devaney:

Jeanne Hudgins.

Abbate:

I don’t think I know that name.

Devaney:

She’s in town, but she’s got Alzheimer’s, so she’s not going to be a source for you. She’s at Sombreo.

Abbate:

I just wanted to know for the record, even if I can’t talk to her.

Devaney:

Yes; yes. So, that was interesting, also.

Abbate:

How did you learn how to do that—design an operating system? Did they send you to classes? Or you just kind of learned by using them?

Devaney:

Just by what you thought you might want it to do, I guess. I don’t remember. These were not fancy, elegant systems like I suspect they are now. It just sort of grew. The first one we messed with, you set switches on the console as to what you wanted it to do, and that developed into a different way of doing that, and so on; and over the years you just kept putting in more bells and whistles. Finally, when you had all this stuff—if you had time-sharing, you have to be able to switch jobs; and if you have virtual memory, you have to be careful who can get to the memory, and so on—it just was part of the thing.

Later on I did take classes. I went back [to school]. All the way along, there had been a Graduate Center up here—UNMLA Graduate Center—and I’d audited classes off and on there; but they were things like engineering, thermodynamics, where I was lost ninety percent of the time! [laughs] I was very glad I was auditing! They really didn’t have many computer classes until later. Finally, back in the early '70s, I guess, I ended up getting enrolled as an actual student, and did get my Master’s in EECS. I did take classes then, but by then I’d already done most of the stuff at work.

Abbate:

They probably couldn’t tell you much!

Devaney:

Well, you always learn something. Whether you want to use it or not, it’s a different way of doing things, sometimes.

Abbate:

So you wrote a time-sharing operating system?

Devaney:

Yes, we did. Yes.

Abbate:

What was that called?

Devaney:

Oh, I don’t think it had a name.

Abbate:

It was just the MANIAC operating system?

Devaney:

It could have been. No, it probably was called "MADCAP" or "MODCAP" or something again.

Mark had this theory that when you get on a machine, you shouldn’t have to worry about whether you were in an operating system, or in a program, or in a utility, or in a compiler, or anything else: that all you should have to worry about is what you want to accomplish—you know, like run a program or whatever. His theory was, you’d get on the machine, and you shouldn’t even have to log on, significantly—because he’d been logging on to machines when he went back to school, and he didn’t like it. He said it took too much time! [laughs] So everything was integrated: the operating system, and the editor, and the filing system and everything was integrated. The user would just say, "I want to run this," and the system would say, "Well, you’ve made changes in this part, so we’ll have to compile it first," and it would compile those parts and put it together, so you could run your program. So you didn’t have to keep track of what was going on; you didn’t have to say, "I need this recompiled," because it would know that if you’d made changes, you had to recompile it. And so it was all one thing. I thought it was very clever! [laughs] But again, nobody has, I don’t think, ever done that.

Abbate:

And this is in the late '70’s, still? '80’s?

Devaney:

No, I don’t think it was '80s; I think it was earlier than that.

Abbate:

That is pretty early.

The End of the MANIAC Program

Devaney:

We ended up being sort of a research group. The actual computing section, the Computing Group, was a different group, and they ran the Computer Center and brought in the software and whatever. Our little group did advanced research in both the hardware and the software that they thought might be useful.

Abbate:

What was that group called?

Devaney:

It ended up being called C-7. It started out as T-7, which was Theoretical Division, and then they formed a Computing Group, so they called it C-7. And then they changed it later on. By then C-7 had died, but they changed it to the Computing Division, and then CIC. They’ve changed names, but it’s still sort of basically the same.

Abbate:

And that was you and Mark Wells and Jean Hudgins?

Devaney:

Yes, it was a whole group that would get into this. Mark had the amazing ability, I felt, to read and understand the current thinking and come up with a practical way of using it. Because a lot of the things you would read were all blue-sky, and you thought, "Well, yes, someday it would be good to do that." He seemed to be able to pull out of things what was important and what was useful, and develop that much. So he did a lot of the planning, and the compiler, which was of course an integral part of this system. A lot of people worked on this stuff.

Abbate:

So there were ten people? Twenty? Thirty?

Devaney:

I would say, programming: there’d be more like maybe fifteen, and engineers: maybe ten. It was a small group. And there were people [among] the programmers who would help others use the system, or write programs for them.

Devaney:

There was a man named Bob Richtmyer—I guess he’s still alive—who was at University of Colorado for many years. When they said they were going to kill the MANIAC, he wrote a letter and he said, "I was going to come spend the summer, but I’m not going to come if MANIAC’s not there." He said, "I can get more done in a week on MANIAC than I can get in a year on any other machine"—just because the language was so convenient to use for scientists that they could actually write their own [programs], without having to learn arcane stuff. He’d been coming for many years. In fact, he’d worked here, I think, back in the early days—the forties—in the Lab. It was a blow, when they killed MANIAC. But that’s the way it goes. [laughs]

Abbate:

Did they just think it was outdated?

Devaney:

It’s hard to put your finger on it. It wasn’t really outdated, because it had advanced features that the main systems didn’t have yet; so it wasn’t outdated that way, but it wasn’t used heavily. This new idea of having everything integrated was a little difficult and was taking more time than they thought it should take, and nobody else was being able to use the machine while this was going on—at least not the new stuff—and I think they just felt they couldn’t expend the energy and the time and the money on it, when it wasn’t producing something immediately. So they just decided they would get rid of it, and put all their resources into the main Computer Center.

Abbate:

So that was off-the-shelf stuff from IBM or something?

Devaney:

Yes. We had a lot of Crays I think, at that point, which are supercomputers.

It was probably the right decision; it was just hard to take. It had been such a fun job! [laughs]

Abbate:

What did you do after that? I can’t remember when they decommissioned it.

Devaney:

I can’t remember when they killed it.[1]

I was asked to join their Research Group. The Research Groups in C Division have never survived very long: they have money for a while, and then they don’t, so then the research gets killed; and then later they’d have a little money, so they’d make another one. A lot of the people in the Research Group were people from MANIAC who were now trying to do research associated with the main computer. There was one guy who was developing a new language. To my mind, it was a big step backward from MADCAP, but it would run on the other machines, which didn’t have the super- and subscripts. So I helped on that for some time, and did various things, nothing very exciting, until the Common File System came along. That was '79; so I wasn’t too long in there, because I started working in there in either '77 or '78, and then [CFS] started running in '79, and then I worked on that for the rest of the time. That had a fairly large group, which used what they called "structured design" back then.

Doing Structured Design for the Central Filing System

Abbate:

Which is what?

Devaney:

Ah! Well, it’s sort of hard to explain, but you have . . . We had two guys who designed everything, and they used sort of modified flow diagrams. [laughs]

Abbate:

So this was an attempt to rationalize programming?

Devaney:

It was an attempt to keep track of big programs, yes, and keep them together. And then, once they had designed it and set things up, they would farm it out to one of the programmers in the group to actually program it. And everything that was put into the system had to be debugged; every branch had to be debugged before it could be put online. So it was a very well built program; it really was. I think that’s why it stayed all this time—although over the years we changed the devices we used, and things like that; but it lasted a long time.

I enjoyed that, because it had very nice people in it; it was an interesting thing; and it was really heavily used. That’s one thing that can frustrate me, anyway, and I think a lot of programmers: you spend time and effort developing the system, and you think it’s great, and you put it out there, and nobody uses it! [laughs] And after a while it dies, you know, and you think, “Oh, boy. I put all that effort, and all that thought, and it’s gone!” So it was very satisfying to have this used. People loved it; it was good for its time; it was one of the few in the world; for a while it looked like it was going to go all over. It ended up at U.C. San Diego; it ended up in Reading, England; it was in most of the AEC sites; for a while I think it was running at ten to fifteen different places. But it took a lot of work: you know, people had to keep things running, because if a user wants a file, and something’s broken and you don’t get it, they’re angry—whether [the problem is] the network or whether it’s CFS—whatever it is. So I think people weren’t willing to put that much into it. They’d rather buy something off the shelf, whether it worked as well or not. It was easier for them to do that.

Abbate:

Now, to do this: you had to have a networked file system, so you had to be able to access [the files], and I guess you needed a common format to be able to transfer the data around?

Devaney:

The file format we never really worried about. We just wrote whatever they sent us. So I guess if they tried to get a file from one machine to another, and it was a different kind of file, they were in trouble, because we didn’t really do conversions of files. But the language, the interface that they used to say, "Store the file" or "Read the file back": that was common. It was put on all the machines, so that people could access the file system. But any conversions they had to worry about. If you get into converting inside the file system, it’s a never-ending chore! [both laugh]

Abbate:

Now, you spent some ten years working on this?

Devaney:

Yes, over ten years; '79 to '89, and then a couple of years before, so it’s more like fourteen or fifteen.

Abbate:

So, what was so time-consuming? I mean, what’s the real challenging piece of it?

Devaney:

Well, it was like an operating system: because you would get requests—many of them, all at the same time—so you had to do multi-processing; you had to make certain that the files, when they were written, couldn’t be retrieved by anybody else—that they were protected; that they wouldn’t get covered [overwritten] by somebody else, so you had to make certain the allocation was correct. We had some disks that were fast, so files that were in use, you wanted to store on the disk; but if they sat around for a while, you wanted to push them off onto a tape or something like that, so that you could still get them, but it might take a little longer. So the system had to keep track of all this sort of stuff. And in the meantime, they’d put on new machines in the computer system: somebody else would want to hook in, or we’d change from writing onto big tapes to little cartridges, to having them in boxes where they would retrieve them for us, and so on and so forth; so there was constant updating to the program inside. Sometimes we’d add new commands that people would want to do: moving files, or copying files, or anything to do with that. It just seemed like there was always something to do to keep it up to date.

I think if maybe they had tried harder to keep it up to date, on the interface level, that it might still be going now—but maybe not. The thing is, they started going to UNIX instead of having the Cray operating system, and so the formats that people used to ask the machine to do things for them changed, and they didn’t keep the interface. You could still use the old interface, but it didn’t make it as convenient, and so I think that was one thing they wanted to change.

Abbate:

So, you had security provisions with this?

Devaney:

Oh, yes. Yes, lots of security.

Abbate:

I don’t think that was that common at the time, in operating systems. Maybe I’m wrong.

Devaney:

Well, security’s been high on Los Alamos’s needs for many, many years.

Abbate:

Right.

Devaney:

One thing they did with the computers was, they’d put some computers in the closed network where you could not log onto them from outside, and then they would only run certain jobs on them, at certain classification levels. But then we had to keep track of those levels. Every file had a classification level, an access list as to who could get it, with password protections and all that sort of stuff. You had to protect it that way, also.

But it’s been a long time. I’ve been retired ten years! [laughs] I retired on October first, 1991, so that was forty years, less seven days! [laughs] And I had to do it on October first, because they had a special incentive program to retire, and if I’d waited till October eighth, which would have made it exactly forty years, then I couldn’t get the incentives! [laughs]

Ask me some more questions. I think I’ve just rambled! [laughs]

Balancing Work and Family

Abbate:

Now, you had children, yes?

Devaney:

One child.

Abbate:

One child. Was it a problem for you to balance work and family?

Devaney:

No, I’ve been very fortunate. My work hours: while I’ve worked many hours, they’re somewhat flexible. I don’t have to be there to do an experiment with anybody else or anything. And when [my daughter] was little, we had a woman housekeeper who cleaned the house half a day a week, who came from Santa Clara Pueblo; and so we asked her if she would like to take care of our daughter and work more time, and she was delighted. So I worked half-time when she was small, and the woman came every morning and also Thursday afternoons, so I had Thursday afternoons that I could either spend at the Lab, or go shopping, or whatever I wanted. It worked great. She was a wonderful woman, just really fabulous. She would take our daughter down to the feast days. The pueblos have these special days that honor a saint, and they have what they call a "feast day." In theory, anybody who walks in their door is supposed to be fed, because back in the old days when they just had wagons to get from pueblo to pueblo, they would go to somebody else’s pueblo feast day, but they couldn’t bring their food, because there was no way of keeping it; so they’d be fed there, and then in exchange (although not necessarily one-for-one), if somebody came to their pueblo, they would be fed. So, they have these all-day celebrations with church services and dancing and everything, and she’d take her down the night before, and she’d go through all of the services! [laughs] She was sung to sleep by a Navajo man beating his drums one time when Mrs. Gray had her at a friend’s house. It was just really great, just great to have. She was a delightful woman. She had eight children of her own, raised them plus one grandson, so she was very experienced; she knew what to do. So I was very lucky that way, because it was consistent; I didn’t have to worry; she was very honest, very honorable, very caring, very wise. She’s just a very nice person.

Abbate:

What’s your daughter doing now?

[RESPONSE WAS NOT RECORDED]

[START DISC 2]

The Living Environment at Los Alamos

Abbate:

You were living here in a dorm when you first came?

Devaney:

Yes. When I first came, they had restrictions on housing. You had to be eligible for housing before you could get any. The eligibility depended upon your length of service and your income: your monthly salary. So I was the lowest of the lowest totem pole! [laughs] And so I was [only] eligible for a dorm room that either had a shared bath or a bath down the hall. I thought a shared bath sounded better, so I had that advancement, but when I walked into the room, it had a little sort of cot-sized bed with a mattress, and it had a closet opening with a pole (no cover for it), and it seems like there might have been a straight chair, and I think that was it. That was the furnished dorm room! [laughs] And I didn’t have any money, you know, to spend on anything, to buy anything. I had brought the sheets and blankets that I had used in college, so I had something to put on the bed. [laughs]

As I said, I had no car. There was no public transportation here: no buses, no taxis, no anything. You were just here. And I didn’t go to any of the meetings or anything. I was pretty lonely for the first few months that I was here. But it was my fault; I should have gotten out more. The people at work were very nice, very friendly, but they had their own lives. Many of them were married, or busy. I think that’s true now, too; that you can go to a new place and it takes you a while to figure out what you need to do to get out and do things.

There was a girl that I met through work who had an efficiency apartment. We called [these apartments] "the cell blocks": they’re downtown; they have sort of a living room with a sleeping area off of it, and a separate kitchen and bathroom—very elegant and big compared to what I was living in! [laughs] Her roommate was leaving—she was getting married—so she asked if I’d share the apartment. So within months I got a much nicer place to live, and then I started going to things like folk dancing and various other places and meeting more people and doing more things, and it’s been fine ever since. But it took me a while. I was more shy than I am now, I guess.

On the Status of Women at Los Alamos

Abbate:

It sounds like the lab was supportive of you working part-time while you had kids.

Devaney:

Yes. There was no problem that way at all. But that was partly because I was putting in very long hours earlier. Going to half-time: there was no problem with that. They actually luck out with half-time, because the half-timers usually put in much more than four hours a day, and I would always bring work home, because I wasn’t working in classified areas at that point. I would be working at home—if not during the afternoon, then in the evenings—so they got a lot of work for their four hours’ pay! [laughs]

I was lucky. And then when she got older, I went to three-fourths time, and then later on went to full-time.

Abbate:

They were "family friendly" as an employer?

Devaney:

Well, it really never came up. I don’t think they were family friendly in the way that companies are now that set up nursery schools and so on and so forth.

Abbate:

I don’t think anyone was, back then.

Devaney:

I don’t think they were, either.

Abbate:

They would fire you when you got pregnant!

Devaney:

Yes, well they didn’t do that! [laughs] There was never any mention of that, anyway. I haven’t really thought about that. It never seemed to matter to them, one way or another.

Abbate:

Did a lot of women keep working after they had kids?

Devaney:

Yes. In fact, in the early days there was at least one woman that used to bring her baby in, because she wasn’t behind the guard stations. She’d just bring it in and set it on the floor in a basket and take care of it when it needed care. But I never [laughs]—somehow it seemed better for the child to have it at home. I did use to take our dog in sometimes, if I was working until two or three in the morning. After we were married: Joe had a dog, and he was a very good dog, and I’d sometimes take him in, because I’d walk home, because it was close. But that was back when the gates were up, also. This town used to be gated, so you couldn’t get into it unless you had a pass. I don’t know whether it was actually any safer than it is now or not, but it always gave you the feeling that it was safe!

More questions?

Abbate:

Did you ever feel, as a woman, that you had less access to jobs or promotions or equal pay?

Devaney:

Yes. I think that there’s a lot of prejudice, even yet, against women. I think that the pay is definitely less, and they keep giving you all these excuses: "We don’t have the money. You’re really doing great work, but we just don’t have the money." But the men, the money comes through for.

As far as advancements are concerned, I was never really one that was thinking about going into administration. I wouldn’t enjoy that. But when I think about other women, almost none of them got advanced, and surely some of them must have been interested in being advanced. There was a law suit, one of those class-action things.

Abbate:

I don’t think I knew that.

Devaney:

Yes. I’ve forgotten when it was. One of the principals was a woman named Janet Bent, who’s now Janet Wing. She was the one that brought the child in! [laughs] She was working here a long time ago. She’s still in town; I saw her the other day. She and another woman brought a class-action suit, because she felt she was denied being made a group leader or some administrator; and they actually won some money—of which the lawyers took almost everything. I think she got something like ten thousand, and the rest of us got something like three hundred, for twenty years of low pay—and the lawyers got like ten million. So it didn’t really come to anything. And you had to sign away your right to ever sue them for anything that happened before or after the law suit![2]

Abbate:

After?

Devaney:

Yes.

Abbate:

That doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Devaney:

I don’t see how. Anyway, I knew that I was never going to sue anyway, so it didn’t really matter.

Abbate:

When was that, more or less?

Devaney:

Maybe the '80’s? You could call Janet; she’d probably tell you. But [there were] very few lawsuits. I don’t think the people that work here, at least back in the past, were oriented in that direction.

They have a thing that they call Lab Fellows, which is sort of an honorary title for people who’ve done very well in their field; and I’ve looked through who gets awarded these fellowships, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woman actually become a Lab Fellow.[3]

Abbate:

Hmm.

Devaney:

There have been a couple women (that I don’t know, really, but I know their names) who had articles written in the papers and in the bulletins and things, saying they’d been honored for this scientific achievement, and this and that and the other thing.

One of them, I think, was actually a Group Leader, so that she’d made it that far, but they never made her a Lab Fellow. And in theory, being a Lab Fellow, I think, meant you could choose what you worked on, and you had a little more freedom in research. Although one man said when he got it, all it meant was that the funding was cut out from under him; he had to get his own funding! [laughs] So maybe it’s not such a great thing! Maybe these women were offered it and turned it down. But it just seems like, over the years, with all the women that work here, there should have been more.

And yet, when I first came, the Assistant Director was a woman—or one of them, anyway—and one of the Group Leaders was a woman; and it was a very small lab at that point. So they have not been barred. I don’t know how these people got where they got.

That’s something that’s very hard: you can’t really prove [discrimination], generally. Like pay: they can always say, "Well, you don’t do as good a job as somebody else." And with things like computing, it’s very hard to judge who’s doing the best. Is it better to produce a program quickly, and have it full of bugs that the users keep hitting, and so it doesn’t work? Or is it better to produce it more slowly, and have it so it works?

Abbate:

Did you think there were distinctive male and female styles of programming?

Devaney:

Well, I do know some of the men who believed in the first way! "Throw it together and let the user debug it!" [laughs] But I’m not sure that was a complete [male characteristic]—it may have just been a few people that were like that.

Abbate:

It’s a stereotype.

Devaney:

I think it is very difficult [to measure performance]. It’s not that you’ve produced twenty gadgets or something an hour. It’s very hard to measure. [But] when you look at the pay scales . . .

At one point, a gal came who had a Ph.D., who was well known in the computing field; she had had a post-doc at Yale, where she had taught for a while; and everybody that came to visit would say, "I’d like to meet so-and-so. I’ve read her articles; I’d like to meet her." So she was well known, and they were grooming her for something, I thought, because she got sent to Europe before she’d been here a year, and the rules were you weren’t supposed to be able to go, and so on and so forth. Then they made her the Equal Employment Officer, and she took it very seriously, and she wanted to see every resume that they were considering for positions; she wanted to be in on the interviews; she wanted to be in on the results. And she would challenge: "Well, why did you select this man when this girl had better qualifications?" She also developed some graphs that showed things like the salary range for the women versus the men. I asked her to do one for the length of employment, because the longer you work here—at least back then—the less raise you get; because they figure you’re going to stay, so they don’t have to give you . . . My theory about raises is that they give the minimum they think they can get along with so that people won’t generally leave.

These are my own private [theories]—maybe you shouldn’t be recording this! [laughs]

Abbate:

We can edit it out, if you like.

Devaney:

They got very upset, especially with these graphs that showed the women were underpaid compared to the men. The women were down in one little hump, and the men were all in another big hump on the other end. It was so blatant that it was really scary. And they essentially drove her out of the group. They kept giving her bad reviews and everything, and finally she got the message and she went to a different division.

Abbate:

Who was that?

Devaney:

I don’t know whether I should tell you. She may not appreciate my theories! [laughs] Because I didn’t talk it over with her. I don’t know her [interpretation.] You hear things third-hand, and I could see what was happening from a distance, and so on.

Abbate:

Well, I’m wondering: Would any of the studies she did be available?

Devaney:

Probably not. It’s probably long gone. I could maybe call her and find out.

Abbate:

That would be great to see! She’s probably retired now, right? Maybe she’d willing to let me look at it.

Devaney:

I don’t know. She was quite a bit younger than I was, so she may still be working. I can call her. I think she’s still in town.

Abbate:

I can ask you for her name off the record.

Devaney:

It was interesting. I thought that was a little interesting, the whole thing. I never saw graphs like that again, by the way. I don’t know if they ever appointed another woman Equal Employment Officer, either [laughs], or whether they still have them at the Lab.

I do think there’s prejudice, but I don’t think the Lab is worse than any place else. They’re probably better than any place else, or than most other places. I think, despite all the achievements that women have made, a lot of it has just driven the prejudice down visually, so that you can’t see it, and they’ve gotten more clever about how they do it. I think there’s still a lot of it around.

Abbate:

Was there more overt stuff? Were there, you know, pinups over the computer or something?

Devaney:

I think they just never considered women for the positions that were available. [pause]

Back when I was in high school, I got called into the Principal’s office, which startled me. I was a senior. He started out very apologetically, and he said that I and this boy had the same grade point average, and they had to decide who would be Valedictorian. They took it back to junior high and everything, and we still were essentially identical, and he didn’t know what to do. But they decided they would give it to him, because he’d worked so hard for it, and I didn’t seem to be working hard for mine! [laughs] And I was young and naive, and it never even dawned on me that I might have become Valedictorian, or what that would mean. I hardly knew the term, and I was upset because I was in the Principal’s office! It never dawned on me. They didn’t have dual things. Of course, now they have so many kids that have perfect grade point averages; mine was not perfect and neither was his. But that kind of choice, I think, still goes on, that they look between two people, and they say, "These are sort of equal. We’ll take the boy," or the man. And I don’t think sometimes they’re even conscious that they’re doing it. But I think there’s a lot of it out there. Now lots of women have gotten very powerful positions that I don’t think they would have had back when I was young, so maybe it’s gotten better in some places, some ways, but there’s a lot of it still out there.

On the Status of Women in Computing

Abbate:

Do you think computing has gotten more open to women or not since the fifties?

Devaney:

Well, I think that as far as being a programmer, women probably have as much chance, if not more, of becoming a programmer than any man. As far I can tell, there’s no real prejudice that way. Now, maybe in a very tight job market, it might be harder for a woman to get a job than a man. But I think in computing it’s still fairly easy—even with all the tech problems, I think it’s probably still fairly easy to get a programming job. Getting the good assignments, getting the fun things to program, getting advancement if you want it, getting the raises: there, I think, some of this comes into play. Now, maybe if your boss is a woman, that’s not true; but quite often women are more prejudiced than men are about it, I think.

I don’t know. It’s just something you don’t worry about after a while. If you have a job that you enjoy, and you like what you’re doing and the people you’re working with, then what difference does it make if you earn a little more or a little less than somebody else? That’s the way life is. It’s not fair. People get better jobs—because they know this person over here—than somebody else who doesn’t know that person, and that’s the way it is.

On Mentoring

Abbate:

Did you have any mentors or role models, in school or in your work?

Devaney:

I don’t think so. You mean an older woman who . . . ?

Abbate:

Well, not even a woman necessarily, but anyone whom either you admired or wanted to be like, or who helped you along in your career?

Devaney:

No. Not that I can think of. I’ve never thought of asking for help like that, I guess. I just sort of come to my own conclusions. Don’t most people? Do most people have role models? Did you have a role model?

Abbate:

Maybe. It’s hard to say. Maybe some of my professors.

Well, one theory I have is that men tend to get more mentoring. They don’t have to ask for it; they get groomed.

Devaney:

Yes, I do think they get groomed. But you see, this woman began to be groomed, until she stepped on too many toes—doing the best job we’d had done in years! [laughs] But no, I don’t think I’ve ever been groomed. My husband would probably say I’m too stubborn and independent to allow somebody to groom me! [laughs] That was probably not true, but . . .

I don’t know, it just didn’t seem [to be an issue]. Like math and science: I looked back on an old picture that was taken of our physics class in high school, and there are only two girls in that class of about twenty-five or thirty, and I don’t remember it being that way! I thought there were more girls in that class. It didn’t seem strange to me to be in it, and I would think I would have [noticed]. I’m just not aware of a lot of things! [laughs] So I guess going into math was not something that a lot of women did, [but] I didn’t think about that.

Now, my daughter, I think, had a role model, a high school teacher whom she’s still friends with. I think that she really likes this woman and thinks she’s a great teacher, which I think she is also. So I think that might have been a role model. I don’t think she’s been groomed so much, because they aren’t working together—although she does talk over teaching things with her, so she’s groomed to that extent, to get new ideas or confirm ideas or something. So I guess I would say that she could be considered a role model.

But I didn’t [have any]. Computing was new, back when I got into it. There weren’t a lot of people around, doing it. That made it fun! [both laugh]

On the Rewards of a Career in Computing

Abbate:

Well, what did you find to be the most satisfying aspects of working with computing?

Devaney:

There are two things about programming that I enjoyed most. One was the original design. I really loved to lay out what I thought the program should do and plan how to do it; things like that. And the other was to debug it: to find the problems and fix them. Of course, I tried not to get any bugs in there! [laughs] It was sort of like solving a puzzle, and that was fun. Actually, just writing the code: there were parts of it that would be intriguing, if you tried to get things [optimized?]. It seemed like in programming, if you really had it set up right, everything worked out—so if [for example] you had to set a flag over here that you had to look at over there, it was just perfect the way it worked out—and that, sometimes, would give you a feeling of satisfaction. But it was really the initial design and the debugging that I found most fun. I guess those ends were solving puzzles more than anything—which goes back to math problems: if you’re solving a math problem, it’s sort of like a puzzle; so I think that’s all related.

When I first came, they didn’t know what kind of people—what kind of training—they should ask for. I think they thought "math," and yet Lois Cook, who was one of the most clever programmers we had, was an English major! [laughs] Now, she had taken calculus, which was fairly unusual for an English major, but that was her field. Another woman had a Spanish major. One of the guys later on was a library science major. We had all different backgrounds, and they all seemed to bring those skills to the programming. Programming’s one of those things that, whatever skill you have, you can use it. Your program may end up looking different than somebody else’s, but it’s got your touch on it. I think that makes it more fun than having to follow some cut-and-dried rule. I don’t think they ever did figure out what kind of background people needed to become good programmers—or those that would stay, anyway.

Advice for Young Women Who Are Considering a Career in Computing

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women thinking of going into computing today?

Devaney:

Just do it, if they like it. That it’s lots of fun. That you can change into so many different areas: if you find one area that you’re not interested in, you can change to another one, because [with] your basic programming skills you can go from designing houses or CAD programs to operating systems, to spreadsheets, to art: you name it! It’s used in so many areas that anything that you become interested in, you can take your programming skills and work on it there.

Looking back on it, after I’d been working in the field for about thirty years, I thought, "Now, what would I have rather done?" And I couldn’t think of anything I’d rather have done! [laughs] I really enjoyed the programming. It was really great! So I think they should go for it, if they want to. Don’t let somebody discourage them and say, "Oh, girls shouldn’t go into that," or "It’s too complicated" or anything. It’s not; they can do it. They just have to use that brain! They’ve got a good brain up there; all they have to do is apply it, that’s all.

I think that it’s a great field. No matter what they end up doing, it can help them, because even if they stop doing the actual programming, they will understand [computers]. Almost all fields use computers, one way or another. If they’ve had that skill as a basis, they will understand more what’s coming out, what they’re being fed from the computer, no matter what they end up doing. So it’s sort of like typing. If you learn how to type, you can use that all different ways. You can type letters; you can type whatever. It’s a skill that you can pick up, and programming is sort of that way too; it’s a skill that you can use or not, the way you want to use it. I think it’s great. It’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s great! [laughs]

Right now I’m trying to learn how to use computers, which is different from programming them. It’s a different thing, and sometimes I get very frustrated, because I think, "Whoever designed this program should have done it better! There’s no excuse for the interface to work that way!" [laughs]

Abbate:

I know.

Devaney:

You have that feeling, do you?

Abbate:

It’s tempting to be the back-seat programmer! [both laugh]

Devaney:

[Computing] is just part of living now, so people need to know something about it, whether they go into it or not. And if they do go into it, they can use it in so many different ways.

I think girls should be able to do anything they feel like. Why not?

We took up flying, back in the fifties, and people ask me . . .

Abbate:

You and your husband?

Devaney:

Yes. He’d been a mountain climber, and his last major climb was up the Grand Teton, and it was a very scary climb for a lot of reasons. They’d left their equipment, and so on and so forth; they went out early in the morning and got back at midnight. After that, we decided next time we went over the Grand, we were going to be looking down at it from an airplane—which we did! [laughs]

And people have said, "Did I have the license? Did I fly?" And I’d say, "Yes." And they’d say, "So you had a license?" as though it were something really difficult. I should really say, "Well, do you drive?" Because if you drive a car, what’s the difference? I guess it’s still true that people assume women can only do certain things.

Abbate:

So they weren’t surprised that he was flying, just that you were?

Devaney:

Yes. When I’d say, "We had an airplane," they didn’t ask, "Did he have a license?" or "Did he have training?" It was: Had I gotten training?

I can understand people who live in New York who don’t learn to drive, because a car is a liability if you stay in the city most of the time. But if you’re out in country where everybody’s driving and you don’t learn how to drive, you’re really limited, and it’s silly; you might as well learn how to drive. And that’s true of the airplane. If I was up in an airplane and something happened to him—if he passed out, or was sick or something—what was I going to do? I’m going to panic because I don’t know how to land the plane? It would be stupid not to learn how to fly. And with planes the way they are now, it’s not that difficult. I guess people still, as I said, have the idea that women can’t do certain things; but I don’t believe that!

Abbate:

Not you! [both laugh]

Devaney:

Well, there are many things I can’t do, but it’s not because I’m a woman; it’s just because I’m not interested, or not capable, or something like that; but it’s not because I’m female. It’s just me, that’s all. Don’t you feel that way?

Abbate:

Yes, but I wouldn’t say everyone feels that way, even today.

Devaney:

No.

Abbate:

Especially teenage girls, who I think are sort of at risk in that way.

Devaney:

That’s scary, don’t you think?

Abbate:

Because they think computing is this nerdy thing . . .

Devaney:

Okay, but that’s a whole other thing. That’s not saying they’re not capable of it; that’s saying they don’t want to do it.

Abbate:

Well, I think it’s sort of all mixed up. I mean, whichever reason it is, the outcome is still the same, that they get turned off to what could be a very rewarding field. But I think it’s a combination of thinking they can’t do it and that they think it’s antisocial or something.

Devaney:

The neighbors have a boy and a girl, and the boy was into computers. She was younger, and he was really one of these kid experts. The girl didn’t want to touch one, didn’t want to use one, and I kept saying, "Look, learn how to use it. You don’t have to spend your life at it, but you need to learn the skill. Just like you’d learn to type-write, you need to learn how to get the computer to do what you need to have it do." I don’t think I ever got through to her! [laughs] I need to ask her mom. She ended up being an architect, which should use computing a lot, so I need to find out whether she ever gave in and learned enough. But that was sort of the nerdy thing—and the brother thing: I think that she didn’t want to do something that her brother was so expert at. And yet, she could have learned a lot from him—although maybe he wasn’t one that would teach his sister! You have all kinds of problems that way.

There are certain skills that are very useful to your life, and if you deny yourself those, you really shackle what you can do; you really hinder yourself, and that’s a shame. It’s hard enough to do what you have to do in life, and if you’ve given up your opportunities to learn the things that will make it easier, it’s a shame.

And I don’t understand the kids sort of drifting around, when they have so many things that they could do and so much opportunity. It’s really sad to see them sort of give up when they’re really young.

I think we’re more fortunate here than some other places. It wasn’t until my daughter got to college that she realized not every father was a physicist! [both laugh]

Devaney:

She said, "Mom, my roommate’s father’s an insurance agent; another one runs a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant" or something, and she was really surprised! I mean, she knew theoretically that there were such things out there, but . . . [laughs]

Abbate:

I guess this is kind of a rarefied place.

Devaney:

It’s a little weird sometimes, but we have all the same quirks that any other place has. People have had a lot of education, but that doesn’t mean they know how to use it. Wisdom, or common sense: a lot of it’s lacking. But yes: it’s funny! [laughs]

Abbate:

All right. Well, thank you so much for talking with me. Unless I’ve missed something crucial that we haven’t thought of, we can wrap it up.

Devaney:

Okay. I’m sorry I’ve rambled so much! I should have just let you ask questions.

Abbate:

Not at all!

Notes

1. MANIAC was used from 1956 to 1977.

2. The May 2000 Newsletter of Los Alamos Women in Science (Northern Chapter of the New Mexico Network for Women in Science and Engineering) notes, “Janet [Wing] headed a class-action suit, which took years in the 1980s, that resulted in more pay equity for women at LANL.”

3. The Laboratory Fellows were established in 1981. There have been 3 women since 2001 and possibly some earlier. See http://www.lanl.gov/science/fellows/about.shtml.