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My first remote work experience was in 1989

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

I think it was my junior year at Sahuaro High School in Tucson. I took a course in programming. It wasn't my first computer course, I also had one in 7th grade that taught typing skills, BASIC and LOGO on Atari's, but this was the first real computer programming class.


I'm not so old that we were using punch cards, no, I'm old, but not that old.


The class had some 20 terminals on desks around the outside perimeter of the room, and a small computer room in back of the class on raised floor with a DEC PDP-11/44 running TSX-11, some sort of vaguely VMS-like time-sharing OS.


I remember my teacher, Ed Story, being a super nice guy that was really happy when I and another student (I think his name was Jared) took an interest learning more about the operating system. He was happy to support this interest as long as we had completed our assignments, and supplied us with the manuals for TSX-11.


We noticed that our teacher had the ability to send wall messages to all of the terminals on the system, as well as speed up his compile times when demonstrating something for the class by setting his priority level on the system much higher than everyone else's.


Between this other student and I, and some experimentation, we discovered that all of the student accounts had been set up in such a way that any of us could, at any time, set admin priv's on our accounts, and then change the priority of our terminal session. This other student and I kept this fact hidden from the other students, as well as our teacher, and used our knowledge sparingly lest we be discovered....at least for a while.


This other student took advantage of the situation more and more often, eventually catching the attention of our teacher as well as the other students, but our teacher had no clue how he was able to do it.


But for now, back to the headline of the story.


The PDP-11/44 had a 300 baud modem on it that was used for remote support of the system, and my teacher was nice enough to give me the number so I could dial in from home and do my work on the system from home. This made me pretty unique in the class...no one else had a computer with a modem.


One day, I had to stay home sick. I was too sick to go to school, but not sick enough to sit at my computer and dial in...while class was going on, of course. In addition to getting some actual classwork done, I set admin priv's on my account, and sent a wall, or 'write all' message, to all of the terminals, saying "hi" to my fellow students and letting them know that I was attending class from home.


And there you have it. My first telecommuting experience, some 33 years ago at the time of this writing.


As for the other student that was taking too much advantage of his account priv's on the system, well it finally got under my skin enough that I went to talk to the teacher about it. I not only told him how we were gaining admin privileges on the system, but instructed him on how to set up student accounts so that they couldn't do this going forward. He fixed our accounts per my instructions, and that was that.


I still think back fondly on that class, especially the kindness and support Mr. Story showed me. Ed Story passed away many years ago, but he is still fondly remembered by many of his students and the other faculty.


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What a great recap/reflection on a great teacher and an example of early telecommuting indeed! Quite impressive considering the first IBM PC wasn’t even sold until 1981. While I didn’t personally have him as a teacher, I also remember Ed Story as well.


During my SHS days, in addition to a Basic programming class where we used Radio Shack TRS 80s (aka Trash 80s), I also took a Word Information Processing class just a few years-ish ahead of you. The intent of the WIP class being to expose students to various technologies, one of which WAS a punch card machine. 🤣 I think it may have used as more of an example of more antiquated tech though. I also remembe…


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David Siegel
David Siegel
Apr 09, 2022
Replying to

Hi Kelly, thanks for the comment.


We had an IBM Portable PC in the house starting around 1984, and my father bought me a Tandy 1000SX (8088 clone) in '87 after getting Eagle Scout. I saved up my allowance for a 1200 baud modem and added that to the PC pretty quickly.


Yes, I took that typing class with that teacher on IBM selectrics in 1987. Even though I was typing 80+ wpm with pretty good accuracy, that guy still only gave me a B. I didn't recall that he was an actual Army Drill Sergeant, but that is exactly how class felt!


I've never even heard of an 18" floppy! I did work with quite a few 8" floppie…


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