Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists, and Iconoclasts, the Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution

By Steve Lohr | Go to book overview

4
Breaking Big Iron's Grip:
U n ix and C

KEN THOMPSON COULD NOT WAIT TO GET HIS HANDS on the programmers' manual for the IBM 360 mainframe. Since the company had announced the new line the first week of April 1964, Thompson had been on the phone daily, asking the IBM office in San Jose for a copy. The day a programmers' guide was available, he hopped in his dark blue 1959 Volkswagen — a classic Beetle - and sped down the Nimitz Freeway from Berkeley to San Jose.

Thompson, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, was not rooting for IBM on his drive to San Jose, which is scarcely surprising given the time and place. A few months later, the Free Speech Movement took to the streets in Berkeley, protesting a university administration they found "repressive." A year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, college students across the nation were becoming more aware of America's problems of race and violence, and Berkeley was leading the way. In the post-Sputnik space race, university curriculums were being steered by government and corporations more toward math and science - becoming more disciplined and more regimented, it seemed, to the student leaders. In the language of dissent, "the system" and "the machine" were terms of unqualified evil. A typical leaflet announcing a demonstration declared, "Except to threaten and harm us, the machine of the administration ignores us. We will stop the machine." (Though all was not grim earnestness. The leaflet ended: "Come to the noon rally. Joan Baez will be there.")

-63-

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