Back in the Day… Nathan Sivapatham: “How Things Have Changed”

( Post 21 of 25 )

Following on from a couple of posts earlier in the month looking back at how IT has evolved over the last 25 years (the first one from our friend David Jones; the second one from us), we finish off our ‘Back in the Day…’ series of posts with this guest blog contribution from Nathan Sivapatham, who has been working in IT – mostly as a DBA (Database Administrator) – since the 1980s.

By gum. How things have changed.

Nathan Sivapatham 1990 image

Nathan in 1979

Back in the spring of 1979 I had this thought: I needed to plan for my future. I did a lot research in the local library in Windsor. I also talked to many friends who were working in various industries. Some of them worked for multinational companies whilst others worked for the local health authority.

I came to the conclusion that I wanted to study Accountancy. It was a big decision and I managed to secure a place at a local Technical College – it was popular and attracted students from the wealthy and well connected to those in the Middle Eastern oil industry. After the end of the first year, I decided it was not for me. Time to start all over again. After a lot of soul searching, I decided my future was in IT. I had a tough time convincing the Head of IT faculty that I was committed to the next 3 years of the course. Somehow I succeeded.

I had to finance my own education because I was an overseas student from the old Commonwealth. I worked hard, working nearly 50 weekends in the first year to pay for my lodging and tuition fees.

Only two [Harris computers] existed in the whole of the UK. Neither the ICL nor the Harris computers exist now apart from in a museum.

The college was busy replacing the old ICL mainframe computer with an unknown brand computer: Harris. Only two of them existed in the whole of the UK. I did not realise until later that it was a good omen for me. Neither the ICL nor the Harris computers exist now apart from in a museum.

I did well to find a work placement with the RAF where the other Harris computer system was in use. I developed a unique database application in COBOL language based on an academic white paper from an unknown research engineer. It was almost certainly the first working database within the RAF that focused on saving the Harrier jump jet pilots.

You can actually find an old sales brochure for the Harris 500 online. According to the PDF’s title, it’s from January 1980:

Harris 500 brochure snippet screenshot

Screenshot of part of the first page of the Harris 500 sales brochure
(Click to enlarge)

Nathan Sivapatham 1979 image

Nathan in 1990

There are a few familiar names on page 4, under the various sub-headings. IBM provided Support, Host and Terminal Packages for the computer. UNIVAC’s another one.

It seems almost my entire working life has been in the database arena. I was talent-spotted in a Dixons Lab in Stevenage and subsequently by a family business run by John Twining of the famous tea business family to master the first ever searchable database on a CD. This set me on a path to learning many computer languages and working with many more brands of databases. Fundamentally they all used similar theories on a variety of OS and hardware platforms.

Thanks to John Twining’s help, I went on to work for many multinational companies, a leading global environmental charity and two massive telecom service providers. It also offered me the opportunity to work in France, Sweden and Switzerland.

Nathan Sivapatham 2015 image

Nathan Sivapatham in 2015

It’s different these days… The laptop and tablet computer that I use today have much more memory and processing power than the first ever large scale mainframe computer that I first worked on. Going back to that Harris 500 brochure, it proudly states that it had “over 3 million bytes of main memory” – a whopping 3 MB. Compare that to today’s laptops, that have 2 or 4 GB(!) of RAM as standard – so around 1,000 times more – and instead of it taking up a considerable amount of space in a room, it weighs a kilogram or two and fits on your desk or even on your lap. It’s fascinating really, how things have come on over the years.

Nathan Sivapatham is an Oracle DBA for a UK utilities company, having previously worked for the Vale of Glamorgan Council, Orange, Compaq and the WWF (the World Wildlife Fund).