Engineering workplace back in the 70s and 80s

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odm4286

Joined Sep 20, 2009
252
Hello all,

I was playing around in LTspice and doing some programming for a couple of hobby projects tonight and had a moment. I realized how easy it is to google the answer to most common problems, especially when it comes to programming. It made me think a bit...how common was this in the pre-internet days? Back in the 70s and 80s did EEs pull out books of reference designs to get started on a circuit? Did programmers, especially assembly people, carry around books full of that particular processor's instruction set? Or...am I underestimating how much more engineering relied on memory and math a few decades ago?
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
13,085
Back in the 70s and 80s did EEs pull out books of reference designs to get started on a circuit?
We relied more on what we had learned, reference books, and used the simulator between our ears. I simulated some circuits with Spice, but I breadboarded everything except the integrated circuits I worked on.
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
24,173
We had bookshelves filled with data books and application notes and I still do.
We had 1000+ pages of electronics suppliers catalogs, and I still do.

On programming, yes we carried around pocket cards with CPU instructions and op-codes. Soon you got to know them by heart, including the boot loaders which we would have to enter into the machine in binary on toggle switches. I still have my PDP-8, PDP-15 and NOVA instruction cards.

The internet has changed totally how we function. There is an answer for every conceivable problem just a mouse click away.
 

DickCappels

Joined Aug 21, 2008
7,699
About 1985 I decided to leave my reference books and some binders full of accumulated reference material in my garage. Working at a series if Silicon Valley startups it was just too much of a hassle to remove my books everytime a company went toes up and the set them up at the new place.

I did keep datasheets for some parts because they often took days to get from a manufacturer or distributor, but then in the mid-1990's datasheets showed up online. Whoopee - most of my databooks were abandoned then. Yeah, I kept the good ones with application imformation inside.
 

Yaakov

Joined Jan 27, 2019
3,482
My first S-100 bus card was a Z-80 (ca. 1985)
Teletek -- I think.
My first SBC was a KIm-I
I was a teenager in the late 70s when the Kim I was a new thing. My friends and I knew every system that we couldn’t afford To buy. We had two different micro stores and a Heathkit nearby and spent a tice in them. My very well off friend had an IMSAI that we hacked on, with the necessary upscale peripherals including a Cherry keyboard and a Northstar floppy.

We used, variously: Sol, SWTPC (6800 based), Jupiter, Apple, Cromemco, Heathkit H8 and H11, and others. Eventually, I got a TRS-80 Model I which was affordable and spent a lot of time loving and hating it.
 

Janis59

Joined Aug 21, 2017
1,348
Question was about work PLACE. Yes, it was far different. First, I had a 2x3 meter drawing desk with pantograph to draw circuits with a tush. Then next was a 1x2 meter glass desk for exact copying - paper on paper, with bunch of longlamps under that. Alvays on the table was bunch of erasing gums and gillettes, pencils, and tush pens. All the informative base was photocopied editions of Electronic Design News and for explanation what is what the violet-copy of Burr Browns catalog. I collected a circuitry elements thus had handwritten circuit fragments about 1 m3 collection for each case of life (to xeroxize it was crime then for what may earn a Siberia time hanging to white bears. And had a large shelves of russian electronics books, some of them wasnt bad indeed. But then times changed so I owned underground copy of Titcze and Schenk, and soon after the Horowitz and Hill. For last I gave think about monthly salary or bit more. I U need me to swer something, I bet this is the best book on which to make a procedure for swear - now that with droplet of blood, knife etc. 1985 I designed and made first in soviets coloured graphic display for "small computing machine D3-28". After 5 years I got first stolen from USA real computer and long tried to understand how it works. At 1994 I was switched to www with my Windows 3-11 so I see 5 websites at Latvia and about 1000 worldwide. I said me I shall read every day 10 thus after one year I shall KNOW what it is, internet :))
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
24,173
Back then in the 70s and 80s PCB layouts were done on a drafting table by laying black tape on mylar sheets.
For double sided PCB it was with blue and red transparent tape on two sheets of mylar laying on top of each other.
The layouts were done 2-times life size. Then it was copied to photographic negatives with a x2 reduction camera build specially for this. We did our own PCB etching.

That was before I programmed a Data General Nova 2 computer in asm to create CAD drawings. I built a graphics display for that and used a Summagraphics BitPad which today we call a mouse. The layout was drawn on a Tektronix 4662 pen plotter and then sent out to a local PCB house for manufacturing. I found a special clay based paper for drawing. The pen was a Koh-i-noor Rapidograph drafting pen filled with India ink. It took significant amount of trial and error to find the right paper, pen and ink to get the perfect results.
 

AnalogKid

Joined Aug 1, 2013
9,352
Back in the 70s and 80s did EEs pull out books of reference designs to get started on a circuit? Did programmers, especially assembly people, carry around books full of that particular processor's instruction set?
Yes and yes.

Paper. Tons of paper. My home library (like DC, I keep the golden reference set at home) is six bookshelves and 10 file drawers, but I'm a generalist, not a specialist, so my reference set covers multiple disciplines.

When I retired I took some time for a significant edit and purge of old stuff I'd never use. Estimated mass sent to recycling: 1/2 ton (10-20 pounds per week, 18 months)

Much of it now is duplicated in PDF files. The electronic library is approaching 0.25 TB.

The last place I worked, the paper engineering library was over 200 feet of shelf space.

ak
 
And as others have already mentioned; you talked to people. A lot. One went out looking for knowledgeable people, and chatted with them over coffee and cookies. The napkins you brought along, came back full of sketches and notes.

Also you picked up the phone and invited colleagues for a few beers after work. Again, came back with lots of scribbled napkins.

If you had friends in other cities you would call them or (this sounds incredible nowadays) would send them a letter via regular mail. If you both had access to a fax machine (not a given) one could share very low-res images.
 

Chris65536

Joined Nov 11, 2019
270
I still have my 1988 TI TTL Logic Databook from college. I also have a thick printout for the 68HC11. Everything was on paper and it was a pain. These days, I can google any part# and usually find all the information I need. And any notes that I type into Excel spreadsheets are far more legible and durable than my old handwritten notes were.
 

BobaMosfet

Joined Jul 1, 2009
1,848
Hello all,

I was playing around in LTspice and doing some programming for a couple of hobby projects tonight and had a moment. I realized how easy it is to google the answer to most common problems, especially when it comes to programming. It made me think a bit...how common was this in the pre-internet days? Back in the 70s and 80s did EEs pull out books of reference designs to get started on a circuit? Did programmers, especially assembly people, carry around books full of that particular processor's instruction set? Or...am I underestimating how much more engineering relied on memory and math a few decades ago?
We read everything (and there wasn't much) we could get our hands on. Went to seminars, libraries, joined computer clubs, and for the more adventurous... hacker networks of folks where there was so much 'gold' knowledge to be learned by people willing to share. Back then, there were few pieces of 'reference' literature- usually only from the chip maker, and many times it was the processor books (2, 3, or 4 books detailing the instructions set). We read every magazine we could get our hands on- Byte, Popular Electronics, etc. Radioshack was the most common store we found ourselves in if we dabbled in electronics.

There were no 'simulators'. We used slide-rules, then eventually TI made fantastic programmable calculators. We wrote most of the 'reference design' information that existed for people coming in the 90's and later. We had shelves in our homes with tons of books (I still do), and frequently (if we were learning a new processor or language) we might carry a specific 1 to 3 books around with us to study. The rest of the time, we spent on the computer, as much time as we could get, usually shared among other people. Writing, testing, trying. We did massive flow-charting before we ever got to code, and usually wrote the assembly by hand. One of my earliest systems was the DEC PDP-8a and 8e systems. You had to toggle things in 1 byte at a time to get enough bootloader in that you could then make it read from paper-tape, mylar, or punched-card. No cache, no prefetching

You wouldn't believe how primitive it was really was. Over time, you remember everything, or where to look if it gets a little fuzzy. You flowchart, document, and comment your code well, because 3 years later when you go back to something you did before- you might not remember how you ever figured it out at the time, without all that information. It was so much a part of our lives that we would go to be with a problem, and wake up with solutions in the moring- I came to rely on that, and the 'state of flow' that you go into when you're so deeply involved in complicated logic.

Here's a throwback from then... thank you HP (wish I'd bought thousands of these before they stopped making them- they are so COOL!!!)--

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HP5082-7415

To the rest of the 'old heads' out there like me who didn't learn all of this 'from the past'- it was part of our lives, ingrained into us... we built the matrix... all those that came after still try to find their way in- much love and appreciation to you all old schoolers.
 
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