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Bob Stewart celebrates 45th year at Unisys

13 April 2006

Bob Stewart celebrates 45th year at Unisys New Zealand

In a career spanning five decades IT veteran Bob Stewart looks back on his career involving mechanical adding machines, the rise and uptake of computers, Y2K and the internet.

Unisys New Zealand is celebrating the 45th anniversary of their longest serving employee Bob Stewart, mainframe field engineer who has been with the company since 1960.

Originally from Dunedin, Bob joined Burroughs Ltd from high school initially working on mechanical adding machines and programmed accounting machines. His aptitude for technology saw him progress to become one of the country’s first mainframe engineers working in the lower South Island.

Today Bob is based in Unisys Auckland office and works for Unisys clients across the banking, government and commercial sectors. Brett Hodgson, managing director of Unisys New Zealand says the entire staff is delighted to be celebrating Bob’s milestone anniversary with Unisys.

“Bob Stewart’s ongoing passion for Unisys and his commitment to delivering an excellent job to our mainframe clients is truly inspiring to us all,” says Hodgson.
“His depth of knowledge and professionalism sees him dealing with a spectrum of issues to the highest standard every day. This coupled with his customer-oriented and advanced troubleshooting skills instils confidence in me that our clients are in the best possible hands”.

In fact it’s hard to faze Bob when issues arise. “Because of my heritage in technology most of the issues that come up today are things I’ve dealt with before at some point during the past forty five years working at Unisys.”

However, Bob is continually amazed at the ongoing transformations in technology. “In the mid-sixties computers were still the exception to the rule, most businesses were using mechanical adding machines. But the most obvious change I have seen is how technology continues to shrink. I remember when a mainframe and its peripherals could fill an entire room, today a processor can sit quite happily in the palm of my hand.”

When asked about his role at Unisys Bob admits he doesn’t work the average day and he notes that much of his work is focussed around issues prevention rather than cure.

“Occasionally I have to get up in the middle of the night to manage mainframe issues and instalments at various Unisys clients. However I am proud to hold the nick-name of ‘the invisible man’ because by the time our clients are ready to open up shop for the day, the maintenance has been performed and it’s business as usual”.

Bob Stewart’s Technology Milestones

Aug 1960 Bob joined Burroughs Ltd in Dunedin from high school, initially working on mechanical adding machines and mechanically programmed accounting machines.

1966 He went on to train on a Burroughs mainframe B300 to support an installation in Invercargill. The technology comprised: 4.8K digits of core memory; 100cpm 80-column card reader; 3x7trk, 200/556BPI magnetic tape drives; 300cpm 80col card punch; paper tape reader and 750 lines per minute 132 columns drum printer.

1967 By now mechanical accounting machines were available with an electronics section the size of an average office desk that processed the arithmetic calculations and read and wrote magnetic stripes on ledger cards.
Electronic calculators with Nixie tube displays initially made an appearance.

1969 B2500/3500 systems were in use: minimum of 30kbytes core memory, IC components mounted on PCBs (32 IC packages per 150mm square pluggable PCB); 2 x 10mb head per track fixed disk drives.

1972 Large mainframes appear in NZ: core memory available in 16 KWords (each word of 6 bytes of data).

1980s As new e-mode systems became popular, systems downtime was becoming a bigger issue with customers. The complexity of the hardware, with its integrated microcode and firmware, brought in the new methodology of Field Replacement Units, which has been carried forward in hardware to the present day.

1990s Peripherals such as disk and tape drives are also swapped out in the field and sent back to specialist repairers to reduce downtime experienced by customers.

2000 Faster CPUs, cheaper memory and advances in disk storage miniaturisation have seen the production of systems with performances that we couldn’t even have dreamed of when Bob started installing his first mainframe.

2004 Technology advances see Bob installing an eight CPU mainframe that except for disk and tape units is contained within a standard 1.8M high rack style cabinet.
In 1972 one CPU was a cabinet measuring 1.8M tall, 2.4M long and 0.5M deep and full of PCBs; today 1 CPU running the same operating system provides approximately 8000 times the performance.


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