How My “Love Affair” With Computers Began

Despite being born with a slight physical disability, which caused me to have an awkward looking gait, and some involuntary movements of my hands, I managed to qualify as a Scottish Chartered Accountant (the equivalent of a C.P.A.) by the age of 24.

My two main other interests in life were golf and traveling, and to partly satisfy the later, soon after I qualified I moved from my native city of Glasgow in Scotland and found a job in a Chartered Accountant’s office in London, England.

One of my first jobs in my new job was to Audit the computerized stock control system of a large stock-exchange listed company. It wasn’t the stock of their finished product, but the stock of all the materials and other items that a company of that size needed to have constantly on hand to run smoothly. I can still remember the sly smile on my boss’s face as he wished me luck the Friday before I left to travel to the Midlands of England to start my new assignment.

On the Northbound train the following Monday morning I read the Company’s last set of accounts, and saw that “Sundry Stocks and Stores”, as they were called had been valued the previous year at fifteen point seven million pounds. Shit I thought to myself, that’s a bit different to the stocks of the corner shops I used to produce accounts for in Glasgow.

After I arrived and been introduced to the head storekeeper, I was shown around a huge warehouse the size of a main street department store in a large city. To say I was overawed would be an understatement. “Now let me show you our new computer, we are very proud of it. We only got it this year and this is the first time our records have been computerized. Up to the end of last financial year our record were kept manually. What a job that was,” The storekeeper announced after we had completed our quick tour of the store itself. I was led into an adjoining room, and into a different world. One I had never experienced before.

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The room was about 25 meters square and around all the walls there were huge machines each with madly spinning spools of tape. The center of the room was taken up with several rows of desks, where girls were reading information from pieces of paper and punching holes into cards. Other employees were taking these punched cards and slotting them into a machine in the middle of the huge computers with the spinning wheels. Although everything was silent, the buzz of activity was unmistakable.

After being shown around and having everything explained to me, I was led into an adjoining smaller office containing only a desk,a filing cabinet and a few chairs. There was a table with coffee and tea making facilities in the corner. “This will be your room for the duration of the audit,” the storekeeper announced. He then pulled a plastic covered file of 15 inch wide computer printout paper from the cabinet. “These are last month’s computerized results,” he said. “Nobody reads them, because nobody understands them, but they must be right because they are produced by the computer,” he said naively as he plonked the plastic covered sheets of paper on the desk. “My extension number is 119 if you need me,” he announced as he left the room.

I wearily made myself a cup of coffee, before sitting down to glance through the printouts. They must be right because they are produced by the computer, I thought. That doesn’t sound like a good omen to me.

As I was eager to see the total value, I looked at the last page first. I must have stared at those few figures for a full five minutes, mouth agape in disbelief. I finally gulped down the remains of my coffee before it got too cold, before I dialed 119.

“Head store man”, was the reply.

“Could you please round up yourself, the head of the computer department, and the 2 senior men who receive and distribute goods as quickly as possible. We have a huge problem on our hands,” I ordered, as determinedly as I had ever ordered anybody before, and probably since.

“But,” the storekeeper started to reply.

“No arguments, just do it quickly”, I interrupted, before slamming the phone down.

I must have frightened the poor store man significantly, as 20 minutes later he, and three other gentlemen were sitting round my table, after everybody had been introduced to me. “Firstly I’d like all of you to guess the value of stock the computer thinks you had on hand at the end of last month,” I said. The guesses ranged from 13 to 18 million pounds. “Well,” I said, “I hope you are all sitting comfortably because the computer actually thinks that your stock value was a NEGATIVE 37 million pounds.” A gasp of horror went the room.

“Don’t panic…yet. That’s my job,” I said with a smile. I then asked the storekeeper how long it would take to do a full physical count of the total stock, and, after he told me four days, I instructed him to organize one from Thursday until Sunday that week. I also told him to broadcast the fact to everybody who needed to know, that there would be no receipts or issues of stock from Thursday until Monday next week. I also organized half day meetings with the computer manager, and the head receipts and dispatch personnel for that Monday afternoon, and Tuesday morning and afternoon.

By Tuesday evening I knew the answer, and I spent Wednesday writing a report, which I distributed to the four people I had talked to, the Board of Directors had telexed it to London (It was before the days of even fax).

I called the problem the “Toilet Roll symptom”. Toilet rolls (for example) were ordered and delivered in cartons of 24 and the receiving clerk entered a “1” for each carton received on the receipts docket, a copy of which went to the computer department. The next day, when the cleaning lady went to stores to get a new toilet roll for the second floor loo then the carton would be opened one roll given to the cleaner and the distribution docket would also be marked “1”, so, according to the computer the stores should now have no toilet rolls when, in fact it had 23. Then, to make matters worse, the next day the third floor loo would run out of paper, and the computer would end up thinking that stores had minus 1 rolls. This happened with everything that was bought in bulk and distributed in lessor amounts.

On Thursday, while the physical stock count had started, the distribution manager noted the units in which every item of stock was recorded as being used, which he gave to the receiving manager, who then instructed his staff to receive stock using, what I called the ‘Issue Measure Code’. So, on the receipt of a carton of toilet rolls, “24” would be entered on the receipts docket rather than “1”. This system was put into action the following Monday. After the computer files had been cleared of all their numerical data, and the physical count numbers had been changed to Issue Measure Code numbers, had been valued, and entered as one huge receipt for each item, the system, worked flawlessly from then on.

Back at the office I became known as “The Computer King” and a few years later when the office installed its first mini computer, which was the size of a desk and had no hard disk drive, Yours Truly was put in charge of it. That’s when the computerization part of my Computerized Accounting career really began.

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1 thought on “How My “Love Affair” With Computers Began”

  1. i wish i could work but i do not have the money to get started.i am now single and staying with friends,maybe when i can find a way to get money i can work with you ,i liked your storys and maybe when i come to work for you you can teach me a few of the things you learned.thank you Valerie Coleman

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