Perhaps because of that novel situation, a brand new discipline and a pioneering machine, the atmosphere at Cambridge in the computer lab was not overwhelmingly masculine. Provided she signed in and kept a record of what she did, as an operator she was allowed to run Edsac alone.
More than 62 years on she is very matter of fact about that time -even though programmers, and especially women programmers, were rare. It was through learning programming that Ms Blackler got talking to David Wheeler as long as one of her programs helped to ensure Edsac was working well. Basically, dr Wheeler started her PhD work at Cambridge in 1954 knowing about Edsac thanks to an earlier visit during which the machine had been shown off to her and others. As a research student she had to run her programs in the course of the night. She could let Edsac do the number crunching, with the programming done. In her case that was Friday. This is where it starts getting entertaining. The little book was called WWG after its three authors Maurice Wilkes, David Wheeler and Stanley Gill. Of course, completing those calculations manually was futile.
Such third party cookies may track your use of the BBC website.
The first computer she used was amidst the first computers anyone used.
Joyce Wheeler is no exception. Everyone remembers the first computer they ever used. In her case the situation was a bit different. Despite the regular crashes, Ms Wheeler made steady progress on finding out how long different stars will last before they collapsed. By the way, the machine was Edsac -the Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator -that ran for the first time in 1949 and was built to serve scientists at the University of Cambridge. Accordingly the results were printed out for researchers to pore over to see what results they had got.
It was a case of ‘reprogramming’ and perhaps waiting a few days to have a chance to run a slightly modified program on Edsac. Rapidly in the 1950s meant about 30 minutes for the machine to complete one a run program. Enter Edsac -a machine created by Prof Maurice Wilkes to do exactly the kind of calculations Ms Wheeler needed done to complete her advanced degree. Inner workings of the nuclear furnace that keep stars shining is an understandably knotty problem to solve. Thus, she said, the maths describing that energetic process were formidable. Dr Wheeler had been shown one procedure that recalibrated Edsac’s two kilobyte memory but if that did not help, so her work should stop for awhile because of what the machine could do for her and her work, it was an exciting time, she said. She ok to programming quickly, she said, her strength with maths helping her quickly master the syntax into which she had to translate those nasty equations.