I started my IBM career with very dirty hands.
Every day I would go to work and come home smeared with toner, ink, grease and oil.
No I didn’t work for a newspaper or in a garage… I worked for IBM, fixing cheque sorters and printers. This was the late 1980s and early 1990s. The years I spent working on IBMs 3800 and 3825 printers and 3890 cheque sorters were great years. I loved working with my customers and I loved working on those big machines. It was lots of fun… but there were lots of ways to get dirty.
What were these machines? Well for one, the IBM 3800 was the worlds first commercial fan-fold laser printer (released in 1975!). Here is a picture, but I would point out that this 3800 looks remarkably clean:
The 3890 Cheque Sorter was an enormous document processor that could move 2400 cheques per minute. For even better clothing destruction, the 3890 has an ink jet printer that used a special ink that you could easily remove from any garment – provided you used a pair of scissors. As for the IBM 3825 Page Printer, it used Charged Area Development, which without very regular maintenance, could result in huge amounts of toner wandering around inside the machine. No wonder the acronym for that technology is CAD.
And yet in all of this… I wore a suit and tie to work… every day… and I always wore a white shirt. It was an IBM standard that had existed for a very long time. People who turned up for work in a non-white shirt had better be a top performer and only the most remarkable or safety conscious turned up for work wearing something that is now rare in the workplace: The Bow Tie.
The only other IT organization I knew that was just (if not more) obsessed with suit and tie? EDS.
As for the System 38 utopian image below…. thats not me on the right! I never wore tan trousers or short sleeves to work. (Check out the size of those monitors!).
Things changed in the mid 1990s. Suddenly we didn’t need to wear a tie. Some of us started wearing corporate branded polo shirts. Times had changed and we changed with them. One irony is that I now regularly wear black business shirts to work, something that I would never have gotten away with in 1990. Yet today the closest I come to toner is when I go and get a printout from the printer.
If your interested in seeing some great photos of how IBMers used to dress, visit the IBM History exhibit here: “The way we wore: A century of IBM attire”. You could also head over to IBM’s 100 Icons of Progress and in particular visit The Making of IBM to see Thomas J Watson Snr looking very smooth indeed.
I was brought to reminiscing about this when visiting a client on a friday. Friday has become casual clothes day at many organizations. And yet given how far we have come… I am pondering why we bother? In comparison to 20 years ago, every day is casual clothes day. Perhaps its time to put aside the polo shirts and bring back the bow tie? As Dr Who says “Bow Ties are Cool”
So are you with me? Bow Tie Friday?
Comments always welcome.