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The amazing lady on the cover of @proginequality, Cathy Gillespie, recently asked my help in locating a copy of the ad she answered in 1965 to get her 1st job in computing. She wanted it for a @leocomputers51 reunion in April. After over a MONTH of trying I finally got a copy!
Since people seem to like to hear about process, to see the curtain pulled back on historical research, I'm gonna tell you a little bit about this--why it was so difficult to find, and to actually get a good copy so Cathy could print out an enlarged version for her reunion.
So way back in the day doing research for @proginequality, maybe 2006 when I first interviewed Cathy, she told me about the job ad she had answered to get her 1st job in computing. She also gave me a copy of the wonderful picture of her from 1970 that graces the cover of the book
She had to beat hundreds of other applicants to get the 1965 job. So she remembered the ad vividly. With her super sharp memory, she told me that it had run sometime in the summer of 1965, in the London Evening Standard.
At that point the only place I could find old copies of the Evening Standard to browse was Cambridge University Library. So I went and paged through them... And eureka! Thanks to Cathy's great memory, there it was!
But, back in those days Cambridge University Library didn't allow digital photos. And in fact they wouldn't even let me get a xerox of the page, because the volume was so tightly bound they thought it would damage it.
So I transcribed what the ad said, and described it in detail to Cathy, and she said: "Yes! That is definitely the ad that I saw and answered to get my first job, and it started me on a whole long career in computing!"
So I talked about this in my book @proginequality, quoting the ad: "Know nothing about computers? Then we'll train you and pay you well while doing so!" I used it to illustrate how the programmer labor shortage at that point in time made it imperative to recruit both women & men.
Incidentally, if that phrase from the ad seems familiar, it might be because you read it in the New York Times recently, in an article about women in computing history by @pomeranian99. In his overview of women in computing he pulls out & highlights that detail from my book!👍🏼
So anyway, years pass and Cathy asks me if I can actually get a picture of this ad for her. And I tell her I definitely will. But... not so fast... easier said than done😱
My first step was to turn to interlibrary loan. The fabulous librarians at the @NatlHumanities Center, where I'm a fellow this year, put in an ILL request for it. But unfortunately, the only place that had it in the United States was the Library of Congress.
And thanks to the govt shutdown, that meant we were facing a wait. But eventually, the Library of Congress found the microfilm reel and sent it. It arrived about a month later.
HOWEVER, these microfilms had been scanned (who knows how long ago) at terrible quality. It looked like a scan from the 1990s: you can see from the second picture how poor the quality is, how the smaller text is nearly unreadable, esp. if somebody printed it out at a larger size.
So at this point, I start frantically asking multiple other friends who are librarians for help on this--shout outs to @maxgbowman @Healycm and also to @ces43 to answered my plea for help on Twitter.
But the real problem is this particular newspaper is very hard to get because it was relatively ephemeral--it's not a paper of record, like the London Times, so most places didn't collect or keep it. It's the sort of paper that you'd read casually on the Tube, and then discard.
So one librarian, @Healycm, says she thinks it's in the British Newspaper Archives online database, but it turns out even though they have the London Evening Standard, they don't have it for 1965. Argh!
And it turns out the physical copy in Cambridge University Library still looks like I recall from years ago: the ad is so deep in the binding, they explain, that they can't get a good picture of it. At this point I am really desperate, afraid I'm going to let Cathy down😟
And that's when another party, a secret admirer whose identity will remain a mystery for the purposes of this thread😂 comes in & says, "hey I know that the British Newspaper Archive digital database doesn't have the paper you need, but what about other newspapers from that day?"
In other words, there's a chance that another fairly ephemeral newspaper, that maybe did get scanned and archived, also ran the same ad... maybe even on the same day? Uhhh, well, there's only a slim chance of another ephemeral paper like that being archived, but hey let's try it!
So we do a search, and guess what? A London newspaper I have never heard of before in my life, The Kensington Post, ran the very same ad. On the very same day. And what's more, it's scanned at a pretty high quality, and even fully OCR'd (more on why that's interesting later).
Unfortunately, this scan is just pure black and white, when the original paper copy that I saw in Cambridge University Library had gradations of gray and black. Some of the "futuristic" font design of the ad isn't legible because of this.
So I pull it into image editing software on my phone, and do some cleanup and tweaking with layers and such--thanks to @PhotofoxApp @facetuneapp & also the native iPhone photo editing software--and voila! This is something close to its original look on the printed page in 1965:
With much relief, I sent the images off to Cathy, so she can enlarge it, print it out, and show the ad to her fellow early computing industry colleagues at the LEO reunion in April as they all reconnect and reminisce✨
So that's a story of how much work it takes on the part of historical actors, librarians, historians, & many more ppl to produce this thing called 'history' that gets written & published in book form📘You can read the rest in @proginequality if you want ;) bit.ly/paperbackprogi…
Oh! I almost forgot--the reason it was interesting that all the advertisements, not just the text of the newspaper articles, was OCR'd, was because this meant you could actually search using phrases from the ads themselves.
And that's how we found not only the original ad in a different newspaper so quickly, but also this later iteration of the job ad, which has some interesting changes! The first is the 1965 one, the second is from the Daily Mirror in January 1967:
The second ad no longer says "know nothing?" but instead "want to learn?" reflecting the way computers are slightly less of a scary unknown at this point. It also says that instead of the age cut off being 25 for the job, now it's risen to 30! They reallllly needed people!
In fact, Cathy's friend, Anne, who I also interviewed & wrote about in my book, applied for the job in 1965 along with Cathy, but because she was 24 at the time she almost didn't get hired! She was almost "too old." The idea was people had to be young to be good at computing🤦🏻‍♂️
But there was also a gendered aspect to it: hiring managers thought she was at an age where she'd soon leave to get married. (She'd actually already been married & divorced.) She recalled they wouldn't give her the job until she "swore up & down that I wouldn't have children"😒
So anyway, I hope you enjoyed this thread--and can't forget to also thank @mitpress for publishing @proginequality! cc: @mitpbookstore
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