John Ashmead got his start in programming at Harvard,
in the work/study program in the physics department.
He was originally assigned to help out on the hardware
but after reviewing his first day's work,
his advisor handed him a copy of McCracken's celebrated text
on Fortran and reassigned him to software.
John's first job was to build a program
to compute the trajectory of a charged
particle through a magnetic field.
He still has a copy of that first card deck,
somewhere in his basement.
Later, he was accepted to the graduate program in physics at Princeton.
He supported himself through graduate school
programming for one of the
computing things such as
the equation of state for a neutron star,
what happens if a charged particle orbits a black hole,
and so on.
There appears to be relatively little demand for
calculations involving black holes and neutron stars
in the commercial world.
But there is an occasional need to be able
to do statistical analysis and numeric programming,
data analysis applications.
And systematic debugging
is really an application of the scientific method to
the process of understanding how specific software systems work.
After graduate school John Ashmead
went into publishing.
He worked for a startup scholarly and scientific
press as the production manager,
setting up and then automating
the computerized typesetting of
a number of new journals,
this on a UNIX system (a PDP 11/24)
and using the UNIX typesetting program troff.
He also automated the typesetting -- in ancient Greek --
of a set of concordances
Fortunately, it is not necessary to know Greek to typeset works written in it.
He then consulted for Bellcore,
the standards and research arm of the telcos,
providing publishing support
and doing system administration.
"Last-ditch" support for critical publishing problems.
Automation of printing functions,
replacing hundreds of user scripts with one C program.
Debugging version of the main typesetting program
rendering its internal operations transparent.
Operational analysis and improvement:
one specific operational analysis assisted the telco
$4,000,000/year of operational savings.
Standard system administration responsibilities:
crash analysis and prevention
backups and restores
Wrote relational database (in Empress)
to track the backup tapes,
with automated addition of new filesystems,
verification of backup performance,
and so on.
Automated various conversions and upgrades:
For instance, reduced the 16 hour manual process of upgrading
from system V to V.2
to a 45 minute, fully automated, process.
By the time he left in 1987,
he was the site administrator for a computer center,
with perhaps 1500 users.
He was responsible for twenty five VAXes,
their operators, and several other administrators.