Sunday, June 29, 2008

RIP David Caminer

I discovered, through surfing to Boing Boing this evening, that one of the pioneers of my profession passed away earlier this month. David Caminer, in his work for British tea shop chain J. Lyons and Company, was the first "corporate electronic systems analyst".

Quoting from his NYT obituary: The result was LEO, its name derived from Lyons Electronic Office. The Economist magazine called it “the first dedicated business machine to operate on the ‘stored program principle,’ meaning that it could be quickly reconfigured to perform different tasks by loading a new program.”

“LEO’s early success owed less to its hardware than to its highly innovative systems-oriented approach to programming, devised and led by David Caminer,” Computer Weekly said last year.

LEO performed its first calculation on Nov. 17, 1951, running a program to evaluate costs, prices and margins of that week’s baked output. At that moment, Lyons was years ahead of I.B.M. and the other computer giants that eventually overtook it.

“Americans can’t believe this,” Paul Ceruzzi, a historian of computing and curator at the National Air and Space Museum, said in an interview last week. “They think you’re making it up. It really was true.”

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