Most of the males were managers
April 5, 2017 4:25 PM   Subscribe

Being a woman in programming in the Soviet Union as well as her perspective on the same job in the US. I started with punch cards too.
posted by kingless (11 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I did not know then, but I picked profession where things are constantly moving. The most I’ve ever worked with the same software was for about three years.

I bet she'd feel right at home programming Javascript in 2017.
posted by clawsoon at 5:23 PM on April 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Interesting, thanks!
posted by jacquilynne at 7:38 PM on April 5, 2017

Cybernetics was considered “capitalist” discovery and was in exile in 1950s.

That is interesting, because in the 1970s in the West, the field of "Cybernetics" had a vaguely leftist air about it.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 7:49 PM on April 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm just old enough to have used punch cards myself, although they were very much on the way out even then. What I thought was interesting was that the program I/O was in English - when the USSR copied the computers they evidently copied them exactly, without localisation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:18 AM on April 6, 2017

That is interesting, because in the 1970s in the West, the field of "Cybernetics" had a vaguely leftist air about it.

That is interesting! I wonder if this is because it was promoted by Stewart Brand ("The Whole Earth Catalog") or other wise men of the hippie era?
posted by thelonius at 4:56 AM on April 6, 2017

I'm just old enough to have used punch cards myself

Yes, students' programs were transmitted from our remote facility to a mainframe in RTP. Minutes or hours later the results arrived. After a couple of semesters the university bought a VAX and a few 8-bit forerunners, then some kind of mini as I was going out the door. Lucky for me since I prefer the tightest possible feedback loop, Smalltalk (back in the day) and REPLs and such. Swift playgrounds are fun.

About 8 years ago I interviewed a guy who claimed he preferred writing his code on paper first. I admit I did a poor job of concealing my surprise.
posted by kingless at 5:24 AM on April 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

My girlfriend's grandmother was a computer scientist in the USSR, and has a fun story about the time she almost got arrested. She was on a team that was working on R&D for the earliest printers, which would (of course) frequently jam and break in all sorts of bizarre ways. But they worked well enough that their lab was decorated with ASCII art that they had designed and printed, including a large, semi-ironic portrait of Lenin. So one day, a delegation from the Congo is visiting the lab. Delegations from other Communist countries would come periodically, and as a general rule members of these groups were way more hardcore about the whole Communism thing than anyone in the labs with their finely-tuned senses of Soviet irony, since only serious members of local parties in good standing could secure invitations to visit Moscow in the first place.

Anyway, this particular group (like a lot of hardcore Communists) basically god-worshipped Lenin, so when they saw this ASCII poster they were delighted and asked the lab to print them one to bring back with them. The researchers obliged... at which point (of course) the printer jammed mid-poster in such a way that basically wound up ripping Lenin's face in half mid-print, much to the shock and horror of the visitors and their handlers.

How they managed to escape with just a stern talking-to is still a mystery to my girlfriend's grandmother to this day.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:06 AM on April 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

It's interesting to me that women dominated computer programming in the Soviet Union. There's a similar story at the start of the computer industry in the US, as has been written about extensively.

Does anyone know more about AP, the programming language she mentions? I couldn't find it, it's a hard term to search for. There's a thin Wikipedia article on the Nairi, a computer produced in Armenia. AP doesn't appear on this list of non-English languages.
posted by Nelson at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Somewhere I read that in the Eastern bloc for those poor smart young people who couldn't get a chance with real computers, their learning mode was basically running the assembly on a virtual machine in their heads. A guerrilla version of the paper-'n-pencil-first formal education in the article.

And yes, I still prefer drafting on paper for the critical or subtle parts. It can be diagrams, proof outlines, and maybe a bit of snippets. I'm perhaps the dumbest code monkey of my bunch but I find it really helps in two redeeming aspects: concentrating, and making what I'm doing easier to explain. The latter perhaps ends up making me a slightly above-average code commentator.
posted by runcifex at 10:55 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Personally, I associate cybernetics and leftism mostly because of Cybersyn.
posted by ckape at 11:35 AM on April 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I too always design code on paper, and always have.
I also started coding when the main input to computers was on cards and remember well the old "floor sort" and card sorters that jammed every few minutes.
Those were the days when you were lucky to get one turnaround a day so you took care when coding.
posted by Burn_IT at 3:11 PM on April 6, 2017

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