In the ’60s, computer programmers were in high demand to code in languages like COBOL and FORTRAN

1960s computer programmers

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The demand for ’60s computer programmers was huge as business, industry, science, education and government all raced to reap the benefits of new technology. Here’s a look!

Careers 1969: Computer programming most understaffed of vocations

by Dave Holt – Oxnard Press Courier (California) December 28, 1969

The demand for computer programmers is tremendous as business, industry, science, education and government all strive to reap technological benefits.

There are few occupations, few scientific achievements and few personal lives left untouched or unchanged by the world of computers.

Programming a computer by tracing lines (1969)

The food you eat probably came from a large chain supermarket by way of a large produce or meat packing plant which is supplied by large breeders and growers.

Almost every step of the way, computers more than likely help analyze, account for and distribute each steak or egg.

For the career-minded person, man or woman, young or old, the computer has opened vast new fields. Computer programming is none of the most understaffed professions.

Graphic data processing (1968)

For instance, at least three of more than 50 Denver banks are “fully computerized,” meaning that all normal banking accounts receipts, payments, payrolls, expenses and equipment depreciation allowances are programmed. All other banks have at least minimum computer accounting for checking and savings accounts.

Rather than eliminating jobs, the computers have provided new ones for operators, programmers and repairmen. Denver is like every other city large and small — it lacks the necessary personnel to handle the computers.

Computer programming in FORTRAN (1967)
The chairman of the Pomfret School Science Department, in Pomfret, Conn., instructs students in computer programming, including FORTRAN, on the school’s PDP-8 computer, made by Digital Equipment Corp. (1967)

According to William Gross of Denver, a freelance programmer, there is room for 100 more programmers just in the banking and finance industry there.

“I work six days a week, and sometimes 12 hours a day, just trying to service nine clients,” Gross said. “Before I went into the business, I was an aircraft mechanic working just as hard for half the money.

“I went to an IBM school in Los Angeles for seven weeks, and started freelance programming for $7.50 an hour. It took me just two weeks to earn back the $250 it cost to attend the school. Now after a couple of years I’m making $15 an hour and sometimes more.”

The IBM school in Los Angeles is only one of more than 1,000 spread across the country. RCA, Rand, IBM, General Electric, and the vast military and Civil Service system are among the major trainers of programmers.

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Index to 1960s computer programming instructions for the IBM System 360

Smaller private school, training centers and subsidiaries of computer manufacturers also run special schools ranging in tuition from $200 for a four-week cram course to $1,700 for a 15-week comprehensive course and computer analysis training.

The military forces are so short of trained personnel that special incentives are offered to men and women in other career fields to retrain for computer programming.

A case in point is the civilian personnel office at Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico.

Three years ago, computers were installed for personnel processing, but the only programmers available were military airmen who were on temporary assignment. Two personnel clerks were sent to computer schools in Albuquerque to meet the need.

Computer terminals and women working (1969)

Programmers work in three broad groups of employment. The primary career potential is in business, industry, education and government.

Second to that is a wide field among manufacturers of computers and programming shops.

Finally, there are scientific and research organizations, computer consultants and special project enterprises.

Programming jobs also are usually classified in three major categories. First, there is applications programming which is specific problem-solving areas, such as inventory control, highway design, weather prediction, magazine subscription and circulation and so on.

Second, there is systems programming whereby banks put together dozens of accounting, payroll and maintenance functions under one computer system.

Editing and debugging timeshared computer operations (1965)

Third, there is programming research which is the most general field. Here, programmers may be involved in population studies, medical case studies, voting trends, or even football statistics.

Salary depends on the area of work. Generally, Civil Service programmers without a college education and only a short-term training course will start at the GS-5 level at $5,200 a year, and can be earning $9,000 within three years.

Applications programmers earn $8,961 to $17,055 in private industry and business. Systems programmers range up to $12,510 in business and industry for those having only a high school education and vocational programmer training.

Research programmers, consultants and freelancers average $10,619 a year starting salary, with no top range stated. This is according to US Office of Education pamphlets on US Career Opportunities.

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In the 1960s, computer programmers were in high demand

How is a computer programmed in FORTRAN? (1964)

From The Miami News (Florida) September 20, 1964

FORTRAN — “formula translation” — in the leading method of feeding the machine information that it must have in order to figure out the problems given to it.

The computer has a memory, like the human brain, except that the machine never forgets. The operator writes out the instructions and step-by-step directions for solving the problem. (The FORTRAN is given a code number so it may be called out of the machine’s memory again and again to figure other similar problems.)

A trial problem is then given the machine; this is known as “debugging.” The FORTRAN must be tested to make sure the human gave the machine the proper instructions.

FORTRAN computer statement (1961)

The IBM 1401 receives problems one of two ways, either by cards that have been punched or by metallic tape. If the punch card system is used, a machine similar to a typewriter is used to punch holes in the card.

The card is inserted into the machine. Eighty metal brushes sweep over the card and create an electric impulse where there is a hole in the card. This is picked up by the computer and interpreted. Then the machine consults its memory to see what instructions were given and types out the answer. This process takes seconds.

Old computer punched tape - Perforated paper programming

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The metallic tape method is similar. Let’s say that a hurricane hunter flies into the eye of the tropical storm. Metallic tape (similar to that used on tape recorders) records all the findings, such as wind velocity, size of the eye, etc.

This tape is immediately removed from the plane, when it lands, and raced to a computer. In three seconds, the computer, using the instructions stored in its brain, analyzes the information and gives a weather report.

The new computer, the IBM 7040, works on the same principle but is faster and does more than the 1401. An attachment, for example, enables the 7040 to grade papers that have been marked with pencil. if one answer has been erased, an electric eye looks at both answers and determines which one is darker.

1960s computer programming information: About COBOL

Excerpted from COBOL-400 programming language – General Electric (1964-1965)

COBOL programming language from the sixties - General Electric (1)


COBOL-400, the Common Business Oriented Language, is available on General Electric’s Compatibles/400 Information Processing systems.

This universally-accepted business-oriented language is upward compatible through the entire GE-400 family of computers and gives you a solid, working partner for compatible hardware.


COBOL-400 is a communication vehicle. It is easy to learn and use. Briefly, here’s how it works: The programmer writes a COBOL-400 “source program” composed of English sentences and paragraphs, following the conventions of a standard reference format, to describe the data to be processed and to specify the required procedures.

The source program is keypunched on cards which become input to the computer under control of the COBOL-400 compiler program (already loaded into the computer by the GE-400 Operating System).

As output, the COBOL-400 compiler produces an “object program” on either punched cards or magnetic tape. The object program is the actual sequence of machine instructions needed to accomplish the functions specified in the source program.

Vintage computer punch cards

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Additionally, the compiler produces an edited listing which includes a print-out of the English source program in the reference format.

Another very important compiler function is to analyze the source program for clerical errors and to print error comments on any source program language errors it can detect.

The source program is sub-divided into four divisions specifying: The identification of the program (IDENTIFICATION DIVISION) The equipment to be used (ENVIRONMENT DIVISION) The description of data to be processed (DATA DIVISION) The sequence of procedures to be executed (PROCEDURE DIVISION).

Vintage 60s COBOL computer programming sheets (1)


1. COBOL-400 programs are written in precise, easily learned English words and phrases. The language provides a clear method of expressing a problem, or “communicating” with a computer.

2. COBOL-400 programs can be run on another computer with minimum modification even though computer hardware characteristics are different.

3. COBOL-400 provides excellent documentation for problem definition and solution. Work started by one programmer and continued and/or completed by another is easily accomplished.

4. COBOL-400 simplifies the costly, time-consuming process of program testing. If necessary, it can be done efficiently by someone other than the original programmer.

5. COBOL-400 promotes use of standardized terminology among non-technical personnel and programmers thus inviting closer understanding of problems being solved.

6. COBOL-400 decreases training costs and significantly reduces retraining and reprogramming costs. Once a program is trained in COBOL techniques, he can change to another computer and use the same techniques.

Vintage 60s COBOL computer programming sheets (2)

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