Gift Guide

In the Beginning: Personal Recollections of Software Pioneers / Edition 1

Hardcover (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $19.95
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 77%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (10) from $19.95   
  • New (7) from $41.48   
  • Used (3) from $19.95   


Capturing where we are today through a tour of yesterday's achievements and helping us better understand the evolution of computing technology, this book recounts the experiences of those who formed and functioned in the "Pioneering Era." In the Beginning: Recollections of Software Pioneers records the stories of computing's past enabling today's professionals to improve on the realities of yesterday.

The stories in this book clearly show modern concepts such as data abstraction, modularity, and structured approaches date much earlier in the field than their appearance in academic literature. These stories help capture the true evolution. The book illustrates human experiences and industry turning points through personal recollections of the pioneers themselves.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Fifteen personal recollections recount the development of the computer software industry during the years 1955-1965. Contributions include Norman F. Schneidewind's "How I Watched in Pain as IBM Outsmarted UNIVAC"; Frank Land's memories of Leo, the first business computer; anecdotes about academic computer centers; and Barry Boehm's recollections of an early application generator. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Jonathan Erickson

In the Beginning

More often than not, histories of computing have either been interviews, such as Susan Lammer's Programmers at Work(Microsoft Press, 1986), or narratives, like Michael Swaine and Paul Freiberger's Fire in the Valley (Osborne/McGraw- Hill, 1984), both now out of print. With In the Beginning: Recollections of Software Pioneers, Robert Glass adds a third genre to the bookshelf -- the personal essay.

Glass, who is editor of the Journal of Systems and Software and a computer pioneer in his own right, is not so much the author of the book, as the manager. In putting together In the Beginning, Glass asked a number of other pioneers in the computing field -- David Myers, Watts Humphrey, Norman Schneidewin, Barry Boehm, Robert Britcher, Donald Reifer, Frank Land, Ben Matley, Harold Highland, Robert Babor, John Bennett, Bruce Blum, Peter Denning, and Raymond Houghton -- for their personal recollections of computing way back when (well, mainly in the 1960s). Among the issues Glass asked them to address are:

  • "I did this and here is what I learned."
  • "I worked with some other pioneers, such as, L,M, and N, and here is what I remember about them."
  • "I was involved with project GHI, which was interesting because it pioneered PQR."
  • "There was a terribly {funny} {tragic} incident that I was involved in, and here is what happened."
  • "What we did back then seems strange to us today, but here is what we did and why we did it."

As you'd expect, not every essay addressed every question, but overall the authors deliver on the promise. The result is an entertaining, informative, and upfront and personal view of what computing was like when punchcards were king. In the process, we learn that "modern" concepts such as data abstraction, modularity, and structured programming have been around longer than today's software marketeers would have us expect.

That's not to say there's a dearth of technical depth to the book. Much of Barry Boehm's essay, for instance, focuses on "Rocket Trajectory Domain Architecting," providing plenty of details, ranging from interface specifications to data structures. Likewise, Peter Denning's "Before Memory was Virtual" was fascinating in its detail. Still, it is the anecdotes that makes the book shine. For instance, sitting on a panel next to Edsger Dijkstra, Donald Reifer leaned over and nervously asked the icon: "What techniques would you use to properly engineer a 100,000 source line FORTRAN program used to support a simulation application." He was shocked when Dijkstra answered, "I wouldn't have a 100,000 source line program." Reifer goes on to say that, 20 years later, he know Dijkstra was correct.

For his part, Robert Britcher points out that, in the early days before terminals were widely available, programming environments centered around terminal rooms, where programmers shared, read, and discussed source code, operating system discoveries, and the like. As terminals became more prevalent, however, "the more or less formal process of programmers reading and critiquing each other's program" became the norm. "Programmers who did not like to read texts read [source code]."

In other essays, such as Watt Humphrey's "Reflectios on a Software Life," you learn why software (air-traffic control or military control and command, for instance) still in use today was designed and written the way it was, or how IBM rose to power in the late 1950s ("How I Watched in Pain as IBM Outsmarted UNIVAC," by Norman Schneidewind). But the question remains: Can we learn from In the Beginning, or is it just a tool for winning at "Trival Pursuit"? Yes, to some degree. Certainly, the reminder that programmers should always strive to do more with less comes across loud and clear. And from a business perspective, we see many of the same mistakes being made year after year, by company after company.

Still, the real value of In the Beginning is in reminding us that, after Java hype, Windows 98 hubbubs, and World Wide Web huckerism have also found their way into the storeroom of history, new, more powerful environments and tools will find their way to us.--Dr. Dobb's Electronic Review of Computer Books

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780818679995
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 12/28/1997
  • Series: Perspectives Series , #4
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 328
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.35 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Read an Excerpt

In the Beginning

Personal Recollections of Software Pioneers
By Robert L. Glass

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-8186-7999-9

Chapter One


If this is the Computing Age, where do we stand in its evolution? Especially in the software development portion of the Computing Age, how far along are we on the road to maturity?

There are those who would say that the software development field is flawed and, perhaps, even failed. They are the ones who cry "software crisis" (claiming that software is always over budget, behind schedule, and unreliable) and who thereby imply that the field has made little progress since its early days.

But look around you. You probably bought this book in a bookstore that used a bar code system to track price, inventory, and sales. You probably paid for this book with a credit card and fully expect the charge to be correctly reflected in your monthly statement. You may be reading this book on an airplane that was designed with the help of a computerized system, is being flown in part by a real-time system, and for which your reservations were made by yet another system. In your computer-produced newspaper you read about electronic warfare or some new space flight that would simply be impossible without successful computing. And all of those things that we label "computing" or "system" are enabled by software. In short, there is ample empirical evidence in the lives of all of us that we have progressed well beyond the early, flawed phase of the software development field.

We are currently in the "Emerging Era" of the software portion of the Computing Age. We have had dramatic successes in software development over the past 40 years, but we are only a little more than a couple of human generations into the field, and we know there is lots more to be learned. In the corresponding era of the automobile age, for example, we would still have seen primitive things like mechanical brakes and tunable carburetors and wooden-spoked wheels and manual chokes. Our software products and enterprises of today include the (eventually failed) Nashes and Studebakers and Hudsons, as well as the (successful) Chevrolets and Lincolns and Dodges. And we cannot tell, at this point, which will emerge as the winners.

Past is prologue. To better understand where we are today, it helps to consider our yesterdays. This book is about the experiences of those who were instrumental in a preceding era, which I call software's "Pioneering Era" (1955-1965). They are the people who struggled with hardware that frequently failed, computing systems that filled huge rooms, computers so costly that we optimized machine instead of human time, and rudimentary software tools that may or may not have included a compiler, and probably did not include a generalized operating system. The people of this era were pioneers in every sense of the word.

As I began to put together this book, I contacted many of the pioneers of the software field, asking for their personal recollections. I made a deliberate effort to pursue not just the recollections of the Very Visible people in the field, but the recollections of the Less Visible people as well. Truth in history, as we well know, is elusive. What I remember about the 1950s may or may not match what others remember. And because history is often written by the visible members of the field simply because they are visible, I made a special effort to capture the recollections of those less visible but just as real. From the stories in this book, I hope you will be able to form an accurate picture of what it was like for these pioneers of software's Pioneering Era.

In my original contact with potential contributors, I asked them to consider the following as they began to write their recollections:

"I did this and here is what I learned."

"The field at this time was doing X; I {agreed} {disagreed} with it and here is why."

"I worked with some other pioneers, such as L, M, and N, and here is what I remember about them."

"People today say ABC about what it was like in the early days, but my recollection is that it was CDE."

"I was involved with project GHI, which was interesting because it pioneered PQR."

"There was a terribly {funny} {tragic} incident that I was involved in, and here is what happened."

"What we did back then seems strange to us today, but here is what we did and why we did it."

In short, I was looking for a very personal view of that Pioneering Era. You are the judge of how well that attempt has succeeded. The stories that follow may possess style and content as different as the very different pioneers who wrote them, but my hope is that you will find them, at heart, a very human view of what it was like back then. When everyone in the software field was a pioneer!


Excerpted from In the Beginning by Robert L. Glass Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents


1. Introduction.

2. Before the Beginning: The Pre-Software Era.

Life Before Software, A Few Reminiscences (David Myers).

3. Setting the Stage: Three Eras of Software History.

Software Reflections—A Pioneer's View of the History of the Field (Robert L. Glass).

4. Making the Market: Vendor Pioneers.

Reflections on a Software Life (Watts S. Humphrey).

How I Watched In Pain as IBM Outsmarted UNIVAC (Norman F. Schneidewind).

5. Solving Problems: Application Pioneers.


An Early Application Generator and Other Recollections (Barry Boehm).

View From Below (Robert N. Britcher).

Almost Thirty Years as a Change Agent (Donald J. Reifer).

Information Systems.

Leo, the First Business Computer: A Personal Experience (Frank Land).

Compu-THEN: Before Megabytes (Ben G. Matley).

Academic Computer Centers

Four Anecdotes (Harold Joseph Highland).


The Prolonged Metamorphosis of a Software Engineer (Robert L. Baber).

6. Pursuing Progress: Academic/Laboratory Pioneers.

Autobiographical Snippets (John M. Bennett).

Closing the Circle (Bruce I. Blum).

Before Memory Was Virtual (Peter J. Denning).

Growing Up with Software Tools (Raymond C. Houghton).

7. After the Beginning: Conclusions.

Biographical Sketches of the Contributors.


Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)