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Oral-History:Jean Dollimore

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==About Jean Dollimore==  
 
==About Jean Dollimore==  
  
Jean Dollimore, an English computer programmer, began her career working for the University College in England. Prior to that, she attended Bedford College, which was then part of London University, and received her degree in mathematics. She also received a postgraduate certificate in education which she used to teach mathematics in a secondary school for a couple of years after graduating. Dollimore was involved in research in computer programming after teaching, eventually making it over to University College, where she began working in the chemistry department as a computer programmer. From there, she moved to the Institute of Computer Science, amending programs from home as she raised her children. She also taught courses at the Institute on FORTRAN. Dollimore was also involved in the COSMOS project. She ended up specializing in distributed systems, co-authoring the influential book on the topic now in its 5th edition: ''Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design''.  
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Jean Dollimore, an English computer programmer, began her career working for the University College in London. Prior to that, she attended Bedford College, which was then part of London University, and received her degree in mathematics. She also received a postgraduate certificate in education which she used to teach mathematics in a secondary school for a few years after graduating. Dollimore was involved in research in computer programming after teaching, eventually making it over to University College, where she began working in the chemistry department as a computer programmer. From there, she moved to the Institute of Computer Science, amending programs from home as she raised her children. She also taught courses at the Institute on FORTRAN. Dollimore was also involved in the COSMOS project. She ended up specializing in distributed systems, co-authoring the influential book on the topic now in its 5th edition, ''Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design''.  
  
In this interview, Dollimore talks about growing up, attending college, and getting interested in math and teaching. She talks about her work on projects in the field and shares her reflections on the field of computing. She provides detail on each project, her experiences as a computer programmer, and shares her thoughts on her contributions to the field of computing.  
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In this interview, Dollimore talks about growing up, attending college, and getting interested in math and teaching. She talks about her work on projects in the field and shares her reflections on the field of computing. She provides detail on each project, her experiences as a computer programmer, and shares her thoughts on her contributions to the field of computing.
  
 
==About the Interview==
 
==About the Interview==
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INTERVIEW: Jean Dollimore<br>INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate<br>DATE: 4 April 2001<br>PLACE: Jean Dollimore's office, Queen Mary College, London, England
 
INTERVIEW: Jean Dollimore<br>INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate<br>DATE: 4 April 2001<br>PLACE: Jean Dollimore's office, Queen Mary College, London, England
 
[Notes courtesy of interviewer Janet Abbate]
 
  
 
===Background and Education===
 
===Background and Education===
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Well, you’re welcome!
 
Well, you’re welcome!
  
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Revision as of 20:41, 12 June 2012

Contents

About Jean Dollimore

Jean Dollimore, an English computer programmer, began her career working for the University College in London. Prior to that, she attended Bedford College, which was then part of London University, and received her degree in mathematics. She also received a postgraduate certificate in education which she used to teach mathematics in a secondary school for a few years after graduating. Dollimore was involved in research in computer programming after teaching, eventually making it over to University College, where she began working in the chemistry department as a computer programmer. From there, she moved to the Institute of Computer Science, amending programs from home as she raised her children. She also taught courses at the Institute on FORTRAN. Dollimore was also involved in the COSMOS project. She ended up specializing in distributed systems, co-authoring the influential book on the topic now in its 5th edition, Distributed Systems: Concepts and Design.

In this interview, Dollimore talks about growing up, attending college, and getting interested in math and teaching. She talks about her work on projects in the field and shares her reflections on the field of computing. She provides detail on each project, her experiences as a computer programmer, and shares her thoughts on her contributions to the field of computing.

About the Interview

JEAN DOLLIMORE: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, 4 April 2001

Interview # 588 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Jean Dollimore, an oral history conducted in 2001 by Janet Abbate, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Jean Dollimore
INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate
DATE: 4 April 2001
PLACE: Jean Dollimore's office, Queen Mary College, London, England

Background and Education

Abbate:

This is an interview with Jean Dollimore, on April 4th, 2001.

To start, in what year were you born?

Dollimore:

1934.

Abbate:

And where did you grow up?

Dollimore:

In Hertfordshire. Well, I was actually born a bit nearer to London than that, but I was moved out to Hertfordshire when I was about four or five. That’s about 25 miles North of London. I went to school in a town called St. Albans.

Abbate:

I’ve heard of that.

Dollimore:

Have you?

Abbate:

Yes. What did your parents do for a living?

Dollimore:

My father was a solicitor, and my mother had a very short career before she married, as a P.E. teacher.

Abbate:

Did you have brothers and sisters?

Dollimore:

Yes. I was the oldest, and there’s a younger sister who’s about four years younger than me, and then a brother and another sister who were born about ten years later.

Abbate:

After the war?

Dollimore:

Well, they were born in ‘44 and ‘45. I think they thought the war coming to an end! [laughs]

Abbate:

Did you have an interest in math or science as a child?

Dollimore:

In maths, definitely, but not until I was a teenager, really; and science to some extent. I think maybe—my father was always sort of fiddling around with things; although he was a solicitor and didn’t have that sort of background, he sort of knew the basic physics of how various things worked, and I think that got me interested in the science side of it. But the maths was more due to having a teacher that seemed very interesting. She was only there for a couple of years, but she sort of triggered the interest.

Abbate:

What kind of school did you go to?

Dollimore:

It was actually an independent school, a private school.

Abbate:

Was it just girls? Or mixed?

Dollimore:

Just girls. Well, practically all schools were single-sex schools in the U.K. in those days.

Abbate:

Really? I should look up statistics on that.

Dollimore:

One of my sisters actually went to a co-ed school, but they were very unusual.

Abbate:

When did that change?

Dollimore:

‘60s, maybe. Well, my children went to co-ed schools!

Abbate:

I didn’t realize that [most schools weren’t co-ed].

So you started getting interested in math . . .

Dollimore:

I was about 13.

Abbate:

. . . in high school?

Dollimore:

Yes.

Abbate:

And then you went on to college?

Dollimore:

Yes, I went to university and studied maths, did a degree.

Abbate:

You went to Birkbeck College?

Dollimore:

Well, that was later on. I think I didn’t mention my first degree. I went to Bedford College, which was then part of London University. That was, what? ‘53 to ‘56. And then I hadn’t quite worked out what I was going to do next, after I got this maths degree. [laughs.] So I went and did a postgraduate certificate in education, which took a year. Then I went and taught mathematics in a secondary school for two years. But somewhere around about that time I started hearing about computers. For some reason I didn’t know about them when I was an undergraduate. I can’t think why not! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Did they have any at . . . ?

Dollimore:

I think IBM had a little center in London. I don’t know when it opened. But this is where Birkbeck College came in. There was a chap there called A. D. Booth, who’d made his own computer, and they ran some evening classes. I got a diploma in numerical analysis, although it was actually programming! [laughing] They had some people from the physics department who did the numerical analysis part of it, and he taught the hardware, and his wife taught the programming.

Abbate:

Interesting! So, K. Booth was his wife?

Dollimore:

Yes, Kathleen.

To start with, I was doing that as an evening class, the second year I was teaching. Then, towards the end of that year, they said they’d got some funding for a master’s degree, so I went there and spent about a year and a half doing some research, which involved quite a bit of programming.

Abbate:

Where were you teaching?

Dollimore:

In Northwood—that’s in Middlesex, just a train-ride out of London.

Abbate:

So how did you find out about this evening course at Birkbeck?

Dollimore:

I think I was keeping my ear to the ground, because I think I thought teaching wasn’t—although I ended up teaching in universities—but I thought school teaching wasn’t quite for me.

Abbate:

Teaching math in secondary school wasn’t all that exciting?

Dollimore:

That’s right! [laughs.] That was a girls’ school, too; and in fact, the attitude there was pretty terrible. Most of the girls just said, you know, “I want to get married; what’s the point of learning all this maths?”

Abbate:

But it wasn’t like that at the school you had gone to?

Dollimore:

I should think it probably was, but you didn’t see it like that.

Abbate:

You had that one teacher who . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right. I think most of my classmates at the school I went to thought I was pretty mad liking maths! [laughs.] I mean, there were only two of us that did maths in the sixth form! You know, so I . . .

Abbate:

So when you—When you took that evening course in programming, were there a lot of other women in it?

Dollimore:

I knew you were going to ask me that, and I’m having . . . I was trying to remember about that in advance. There were other women. You know, it was a group of about a dozen, and I suspect that maybe there were about two other women, but it’s hard to remember.

Abbate:

That’s not bad. 25 percent?

Dollimore:

So anyway, when they offered me that grant to do a master’s degree, it wasn’t actually a taught degree; it was just doing some research, and sort of sitting in the lab with the Ph.D. students.

Abbate:

So your master’s was actually in—did they call it computer science?

Dollimore:

It was still called mathematics. My thesis actually says “M.Sc. in Mathematics.” But it was a sort of problem of applied mathematics, using programming to—numerical analysis to solve it, basically.

Introduction to Computer Programming

Abbate:

What was it like using that home-made computer? How did you program it?

Dollimore:

Well, it was really, really weird! You had a thing called, I think, a “uni-punch,” and it was paper tape, and the tape had five holes across it. There wasn’t even a typewriter to it; you had to actually press this little punch in and . . . That was the first computer; by the time I did the masters, London University had a computer, a Ferranti Mercury, which was in this place that we were talking about: the Institute of Computer Science. But I think it wasn’t actually quite the Institute at that stage. It’s hard to remember when that opened.

Abbate:

Where was that, physically?

Dollimore:

In Gordon Square. You know the big Tower, Senate House? Do you know where University College is?

Abbate:

Yes.

Dollimore:

It’s not far from there. It was just in a little house in a square; you know, a Bloomsbury-type Square. And that’s not far from Birkbeck; and we used to walk across there and use that computer. And that computer, although it was still using this punch-paper tape, you did have things like typewriters with keyboards that you typed the programs in.

Abbate:

What were you programming in? What sort of language?

Dollimore:

By the time of . . . The second one I’m describing is what you’d call an assembler language. It means you’re not actually using binary, but it’s . . .

Abbate:

Right, right.

Dollimore:

I suppose you know about these terms.

Abbate:

Yes.

Dollimore:

I suppose, when I was at Birkbeck using this very primitive computer, we were actually programming in binary.

Abbate:

And was that some binary peculiar to this one machine?

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right. And it had this rotating drum—well, actually, that was the normal form of storage in those days. But you had to arrange the programs so that when you’d done your instruction, it either had to be on—the next instruction had to be on the next location of the drum; or else, if you jumped it, you had to try to get it to a place where it would have rotated to about the right place, in order to make it work. Which was quite fun! [laughs]

Abbate:

So you would have had to have a lot of awareness of how the hardware worked.

Dollimore:

Yes, you did for that one.

Abbate:

Was that also true of the Ferranti machine?

Dollimore:

Yes, and in fact even some other machines I used after that. It wasn’t at quite such a low level as that. In the case of the Ferranti machine, the Mercury, you knew that it had a certain number of registers—they called them “B registers,” I think—which were sort of places that you could store things. There were a certain number of those, and so you had to organize your program just to use the number of those that were available—and then if you ran out of those, you’d put the numbers in memory somewhere. And you sort of had to work . . . it’s similar to doing assembly code programming, even these days, actually.

Abbate:

Did that have mercury delay lines? Is that why it was called Mercury?

Dollimore:

No, it just was called Mercury, because it sound like a Greek god! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Nothing to do with the storage technology.

So . . . We got to your master’s degree at Birkbeck.

Dollimore:

Yes. So when would that be? ‘60 or ‘61 or something like that.

Working as a Computer Programmer

Abbate:

What was your first job after that?

Dollimore:

As a programmer? I went to various . . . I went for interviews at various sorts of companies that wanted programmers; but then Being a bit feeble, I decided to go there, rather than, you know, dress up in a smart suit, and work at a company! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Were the companies willing to hire?

Dollimore:

I went to some interviews, and yes, I was offered jobs. But they were mostly in rather inconvenient locations. That was probably my main motivation against them. Everybody said, “Oh she’s mad—she only works when it’s near!” [laughs.]

Abbate:

Was there any sense that they had different jobs for men and women at these companies?

Dollimore:

I doubt it. I think it was the same, to be quite honest. Some of those jobs, you sort of took some type of aptitude test; and if you passed it, you were rather inclined to be offered something.

Abbate:

I’ve seen some of those.

Dollimore:

Yes, I know, they’re like the sort of things they do with children when they’re in school, isn’t it? Testing I.Q.s and so on . . .

Abbate:

So you ended up taking this job in a chemistry department. That was still at Birkbeck?

Dollimore:

That was at University College. That was probably 1961. It’s really hard to remember the exact dates.

So, that was quite interesting. I was just doing various jobs for various people in the department, but the people that mainly needed programs were the crystallographers. I wrote a whole lot of programs for them, and it sort of became like a suite of programs. That was quite interesting, trying to integrate them.

Abbate:

So were you figuring out the algorithms and coding them as well?

Dollimore:

Yes, yes. Well, for some of them, it was well-known what the formula was you had to do, actually; but then you had to turn that formula into an algorithm, I suppose.

Abbate:

That sounds quite challenging.

Dollimore:

I was trying to think if I had got any research out of . . . The master’s degree, I actually did manage to publish a paper on the results of that. And then, I think, one of these crystallographic programs, I managed to publish something on that. So, you know, it was beginning to be something a bit better than just being a programmer, I suppose!

Abbate:

Did those programs get used other places?

Dollimore:

Yes, they were, actually, because by then we’d got the Atlas computer: there was one in London, one in Manchester, and there was something called a Titan in Cambridge that was related. Certainly the people using London and Manchester were using those programs; and then, not many other universities had computers, so I suppose they were probably using the programs in London and Manchester. So it seemed worthwhile.

Abbate:

It seems like there was a lot of sharing of software—maybe still, but certainly in those early days.

Dollimore:

Yes, yes there was—often by quite primitive methods, like people posting things to one another! [laughs.] No email or anything like that.

Abbate:

Mail a deck of punch cards?

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right!

Abbate:

Would you know who had done the software—who had programmed it—if you got a copy of software from some other university?

Dollimore:

Yes, I think so. I think we always put our names on it somewhere! [laughs.] Yes, we did know. When I come to think about other people’s compilers and things that I used—often you would go and visit them, because you could not understand how to make them work! [laughs.]

Computer Programming Languages

Abbate:

I was wondering if you ever got a phone call from someone: “How do I . . .?”

Dollimore:

Yes, because in fact, when the Atlas came, there was a bit of a debate as to what programming language to use. There was the option of using FORTRAN; and then the people in Manchester developed their own language, called Atlas Autocode, which was the one I chose to use for my programs; and the people in London Institute of Computer Science were developing a language of their own. So it was all very chaotic. [laughs.] So I do remember going to Manchester, and talking to the people that designed the Atlas Autocode, because I couldn’t understand how to make it do certain things.

Abbate:

Did that limit the usability of the programs?

Dollimore:

Well in fact not, because there was only really this one computer that everybody was running it on! It’s true that if I had used FORTRAN, it would have been runnable on other computers, so that . . . Many years later, we changed to a CDC machine, I think, which didn’t run Atlas Autocode. But it had had quite a long run in terms of time.

But there did come that time when everybody started using FORTRAN. Don’t ask me when it was! Because FORTRAN, in fact, came out in the mid-’50s, didn’t it?

Abbate:

Yes, but it sort of wasn’t universal. I thought FORTRAN ‘77 was some sort of milestone. I also don’t know, in terms of over here . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, well, by then there were other languages, like ALGOL, which were much higher-level than FORTRAN. I think FORTRAN ‘77 was trying to sort of fix some of those things, by putting things like IF/ELSE in the language, instead of just IF [laughs], and making a more useful sort of FOR loop, and things like that.

But there were people in industry that went on using it—I suppose probably still do use FORTRAN! I don’t know.

Abbate:

As far as I know. They still use COBOL . . .

Did they have?—They must have had a Y2K problem here.

Dollimore:

Well, there was a big panic about it, but nothing much happened here.

Abbate:

Did they start calling on people who had retired years ago, and try to get them out of retirement to fix it?

Dollimore:

Yes, yes! But in fact nothing really happened. [laughs.]

Moving to the Institute of Computer Science

Abbate:

Let’s see. Where have we gotten? At the Institute of Computer Science, you were talking about . . .

Dollimore:

The stage I had sort of got to in the history was when I was still working as a programmer at University College. Then I suppose the Institute wanted to centralize things a bit, and they offered me a job to sort of look after crystallographic programs—you know, sort of in a more organized way—and that’s how I got into the Institute of Computer Science. But I was still just a . . . I was still just a programmer, really, although I think they called me a Research Assistant.

Abbate:

Okay, and this, the Institute of Computer Science was set up by the University of London, to sort of centralize . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, to be—like I said, it was to do research in computer science, which was mostly writing compilers and things like that. It also provided a service to the University, because at that stage, I suppose they had the only computer.

A few years later, it split into two parts: The University of London Computer Center and the Institute. And then later on, the Institute was disbanded into the various colleges. But that was—I think it was ‘73 it got disbanded. And I suppose Sylvia [Wilbur] was right when she said a lot of them did go to University College; but about three of us came to Queen Mary—and then probably a larger number, like half a dozen, went to Imperial College.

Abbate:

So you were at the Institute until it disbanded?

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right. But I was hardly there; I had about six months or so. And then we got to—that was working full-time; then we got to 1964, when I had my first child. They kept me on doing this job, because I suppose there was more just fixing things than actually trying to be creative and doing new things; and I sort of said, “Well, make it half-time,” so they made it half-time. They let me work at home quite a lot, and there was someone there who used to make my amendments to the programs, and run them, and print them out, and post them to me! [laughs.]

Abbate:

So you were able to work part-time, sort of maintaining programs that you had done?

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right! So that went on for years and years, because I had three children in the end. I suppose I went back full-time at the . . . No I didn’t—but I started going back into the Institute, as opposed to working at home.

Abbate:

So when you worked at home, you would sort of code things on paper and then mail them in?

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right! It’s funny, isn’t it? [laughs.]

Abbate:

So you didn’t have dial-up lines at that point.

Dollimore:

Definitely not. I didn’t have a computer at home. So it was really just working on paper.

Let’s think . . . My third child was born in ‘68, so I suppose it was only getting towards about ‘72 or so that I started actually going into the Institute again, but that was still only at half-time; and then about a year later they disbanded the Institute, and I moved down here [to Queen Mary].

Moving to Queen Mary College

Abbate:

You started here in seventy . . .

Dollimore:

‘73—Autumn ‘73, I think. And they—they were still calling me a Research Assistant at that stage, because it was as though the job just moved from the Institute to here. Actually, by then I’d started doing some other work, because really, the crystallographic stuff was pretty well finished. In fact . . . it’s hard . . . There was someone I knew, a psychiatrist who was doing work with EEGs, and I started doing some programming for him. It was still sort of officially Institute work though. And in fact we got quite a lot of publications out of that, which made me a bit more respectable than I really was! [laughs.] I don’t put them on my C.V. now; it was so long ago.

But that sort of gave me something to do. And that was what I was doing when I came here. But when I came here, I found that—I began to find out what computer science really was. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Because up to now, you’d been . . .

Dollimore:

It had been just applications.

Abbate:

. . . programming?

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right.

Abbate:

What were you doing when you first came here, besides finishing up the other projects?

Dollimore:

Well there was a lab here, where people were—you know, there was some computers that you could do interactive programming with, and I, I sort of tried various projects, one to do with handwriting recognition—I mean, nothing much came of that, but . . .

A lot of it was just learning, to be quite honest. And then they got me to teach a course. I think that was “FORTRAN for Physicists,” or something like that! And then eventually I became a lecturer, and . . .

It really took years to catch up with the subject though, to be quite honest. Because, I think—I think Sylvia probably mentioned the COSMOS project; this was the first project that I was involved in, as well. It was . . .

Working on the COSMOS Project

Abbate:

I’m not sure. That’s an acronym?

Dollimore:

Yes, it is. COSMOS is an acronym for “Computer Supported Message Oriented System.” It was a project that we’d got with BT and Manchester University, and Nottingham. I don’t know when it started—maybe ‘78? ‘80? No, probably . . . It must have been after ‘80, because Sylvia was here, but she hadn’t been here very long. It was a project to design a sort of ambitious type of mail system where people could sort of do collaborative working.

Abbate:

Oh, right. This is the computer-mediated . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right. Yes, that’s it.

Abbate:

I guess I didn’t get the acronym.

Dollimore:

It was a four-year funded research project, and we had Research Assistants, and . . . This was when I started doing things. I suppose I’d got my first Ph.D. student shortly before that. So really it was only from about 1980 onwards that I was doing any research.

Specializing in Distributed Systems and Writing a Book

Abbate:

So, what did you specialize in?

Dollimore:

Well, distributed systems is really what I ended up specializing in. And I suppose this messaging was the beginning of that interest in that. I suppose before that, I’d been trying to find out what area to go into, and then distributed systems seemed to be something that I enjoyed doing.

Abbate:

What kind of projects have you done in distributed computing?

Dollimore:

There was another one—it was a strange project, actually—the sort of crazy thing that happens with European funding. You know [laughs]: There was a company in Germany, a hardware company in Germany; and a software company in the Netherlands; and there was also—I think there were some people from Sussex University . . . It’s hard to remember who they all were. And there was this project to—well, the hardware company were going to sort of make this very powerful workstation, with advanced graphics—oh, that’s where the Sussex people came in, and somebody that used to be in this department; they were into graphics. But for some reason we said distributed systems was important, and we’d do a distributed Smalltalk; and we actually did quite a lot of work over that, and I think three of my Ph.D. students worked on that. That worked out very well, doing the distributed Smalltalk.

And then, about 1988, we wrote the first edition of this book I was going on about. I work with—the person I live with is called George Coulouris, who is a professor in the department from about the early ‘70s. The two of us wrote the first edition of this book on distributed systems in 1988. And then shortly after that, this young chap Tim—who now is in America, the one who is at HP Research Labs—he joined the department; and when we came to do the second edition, he became an author with us, and that came out in ‘94. And then the third edition came out last summer. I’m going on about this book because you said, “What are the highlights of your career?”

Abbate:

Well, it sounds like one.

Dollimore:

The third edition has been really successful, so far, and it seems as though we learned how to get it right after three times! [laughs]

Abbate:

I haven’t seen the book. Does this encompass distributed operating systems and distributed programming of applications . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, yes, that’s right.

Yes, so, we start off with just introducing general concepts like the Internet, and intranets, and stuff like that, and the Web. And then, in the second chapter, we sort of try and go up to a higher level and produce abstract models of things like interaction, and a fault model, and a security model. And then we do a little bit about networking; we’re assuming most people would have done networking in another course. And then there’s something at the level just about—above networking, about how processes communicate with one another. And then we explain how you use Java to program those things. Of course, we didn’t have Java in the other editions of the book; this made it much more acceptable. And then, there’s sort of techniques: something called “remote procedure calling,” which enables . . . You’ve heard of that? That’s all explained in the book. And then there’s the chapter on distributed operating systems, and one on computer security, and . . . one on transactions and concurrency control.

Abbate:

It covers the bases, yes.

Dollimore:

Yes, it’s quite a long book! It’s got about 700 pages!

Abbate:

Has it changed a lot over the years?

Dollimore:

Yes, it has changed a lot. I suppose when we did the first edition, it was mostly only master’s courses that were studying distributed systems; whereas it’s become an undergraduate course in most universities—in this country, I think, anyway; although a lot of the people in America that are using it seem to be master’s courses.

One thing that’s been quite fun is—we’ve got a really good Web site for the third edition, but we did have a Web site for the second edition, so you get lots of feedback from students and teachers. They email you and point out all the errors! [laughs.]

Abbate:

So you’ve got a distributed publishing service!

Dollimore:

Yes, that’s right. It’s quite fun!

Reflection on Women in the Computer Science Department at Queen Mary College

Abbate:

Were you able to shape the curriculum in the computer science department? To say, “This is important; we should teach it”?

Dollimore:

Yes, because I . . . We started by having a master’s. There was a master’s degree that we had here, which was quite fun: it had four different areas, one of the areas being distributed systems. In fact, it was distributed and parallel systems, and Heather [Liddell], with her parallel interests, was involved in it as well. And that went on until— In fact it finished just the year after I retired, because there wasn’t anyone left to teach that, so they changed the orientation of it.

But then, about 1990, we had an undergraduate course in distributed systems as well; so I’ve been able to teach that for quite a while.

Abbate:

Do you find that women end up in certain areas of computer science disproportionately?

Dollimore:

I don’t think so. I don’t know so many women in computer science, to be quite honest!

Abbate:

Oh. I guess that would be another question. Is the . . .

Dollimore:

Because I suppose what Sylvia and Heather and I were doing was not so far apart from one another, really—although we didn’t work together . . .

Abbate:

Right—with the networking, and the parallel processing . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, yes. It’s at least the system side of things. Although the new women in the department are working in information retrieval, which is something I’ve never even heard of!

Abbate:

Well, there’s a lot of women in that.

Dollimore:

Are there?

Abbate:

Partly because there’s an overlap with sort of library science, and places that women have traditionally been . . . This is one of the things I’m trying to figure out—if the women end up more in some areas than others. For example, artificial intelligence seems to have a lot of women.

Dollimore:

Yes, because in fact—I don’t know if you’re interviewing Hilary Buxton—she used to be in this department.

Abbate:

Sylvia had mentioned her . . .

Dollimore:

She’s now at Sussex, but she’s AI.

Abbate:

I don’t remember if I’ve heard from her. She might be on my list. I’m not talking to her this time around . . .

Dollimore:

She’s a good deal younger than we are, so you can get her next time you come out! [laughs.]

Abbate:

But some other people, like—

Dollimore:

I suppose that Karen Sparck-Jones?

Abbate:

And Alison Adam.

Dollimore:

No, I don’t know her.

Abbate:

She does AI at University of Salford in Manchester.

Dollimore:

Of course, when I was chair of the Examiners, I always insisted on getting female External Examiners—much to everybody’s amazement! [laughs.] I was trying to think who they all were! I had Jean Bacon for one of them . . .

Abbate:

What are External Examiners?

Dollimore:

The universities sort of watch each other’s standards, and so . . .

Abbate:

Okay.

Dollimore:

. . . you know, you have two people from other universities who come to your Examiners’ meetings, and . . .

Abbate:

Okay, yes.

Dollimore:

Another one was Heather Brown from Kent. I suppose you know about her.

Abbate:

She, she’s . . .

Dollimore:

Of course, she is in information, really, isn’t she?

Abbate:

Is she in Plymouth or something?

Dollimore:

She’s Kent . . . although she spends time in Cambridge, actually, but . . . Who else did we have? It’s hard to remember.

Abbate:

That’s interesting. Why did you want women?

Dollimore:

Well I just thought, “Well, they’ve always had two men; why not get one man and one woman!” [laughs.] It would have been a bit hard to get two women!

Abbate:

No, that’s interesting. I don’t really know the system that well, but is that a way that contacts are made, or that . . . ?

Dollimore:

It’s not very important for that. I suppose people tend to ask other people that they know to do it. And, it’s just—this is just for the undergraduate exams, which is the main part of your examining. I just happened to be chair of the Exam Board for several years, and so I had to get these people. So I just thought, “Well, let’s get some . . .”

Abbate:

Have you made efforts to encourage women to study here, or to try to make them comfortable once they’re here?

Dollimore:

Yes, because we have tutor groups, and we’ve had sort of phases of having all-girl tutor groups. I don’t know if they do at the moment, but just now and again there was this idea that if the female members of staff had a lot of the girls in their tutor groups, it would make it easier for them.

Abbate:

And did it?

Dollimore:

But it’s hard to remember whether they discontinued that practice or . . .

It was quite peaceful having all these girls! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Did you get the sense that it was helpful to them?

Dollimore:

I think it probably was. I mean, they were only coming and seeing you for an hour or maybe two hours each week, and, you know, working through problems with them. I think when there were mixed tutor groups, there was a bit of sort of competitiveness, whereas the girls didn’t seem to compete with one another very much. But, you know, it’s hard to generalize about these things. I suppose I’d quite often had female project students. I didn’t particularly go out of my way to have them—but they probably went out of their way to get me.

Reflection on Professional Societies

Abbate:

Have you been very active in professional societies?

Dollimore:

No, absolutely not! I’m afraid I’m useless!

Abbate:

Well, that’s up to you. I don’t even know—it’s a funny field—I don’t know what societies would even be most appropriate for what you do. Would that be the British Computer Society? Or the IEE?

Dollimore:

I probably should have joined the BCS, just because the BCS likes the staff at the colleges to be members. You know, because all the students want to be members, and we sign the forms for them.

Abbate:

I see.

Dollimore:

It’s a bit funny for them that we’re not members!

Abbate:

What advantage would it be to be a member of the British Computer Society?

Dollimore:

Well you’d get something called the Computer Journal, that . . . They do hold meetings: talks and things. I have actually given one of their talks, but I’ve never become a member.

Abbate:

I guess—in the States they tend to be more—they hold conferences, and they publish journals, and that seems to be their main function.

Dollimore:

Yes. Well they do publish this journal—but I don’t think being a member would make any difference to whether you could publish in it!

Abbate:

It just makes it cheaper.

As a Woman in the Field of Computer Programming

Abbate:

Have you ever felt, as a woman, that you’ve encountered any kind of discrimination, or even just—I don’t know, sexist comments, or any kind of . . . ?

Dollimore:

On the whole, not. There have been sexist comments, but it’s always been in a place where there were a lot of people about, and somebody always shuts the person up. And I don’t think it’s very intentional; you know, some people just got used to saying these male chauvinist things! [laughs.] And somebody says, “You know, you watch out, Jean’ll hit you!” So Jean doesn’t hit them because they said that, but . . . But, you know, it’s been a very small minority of people that have acted like that. Considering there were only ever about three women on the academic staff out of about 25. It’s been very, very easy to carry on.

Abbate:

And does it seem like promotion and . . .

Dollimore:

I don’t think that made any difference. No.

Abbate:

Is there any kind of glass ceiling?

Dollimore:

Well, you might think so by the numbers; but I think there just weren’t enough of us around to—to make professor, say.

Abbate:

So you think that as more women come in, they’re kind of marching up the ranks?

Dollimore:

Well, I didn’t feel that any of us were held back because we were females; but I haven’t studied the whole country.

Abbate:

I just wanted your own perception.

Dollimore:

But this always seemed a very friendly department.

Abbate:

It does, from what I can tell.

Dollimore:

So maybe it’s nicer here than it is in most other places!

Abbate:

I’ve definitely heard some hair-raising stories from other places; but not from here. So that sounds good.

Reflections on Career in Computing

Abbate:

What have you found the most satisfying aspect of being in computing?

Dollimore:

I enjoy programming, to be quite honest! Not that I’ve done any since I’ve retired . . . You know, and solving those sort of problems. It might not be exactly programming, but sort of thinking about practical scenarios: distributed systems, and then trying to think how you make something work, and then what are the details, and . . .

Abbate:

So partly the intellectual challenge, but partly having something work at the end?

Dollimore:

Yes, exactly, have something working.

Abbate:

. . . that has some real-world value to it.

Dollimore:

Yes! Yes—because although I really did like mathematics very much, I think I would have found it a bit too dry to actually do for years and years on end. You know, just fighting your way through some equations—whereas you’ve always got feedback from a program.

Abbate:

It sounds like you . . . like a lot of these products are collaborative, are sort of a team of people. Is that more typical of the kind of work you do, that it’s a multi-person task?

Dollimore:

Yes, it has been, actually. It’s only on a small scale, like, sort of maybe two or three academic staff, and two or three Ph.D.s or research assistants, or something like that.

Abbate:

Do you like that, or is that . . . ?

Dollimore:

No, it’s about right for me. There was one place that we visited, one year—about 1994, I think it was—we’d both of us managed to get sabbaticals at the same time, and we went to Grenoble in France, where there’s a big lab of people doing distributed systems. And you know, you’ve got twenty people doing distributed systems, plus all their Ph.D.s! That was very exciting for us, because there were always just the three of us. It’s so different being able to wander around and talk to all of these different people. You had to know where they’re doing!

Abbate:

How did they manage that?

Dollimore:

Well . . . I think it’s changed now in France, but they had a lot of government funding for research labs in France at that period. So although these people did some teaching in the university, they were mostly . . . they were just sitting in this research lab doing research, all the rest of the time, and . . . But there were sort of maybe about ten of these labs, in various places in France, that you could go to.

Abbate:

Did you have to find your own funding for projects, here?

Dollimore:

Oh, definitely, but it was either from a U.K. funding body, or from the European Union funding, so . . .

Abbate:

So were you—did you write grant applications a lot?

Dollimore:

Well, not a lot! I mean I did—I wrote more than I succeeded in, obviously! There was another project that I hadn’t mentioned yet, that was the last . . . I’m trying to think . . . I’ve somehow missed out telling you about two projects!

Abbate:

Oh, please do!

Working on Projects in the Field

Dollimore:

The most recent . . . There was another European-funded one, which—in fact, it extended slightly after I’d retired—which was—the leader of the project was a chap called Marc Shapiro, who worked in one of those institutes in Paris. He set it up, together with us, and one of our friends from Grenoble, and then we also got some people from Portugal, and—where else? I can’t remember; it doesn’t really matter. This was again a project about cooperative working, but it wasn’t like using messaging, like that first one I described; it was more like running the same software on each computer in a distributed system: say, one in Paris, one in Lisbon, one in London, or whatever. And, so, the people in Paris were developing the basic platform for it, and we were working on security here, and we had a research assistant who was doing that, and one of my Ph.D. students was also working on security, so that one was interesting. That was probably the most friendly one, in that, although we had all these people in different countries, everybody got on very well with one another. We all enjoyed going on the Eurostar to Paris and having the meetings! [laughs.]

Abbate:

What became of that system?

Dollimore:

Well [laughs], like all of them, nothing much! But, you sort of put it on the Web at the end, and then people express interest, and . . .

Abbate:

I mean, does it sort of spin off into . . . people take ideas and . . .

Dollimore:

Well in fact, there is always supposed to be a company that will exploit it. In fact . . .

Abbate:

When you say “always,” you mean for the European projects?

Dollimore:

Yes; this is how you write the proposal. In fact, there was a German CAD company that was involved with it, and they did make it run on their computers; but I suspect they won’t do anything with it. And then there was the French Building Research . . . what’s it called? It was sort of like our Building Research Lab . . . but they were involved in it as well, and they were interested in it.

I think actually it’s more just that the ideas come out of it. The actual software you build: People download it, and run it a bit, and sort of see what they can do with it.

Abbate:

So it’s more a sort of proof of concept? Work out ideas, and . . .

Dollimore:

Because we did get lots of publications out of it, so I suppose people will carry on with the ideas. In fact, some of them are still working on something related; but I decided that as I was retiring, I was retiring. [laughs.] And that was the end of it!

Abbate:

Did you tell me the name of that project? I don’t remember.

Dollimore:

No! What was it called? Heavens! I don’t remember.

Abbate:

Probably some terrible acronym?

Dollimore:

Ah, PERDIS—that was it!

Abbate:

P-E-R-D-I-S?

Dollimore:

Persistent Distributed Memory, it was meant to be. Yes, P-E-R-D-I-S! [laughs]

Well, the first time we wrote the proposal, we called it “Musketeers”—I mean in French: “Mousquetaires!” But then that . . . When they make you rewrite it, they want you to put it in with a different name.

Abbate:

Just because . . .

Dollimore:

Bureaucracies!

The other recent thing was this chap Tim who went to the States. He was really the leader in that. He wrote this proposal—with our help, actually—that was called the Mushroom Project. And that, again, was about collaborative working, but this time more tightly coupled Java programs, still on distributed—working on different workstations; but it was supposed to help medical people, and he did a case study of treatment of diabetics. And then, although it was a basic platform that should be able to support various types of collaborative working, they actually made a program that could be used by the carers for diabetic patients, and we had people from the London Hospital involved in it, and they did come along and . . .

Abbate:

So . . . People caring for them at home would have this, or people in hospitals?

Dollimore:

No, it’s just in the hospital, and the G.P.’s Surgery.

Abbate:

I see.

Dollimore:

So that, that was quite interesting! That finished last June I think, actually.

Abbate:

What’s Tim’s last name?

Dollimore:

Kindberg.

Abbate:

Kindberg. Is that K-I-N-D?

Dollimore:

B-E-R-G. Yes, that’s right.

Abbate:

Is he American, or does he just work there?

Dollimore:

He’s English. His wife’s American, and I think they had a sort of agreement that after ten years, maybe they’d go to the States for a while. He got a good job, so . . .

Abbate:

I’ll bet!

Dollimore:

You bet! That’s right!

Abbate:

Have we missed any big milestones?

Dollimore:

Of course I’ve done loads of teaching in that time.

Reflections on Teaching Computing

Abbate:

Right, of course. How much . . . How do they structure that here? How many courses do you teach?

Dollimore:

Recently, it’s just been two each year, one undergraduates and one master’s course, basically. So, I always had a distributed systems master’s course and a distributed systems undergraduate course—but then, I usually had a fairly large second-year programming course, which towards the end became Java programming. I’d always wanted to teach object-oriented programming, you know, so it was really nice that suddenly this marvelous language turned up! So . . . As soon as it appeared on the scene, I said, I’ve got to teach Java in the second year. And it was so popular with the students!

Abbate:

I’ll bet!

Dollimore:

I thought they wouldn’t know what it was, and I made this Web page saying, “Java is good because of this and that,” you know! “You can do graphics without getting some funny library, and you can do distributed systems, and you can do this and you can do that.” But then they all came in really keen! And it was such fun! So I suppose about the last three or four years of teaching that second-year course, I’ve really enjoyed it—which was nice.

Abbate:

So that sounds like another—something else that you really enjoyed.

Dollimore:

Yes! I mean, before that, it was always a bit of a drag, because—I can’t go back a long way, but before the Java, I think it was mostly C++ I was teaching, and I never liked the language, although it’s supposed to be object-oriented. And I used to tell the students all these bad things about the language, and they’d say “Why do you teach us that if it’s so bad?!” It’s hard to convey the benefits of object orientation when using such a poor example of it.

[TAPE 1, SIDE 2]

Balancing Work and Family

Abbate:

Have you had a lot of trouble balancing work and family? Now, you had three children . . .

Dollimore:

Three children. Quite honestly, I didn’t do much work when they were younger.

Abbate:

So you were working part-time . . .

Dollimore:

I was working part-time, and I was not keeping up with the developments in the subject. I think I was just happy to work part-time, because I had something different to do. I didn’t particularly want to be going in to work every day, and—and you know, having child minders, and stuff!

So, I suppose it wasn’t until the youngest one was about 12, 14, something like that, that I really got going again.

Abbate:

Was it hard to get back into . . . back into computing after . . .

Dollimore:

Well the thing was, I wasn’t ever totally out.

Abbate:

Right . . .

Dollimore:

You know, so . . . And there were loads of people like me that sort of came out of other subjects, and hadn’t been properly trained. There wasn’t really anybody with computer science degrees in those days, so . . .

Abbate:

So in a way, it was a good field for someone who wanted to take some time out?

Dollimore:

For someone who wanted to mess about! Yes, that’s right.

Abbate:

Because, it wasn’t like you were on some track, and if you stepped off, you could never get on again . . .

Dollimore:

Yes. It’s different now. I mean, women academics that have babies usually take a few months off and then come back and work full time. I don’t know . . . I presume some of them stop, but I think it would be much harder for them. I suppose if you’re clever, though, you can do anything, can’t you? [laughs.]

Abbate:

Did you have any role models or mentors, or people who sort of encouraged you along the way?

Dollimore:

Just colleagues, I think, actually. Not, not really role models.

Abbate:

So you had a supportive community around you?

Dollimore:

Yes, yes, that’s right! Because in fact, I would say I had a lot of support from this George who I now live with, and—but when I first came to Queen Mary, he was running this lab that was doing all the exciting things, and I got a lot of encouragement from him and his group. It’s a bit difficult to disentangle the sort of personal—I mean, it certainly wasn’t any sort of a relationship at the beginning. But he certainly helped me a lot. But then, on the other hand, this chap Tim—I mean, he’s years younger than me—he’s only sort of fortyish now—but somehow, just working with him, very closely and collaboratively, that’s helped a lot, too.

Abbate:

Do you know a lot of . . . Is there sort of a community of women in computer science?

Dollimore:

There might be, but I’m not in it.

Abbate:

Not that you’ve experienced.

Dollimore:

Yes. This person Hilary Buxton that we mentioned was very keen on women into computing, and having meetings of that sort, and she might be able to tell you, if there was.

Abbate:

Well I . . . I really meant in your experience. If you go to a conference . . .

Dollimore:

I suppose you do tend to talk to the women; it’s just easier. Yes, that does happen.

Abbate:

Has the proportion of women changed a lot?

Dollimore:

The proportion . . . Not really. I mean . . . That PERDIS project: I was the only woman that went to those meetings!

Abbate:

But if you go, if you go to a computing conference—I don’t know which ones you go to . . .

Dollimore:

It’s quite, quite low, I think. It may depend a bit on the subject area—because there’s something called European SIGOPS, more of a workshop than a conference, but it is for people interested in distributed systems and operating systems and . . .

Abbate:

So this is a Special Interest Group for Operating Systems?

Dollimore:

It’s a sort of . . . Yes . . . It’s a sort of excuse for a lot of Americans to come over to Europe!

Abbate:

I see!

Dollimore:

And I went to quite a lot of those. I didn’t go to the last one, I sort of felt that I wouldn’t bother; but there were probably—only about a fifth of the people there were women, I should think.

Abbate:

That sounds like about the percentage that’s in academic computer science.

Dollimore:

You’re probably . . . probably right.

Abbate:

So about the same—which is today, not huge.

Dollimore:

Yes, I think so! Yes.

Reflections on the Field of Computing

Abbate:

How do you think computing has changed over the years you’ve been in the field?

Dollimore:

It just develops like mad all the time! This is why I decided to make a clean cut when I retired, because . . . I mean, I obviously have to keep up with the subjects related to the book, because we have to sort of do new impressions, and make the corrections and answer the—answer the questions from the readers and stuff; but I’m definitely not trying to keep up with research. You know, it just is like being on a sort of treadmill: it changes so fast! And it’s very, very technical. But I don’t think it’s any different in that change than it was before. The field’s just expanded like mad, and it’s become much more applicable than you’d expected. I mean you—you would hardly have believed even ten years ago that everybody’d have a computer in their house, and be using the World Wide Web, and sending email to one another!

Abbate:

Do you think the culture of computing has changed? The type of people, and the atmosphere, the way they interact?

Dollimore:

Possibly with young people coming into it. Hard to tell, because I don’t know many of them, but . . . It must eventually reach a sort of saturation, mustn’t it? Where it . . . I mean, it was always a very challenging thing to do, because not many people could do it. I suppose a lot of students still do it because of that. I suppose you’ll always need programmers—but I think there’s a lot of people associated with it that aren’t programmers; they’re just managers. And I suppose that’s what the change is, really.

Abbate:

So it’s sort of mainstream, as opposed to some hard core of technologists?

Dollimore:

Yes. Yes, I think so. But you won’t get rid of the technologists. They’ll just be in the minority, I suppose!

Abbate:

Just bring more—more other people along.

Dollimore:

I’ve come across a lot of people that say they work in computers, but they don’t really have technical backgrounds. I mean, they know how to tell people how to use their laptops or whatever . . .

Abbate:

So maybe the definition has expanded . . . .

Dollimore:

Yes, I think so.

Final Reflections

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women who might be contemplating a career in computing?

Dollimore:

I think it’s a good idea! [laughs.] I’ve enjoyed it. Although I didn’t manage to persuade any of my children to do it!

Abbate:

What do your children do?

Dollimore:

My daughter’s a teacher; but she’s sort of not working at the moment, because she had twins three years ago, and she has got another child. And, the older of my two sons—He had a lot of trouble deciding what to do, but he recently took a degree in international politics. And the youngest one does up houses—and sells them, and buys another one.

Abbate:

You don’t think having two parents in computing discouraged them from doing it?

Dollimore:

Well you see, their father was an architect, you know, and then, then we separated and . . . . . . And then I got together with George, so, I think they’d’ already decided what they were doing, by then.

Abbate:

Oh, I see. Do you have any grandchildren?

Dollimore:

Yes! Yes: just three. My daughter’s got an eight-year old daughter, and then these twins, who are, are nearly three! I spend a day each week just looking after them, actually.

Abbate:

Oh, that’s great!

Dollimore:

Yes, it’s quite fun! [laughs]

Abbate:

You can help with those work-and-family issues.

JD! Yes! Yes.

Abbate:

All right! I think I’ve probably . . .

Dollimore:

I think you’ve probably found out most things! [laughs.]

Abbate:

Thanks very much for talking to me! It was really fun.

Dollimore:

Well, you’re welcome!