Where vendors get their ideas

It's many years ago, and this IT director pilot fish is responsible for computer services for dozens of hospitals in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

"One of our services was a payroll system that produced about 20,000 payroll checks and all the related reports every week," says fish.

"Obviously, printing was a problem. I solved the problem by buying fast printers hooked to tape drives with teletypes for control of the 16-bit minicomputers that drove the printers. We created magnetic tapes, thus giving us standalone printing capability."

The software development process is a little more elaborate than that -- but only a little. To write the necessary code, fish hires an MIT computer-science grad who spends most of his time sitting at a picnic table on the roof, writing programs to run the computers, read the tapes and drive the printers.

And when it's all done, it works: Fish's operators can crank out the necessary checks every payday at the home-brewed standalone print stations.

Not long after that, fish is invited to the dedication of a new disk-drive manufacturing plant outside Boston. Fish is walking to the after-dedication clambake when he finds himself chatting with a guy who turns out to be the president of the minicomputer company.

Fish mentions that he's running several of what he calls the vendor's "little 16-bit computers." What in the world are you doing with those? the vendor president asks.

"I think he thought we were going to use them in the hospitals," says fish. "When I told him we were printing with them, and how we were doing it, he was amazed. We talked a bit about the philosophy of standalone printing, then got separated by the lobsters.

"About two months later, his company came to market with -- are you ready? -- a standalone print station."

Sharky gets all his ideas from you. So send me your true tale of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Add your comments below, and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.

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