Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A step back in time

I began my career in IT in 1970 with Burroughs Corporation in hardware support, later joining Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). By the end of that decade micro programme control was replacing TTL logic chips in computer systems, and one could no longer use an oscilloscope to trace logic signals from gate to gate to isolate faults to component level. Instead, the job was becoming de-skilled, faults being fixed by changing entire logic boards in the system. It was time for a change in career direction.

Early in 1982 I made that change, moving from DEC to join Systems Programming Ltd (SPL) a small software house in south Manchester. SPL had evolved from the IT department of Stockport engineering company, Simon Carves and employed probably fewer than one hundred people at the Battersea House, Heaton Mersey, office.

 Former Battersea House, Heaton Mersey, some decades after it was the home of SPL

DEC had been a fun company to work for with an active social scene, but coming to SPL was quite a culture change; from a large fairly formal US Corporate to a somewhat chaotic British 'small firm' atmosphere. The work, initially as Project Engineer, was quite a move away from what I'd been used to; more akin to project management than computer engineering.

Most of my colleagues were software professionals though I worked in the Hardware Group, initially responsible for the build and delivery of several process control systems for the nuclear power industry. I found the atmosphere at SPL, among many obviously 'smart' but fun loving folk, to be enormously stimulating. Everyone I know who worked there looks back on the SPL days at Batterea House with happy memories. We were a creative, fun, witty, and friendly bunch. The atmosphere was laid back but professional.

It couldn't last, and it didn't. SPL was not particularly financially successful though we (at least in the Hardware Group) were never short of work. Pretty much co-incident with leaving Battersea House for nearby Haw Bank House in Cheadle, we were taken over by Systems Designers, who later took over Scicon, the company becoming SD Scicon. The SPL name was lost, as indeed was SD Scicon when US computer services giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS) took us over in 1992.

The happy days of Battersea House didn't really survive into SD Scicon days; life became a bit more serious and I was moving between the Hardware Group and sales support, spending a lot of my time on bid work. The SD takeover had been a bit of a culture shock, but the EDS one was an earthquake in comparison, bringing to Cheadle a very different 'hard Texan' culture. EDS disbanded the Hardware Group making almost all its members redundant, a cull which I survived because by then I was almost entirely working in sales support.

By the mid 1990s the company had moved a short distance to Abney Hall and the adjacent Abney Court, and many of the Battersea House contingent were no longer with us. I remained with the company until I retired in 2008 as a Solution Architect. The company I retired from was completely different to the one I had joined in 1982. I think it is a widespread phenomena that the workplace is less fun these days than it was in the '70s and '80s, but the contrast between SPL and EDS was perhaps more marked than most in that respect.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that those of us who enjoyed those heady days in Battersea House might wish to meet up and see if that old magic was still there. Ruth Evans took on the task of organising an SPL reunion BBQ, and a great job she made of it. She researched the whereabouts of all the ex-SPLers who were traceable and invited them to The Northern Lawn Tennis Club in West Didsbury last Saturday evening (3rd June 2017). She traced forty five folk, of which twenty three were present on Saturday, making a total of thirty six attendees including partners. Some could not join us as they were away on holiday.

Such was the 'Battersea House Magic' we had people attend the event who had travelled a long way to be with us, from as far as Australia (Gary Conwell), Italy (Pietro Casanova), and the Scottish Highlands (Alastair and Mary Ross).

Here are some pictures I took that evening. Please click on any if you wish to see a larger image:

 A general view of 'our' room at The Northern Lawn Tennis Club; Trevor Marchbank, Pietro Casanova, and Nigel Parsons on the left, Dave Cundy facing the camera, Brendan Markland and Brian Dooley back to camera, Mike Allen holding the glass, my wife Chris, and Ruth's Dick (as he was known by everyone at SPL), on the right.

 Graham Morris and wife, Liz

 In an adjoining room Ruth had put up pictures from SPL events, and laid out some on tables along with some documentation dating from SPL days. Jonathan Smith, Tim Hermolle, with Dick in the background.

Some of Ruth's pictures

Brendan Markland with Ray Elliot. Ray is the only current employee of the company with continuous service right back to SPL days in Battersea House (nearly 40 years); quite an achievement, and good to see someone is still out there earning our pensions!

Hilary Exton McGuinness, Gary Conwell, Nigel Parsons, Tim Exton McGuinness

Graham serenades Liz. Jonathan Smith, Tim Hermolle, and Trevor Marchbank look on. 

Geoff Brown and 'Cundyman' (Dave Cundy) 

Brendan gave a speech remembering some of those who could not be with us. The SPL days were a long time ago and sadly some who were there have since passed away. He also updated us about Colin Myles, a major driver in SPL's success before I joined, but who was unfortunately not well enough to attend the event.

Assembled guests listening to Brendan. Brian and Val Dooley in left foreground, Alastair and Mary Ross behind, Tim Hermolle, Jonathan Smith, Trevor Marchbank, Nigel Baker Brian (NB squared in SPL speak) standing at rear, Nigel Greensitt seated foreground, Pietro Casanova, Mike Allen, Dave Cundy, and Geoff Brown seated right.

Brian Dooley and Graham Wright in animated conversation. Ruth Evans on their left, Paul Stanley to the right.

 Jonathan Smith, Nigel Parsons, and Trevor Marchbank

Dick, Hilary Exton-McGuinness, and Ruth Evans 

I worked closely with Andy for many years, a delightful colleague. Sadly he suffered bowel cancer; it went into remission, but recently returned with a vengeance. Andy was hoping to be at the reunion but it wasn't to be. Ruth, Graham Wright, Steve Woods, and myself attended his funeral on 25th May.  

Finally, here is a photograph showing nearly all of the attendees (please click on the picture for a larger image):

Left to right: Kay Moffatt, Jon Moffatt, Chris Chadwick, Val Dooley, Brian Dooley, Vince Chadwick, Christine Brown, Geoff Brown, Gary Conwell, Ruth Evans, Deborah Greensitt, Liz Morris, Nigel Greensitt, Brendan Markland, Dave Cundy, Sandy Cundy, Graham Wright, Hilary Exton-McGuinness, Paul Stanley, Graham Morris, Sandra Allen, Mike Allen, Mary Ross, Jonathan Smith, Tim Hermolle, Nigel Parsons, Trevor Marchbank, Alastair Ross, Ray Elliott, Carol Marchbank, Sue Baker-Brian, Nigel Baker-Brian, Pietro Casanova.

Heartfelt thanks to Ruth for organising such a splendid event!


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