Early in 1981 I was employed by a major oil company in London as a project accountant working on the North Sea Oil Project. My job took me to Aberdeen in Scotland, the Shetland Isles and to the oil platforms themselves. I have vivid memories of flying from platform to platform in tiny helicopters while gale force winds blew around us. Nothing got in the way of oil production.
I was running the coding department responsible for compiling data including the calculating of accruals and prepayments for contract staff serving on drilling and production platforms. This involved a lot of data entry on coding forms which would be entered into a computer terminal producing hundreds of punch cards. These cards would then be fed into the company’s main frame computer based in the United States via readers and terminals in London and through a leased line direct to the corporate HQ.
The following morning printers would churn out huge reports. If we wanted to look more deeply at the data, we made requests through the amber phosphorescent screened terminals at a cost of $40 per request.
I had already become somewhat obsessed with the new ‘home computer’ systems currently flooding the world, having already purchased a Sinclair ZX81 (with 1K of memory) and the Commodore Vic 20. I became highly proficient in Sinclair and Commodore BASIC programming.
I felt that my work at the oil company could benefit from a personal computer so I purchased my first real ‘business computer’; the Commodore PET 4032 with a dual floppy drive:
For software, I bought a data management system called DMS from Compsoft and VisiCalc from Software Arts. I also wrote a variety of utilities programs using the inbuilt Commodore BASIC.
This literally changed my life.
I took my new computer system to the office and put it to work. Within a month, I was achieving in one day what had been taking me over a week to do.
Pretty soon, the data processing department got wind of what I was doing. They were not happy.
I was super productive, but data processing didn’t want folks bringing in their own computers and setting up what was effectively new ‘pocket’ data processing departments. So, despite being able to increase my productivity by 500% they asked me to stop using my own system. I decided that if I could achieve this at one of the world’s leading companies, I could do this for other businesses. I decided to leave the oil industry and start my own business.