Monday, June 27, 2011

Thirty Years Of Jobbers - Chapter 1.12

NCR announced a new computer that was manufactured by a company in California called ‘Convergent Technologies’. It was still a microcomputer, but it had the capability of allowing 64 users to be on the computer at the same time. Later we called it "multi-user networking." The time seemed to be right, so we purchased one from NCR. 

A prospect I had been calling on for some time told me he would buy my system when I was able to put it on "name-brand" equipment. When I announced that I was migrating my programs to the new NCR computer he signed up to be the first jobber to have the new NCR version of my programs.

After three months of trying to get the ‘NCR WorkSaver’ computer to work, NCR finally confessed they could not procure a license to acquire the tools that I needed to rewrite the programs. Some company named ‘Microsoft’ wouldn't sell them a contract to distribute the language compiler for COBOL and Microsoft owned it. After waiting several months for NCR to solve their problem, NCR called us and said they were going to pick up the system and refund our money.

Burroughs approached us with the solution to our problem. They had also formed a relationship with Convergent Technologies and called the new computer the "Burroughs B-21". Microsoft apparently liked Burroughs better than they liked NCR so they had the license for the software I needed. Relying on the first sale to our new customer to offset the cost of rewriting the programs on the new computer, I called him and filled him in on the recent developments.
He would have nothing to do with Burroughs. It seems he had had a Burroughs posting machine back in the late 70's and the serviceman was out there every other day, never getting the thing to work properly. He liked his NCR posting machine and refused to have any more dealings with Burroughs. So what did he do? With much more money than brains, he called IBM and ordered the best minicomputer they had to sell, and that's exactly what he got. The only problem was he neglected to tell them he wanted software.

A few weeks later, I received a call from his sister who announced, “Ralph (not his real name) spent $80,000 for an IBM Sys/34 and when Mamma finds out it doesn’t have any software, she is going to skin him alive.” She asked me to come back and talk to them about rewriting my programs to run on the new IBM Sys/34. When I arrived for the meeting the next day, Ralph, his sister and two IBM representatives (the IBM salesman that sold Ralph the computer and the IBM customer engineer) were waiting for me.

When the discussion got around to programming languages, I informed them I was proficient in BASIC, COBOL, PASCAL, FORTRAN and SNOBOL (a Texas Instrument form of BASIC). Unfortunately, none of these languages ran proficiently on the computer in question. They strongly suggested I rewrite my programs in a language called RPG II. I had heard of the language as it was the language of choice for IBM minicomputer programmers, but I had never actually read anything about it, much less used it to write applications.

To dissuade my fears, the IBM salesman promised the customer engineer would help me, so on those terms I reluctantly agreed to start the project; but only if Ralph paid me $18,000 for six months work and covered my moving expenses from McGehee, AR. He eagerly accepted my offer and we shook hands and drew up a contract in the fall of 1983. 

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