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Making History

Unofficial historian's dedication to the industry still thrives

Unofficial historians dedication to the industry still thrives


Spend a few minutes talking with Lynn Wheeler, and youll learn something about the computer industry. It may be about current developments in something such as mainframe systems, but more than likely youll glimpse the depth of his knowledge about how we got where we are with our clever machines.

Although Wheeler doesnt exactly consider himself a historian in the strictest sense, his nearly 40-year IT career gives him expertise that allows him to address todays computing concerns with the experience of trial and error. "Im on several user groups," Wheeler says. Sometimes a person will say I have this new idea, and Ill have to respond that it was done before, this is when and this is what happened." Wheelers involvements include a worldwide group for discussing early computing and others that cover specific decades, such as the 1960s and 1970s. "Some of my replies are 30 or 40 paragraphs long," says Wheeler. "Theyre essentially essays on the topic in question."

Wheeler archives all of his discussion group activity on his Web site , but thats just the tip of the information iceberg available there. Much of the site covers financial-industry security standards, including a massive financial taxonomy and glossary. "Theres a lot on there that has to do with how to think about financial standards and information," Wheeler explains, "and how it interrelates. Theres also a fair amount on how to think about the complex interrelation of other things." 

In 1968, when Wheeler was an undergraduate at Washington State University, three people arrived from the Cambridge Science Center (CSC) to install a CP 67, only the third such installation, behind the CSC itself and Lincoln Labs.

"At that time, I was still an undergrad," Wheeler recalls, "but Id been hired full time to support all the university datacenter computers, so when they installed the CP 67, it was also my responsibility." During the next few months after installation, Wheeler rewrote much of the kernel code to improve the performance of the OS/360 running under the CP 67.

Hired after graduation in 1970, Wheeler worked for the CSC for the next seven years before joining IBM, where he remained employed until 1992, when both he and his wife left the company. Although it was a rough parting, Wheeler continued to advise his former 
colleagues of industry changes.

Today hes the chief scientist for First Data Corp., and his Web site extends his influence into the current IBM* business and beyond. "The Web site is averaging around several thousand hits per day," Wheeler says. "Some of those are government organizations interested in the security information." The rest of the hits are from scattered sources, including a half-dozen IBM locations.

"I recently received an e-mail," says Wheeler, "asking for my help with code I hadnt worked on since 1984. They were asking me to resolve this problem in the current release, which is 20 years later." It seems wherever he goes Wheeler will be valued for his continued  and past contributions to the computing industry.

Andrea M. Zander is a former editor for IBM Systems Magazine.

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