Scene at MIT: A Black computing pioneer takes his spot in engineering record | MIT News

Pamela G. Knowles

The caption on a black-and-white photo reads, in component: “In 1951, higher faculty graduate Joe Thompson, 18, was educated as 1 of the very first two pc operators. The laptop was the Whirlwind, the prototype for the SAGE air defense procedure.”

MIT’s Whirlwind was 1 of the earliest higher-velocity digital pcs, and Thompson played a key function in its procedure at the begin of his decades-extensive career in computing. With assist from Deborah Douglas, director of collections at the MIT Museum, David Brock of the Computer system Background Museum not long ago caught up with Thompson, the to start with person skilled as a Whirlwind operator at the MIT Electronic Personal computer Laboratory, to understand extra about his time with the undertaking and his subsequent several years as a chief in the computing marketplace.

“They at MIT have been hunting for vibrant, younger young children who have been not heading to faculty,” Thompson informed Brock. “I was the to start with [operator] to see if it would operate, and I guess it labored very well. … You had to discover the full procedure, and you’d get to the point the place you realize what they’re carrying out.”

Also found in the image is process programmer John “Jack” Gilmore. According to a publication from the Pc Background Museum, “It had been Jack Gilmore of the Whirlwind project, famed for his application contributions, who had been crucial to bringing Joe Thompson into the project in an MIT force to meet up with the needs for skilled employees by recruiting from local superior educational institutions all those college students who had been academically and socially excellent, but for whom, for whatsoever motives, school was inaccessible.”

Just after Whirlwind, Thompson accepted a task with RAND as a programmer working on the SAGE air protection procedure program. He transferred to California with the company, and his group finally spun off into the non-financial gain Procedure Improvement Company. Thompson retired in the 1990s right after four a long time in computing.

Gilmore would go on to get the job done in innovative computing research at MIT Lincoln Laboratory in advance of starting his personal firm and paying out the rest of his job in the computing market. He died in 2015.

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