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Oral-History:Pamela "Pam" Morton

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About Pamela “Pam” Morton

Pamela “Pam” Morton was born in London in 1933. As a “wartime person” she spent her childhood in the country on a farm with her grandparents. In secondary school a teacher noticed her gift for Euclidean geometry and encouraged her study of mathematics. She completed a combined degree in mathematics, chemistry, and physics at a London polytechnic as a part-time student. In 1954, she joined the Civil Service as an Experimental Officer at the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. In the mid-1960s, the British Parliament had entrusted her department with the mission of creating a data management system for the Civil Service. Morton reached out to ICT (Later known as ICL International Computers Limited) to help with the implementation of a successful database system. In 1966, as a Project Leader at the Ministry of Technology, Morton worked on the creation of a searchable thesaurus. In 1969, she moved to the Civil Service Department at the Treasury Ministry.

During that time, she participated in a systems design course at the Woolwich Polytechnic (later to become Greenwich University). From 1970 to 1991, she was course director at the School of Computing and IT at the University of Greenwich. Concurrently, she had developed a career as an education consultant for major British companies and foreign governments. At her tenure at Greenwich University, she had gained notoriety for her innovative use of videotaping and role-play in the training process of senior managers in computing companies. In 1980, Morton was appointed course director for undergraduates. In 1990, she had won the Peugeot Talbot /Council for Industry and Higher Education Partnership Award for fostering entrepreneurial and professional skills in first year undergraduate students.

Over the years Morton actively engaged in debates and initiatives to encourage women’s entry into computing issues. Between 1984 and 1986 she was on the Women’s National Commission/Cabinet Office - National Steering Committee for Women’s Training Roadshows -Vice-Chairman SE Region. In 1985, she created a national campaign with industry and the department of industry to integrate women into the sciences. The campaign was successful in raising funds for various activities to bring women into the sciences.

In this interview she discusses her long career as a Civil Servant and science educator. She talks about the national projects on which she worked on from 1954 to 1991 such as her two decade service PITCOM (Parliamentary Information Technology Committee), her service on the board of the National Computing Center, and her role as Education Liaison and vice-chairman of London Branch of the British Computer Society.

About the Interview

Pamela “Pam” Morton: An Interview Conducted by Janet Abbate for the IEEE History Center, 6 April 2001

Interview #613 for the IEEE History Center, The Institute of Electrical and Electronic 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: Pamela “Pam” Morton: An Interview Conducted in 2001 by Janet Abbate for the IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.

Interview

INTERVIEW: Pamela “Pam” Morton

INTERVIEWER: Janet Abbate

DATE: 6 April 2001

PLACE: Morton’s office at the University of Greenwich, London, England

[Notes courtesy of interviewer Janet Abbate]

Background and Education

Abbate:

It’s April 6th, 2001, and I’m speaking with Pamela Morton.

Morton:

Okay. I had no family background at all in this; I was the only one who was interested in maths, at all, even at school. And I then found myself very good at simple arithmetic, straight into secondary school after getting a scholarship, and found myself with a very sympathetic teacher of mathematics.

Abbate:

In secondary school?

Morton:

In secondary school; who broadened my interest and discovered that I had a gift for Euclidean geometry—which apparently is something to do with drawing your attention to how things work, and how the things are interrelated. There’s a sort of 3-D aspect to it which was quite interesting; I’ve seen it being useful thereafter. After that, the A-levels took me into higher education—again, with maths in it—but I was really better at chemistry. Chemistry was simpler for me—again, structural, and I understood how it came about; I could see structure in it. And from then on, although I started as a chemist—and that’s where the history starts, in a real sense, to embrace a broader base—was that I started moving into chemistry, which led me through two paths. I started as an analytical chemist—and I had to do the degree part-time, because of family circumstances.

Abbate: Where were you doing the degree?

Morton:

It was a London University–based internal degree, but it was done at a polytechnic—part-time day-release, one day a week.

Abbate: And it was a degree in chemistry?

Morton: It was a degree—a combined degree—in maths, chemistry, and physics.

'Abbate:

Wow!

Morton: Pretty hard, one day a week!

Joining the Civil Service

Morton:

But anyway: The outcome of that was that I got one of the earliest promotions in the computer—in the Civil Service—for an Experimental Officer, which was the grade I was in at the Laboratory of the Government Chemist. And that had an interesting history, because it’s one of the oldest laboratories of the whole government science world. But it was an opportunity for me to do some research; so I started doing both this research and had the good fortune to fall across the most brilliant project team manager I’ve ever met. Watching this guy at work, with teams of analysts doing pretty boring, meticulous work, and seeing how he’d get them engaged—and then keeping my research in parallel: published some research, analytical research, but got very bored about doing the Ph.D. that was at the end of that, so I gave up.

Abbate:

So this was 1958 that you started at the lab, and you were still working on . . . ?

Morton:

I’d been at the lab since ‘54, actually, but I finished my degree in ‘57.

Abbate: I see. So you had started there part-time as a student? Or . . .

Morton:

No, I was a full-time civil servant in ‘54. But basically they offered the facility to—they wanted to train up certain people, so they offered us a part-time degree.

Abbate:

I see! Ah.

Morton:

In ‘54. That’s early days.

Abbate:

So how did you get the job, initially?

Morton:

Open competition, in this country, we have for the Civil Service; and I knew I could do some reasonable chemistry in this place, and that’s how I got on it. I just thought, “Well, I can do some decent chemistry.” Then had the problem of being assigned to what seemed to me to be the terrible environment of being—just analyzing foodstuffs coming into the country.

Abbate:

Is that what the lab was . . . ?

Morton:

Yes. Well, part of its role was. And part of its role was to analyze all the spirits, sugars, cocoa-containing materials coming in. So at one stage I supervised a laboratory of—a team of people working on all the alcohol coming into the country [laughs] of one kind or another! Excruciatingly boring, but massive job. Masses, masses of money are linked with it, of course. Lots of negotiation with companies who didn’t agree with us. And things like sugar chemistry—because I started taking over the sugars next, which was even more fraught, because most of the battle was with people like the Tate and Lyle’s, who are the sugar kings in this country. And if I tell you that one sample no bigger than that glass represented 10,000 hundred-weights of imported sugar [laughs], you can understand how the arguments got quite fraught, if we didn’t agree with their analysis.

But anyway, I got quite a lot of negotiating skills from that. But then, I say, I moved into different areas and watched this, and then I was lucky enough to be watching someone who was brilliantly organizing people doing very, very boring work. And that in itself is an insight; if you can see how they can keep these people—despite the boredom of the task, which was the same every day—and still keep the whole thing going, and encourage people, and move them into promotion areas and things, get them away from this boring work: it gives you some idea of the inspiration it was.

Learning to engage people as a team leader

Morton:

Very funny, I remember this now: at one stage I was the team leader of a Kibbutz! [laughs.] We had perhaps eight delightful young Jewish people, and they didn’t like the work, and they all started getting very bored, and wanted to leave. And I discovered that—I ended up with a lot of them together, but they were tremendous fun, and if we could keep them all interested, they got so much out of it that they all rescinded their resignations! [laughs] You know, through promotions, and taking part-time degrees. And in fact we kept them within the department—which was, I suspect, quite cost-effective actually, when you think about it—and they went on to do some quite extraordinary things. But that’s the kind of thing one learns. You only learn it by watching it being done: how to get people engaged, interested, and entertained enough to stick around when things are pretty grindingly boring. Anyway, that was a fun time.

Working on a Parliamentary Question to create a data management tool for the Civil Service

Morton:

Then after having the promotion and things, I suddenly thought—well, the management staff started being of interest, and I thought, “Well, where do we go from here? I can manage people in this context; why don’t I think about moving into a broader thing?” At that time Laboratory of the Chemist was under the Department of Science and Industrial Research. Then the new Ministry of Technology was created in 1965 in this country, with a new minister. You know, it was all “White Heat of Technological Revolution.”

Abbate:

Yes.

Morton:

Yes? Rings a bell. They trolled all of the government departments looking for people willing to work in the fringes of computing. It was quite clear to me that was what was implied. They had a team set up in the Ministry of Technology called the Controller’s Planning Unit, direct to the Controller of Research, and one of our first missions was to deal with the parliamentary question problem. I don’t know if you’re aware . . .?

Abbate:

No; I saw PQ listed on your CV and I didn’t know what it meant.

Morton:

Parliamentary questions are one of the few things in this country that makes the Civil Service jump, because they are really time-sensitive. As many of the technology questions coming from the House of Commons were about how much was being spent on what research and where (or mostly what rather than where), the whole of the Civil Service—thirty thousand professional civil servants, scientists, engineers—would have to jump when a question was asked. And this was an incredibly time-wasting, expensive process!

Abbate:

Can you explain—just because I’m not familiar with the system: Someone brings up a question in Parliament, and then there is some statutory . . .

Morton:

... requirement for the departments to respond.

Abbate:

... to answer it in some period of time?

Morton:

Yes, that’s right. And in fact the bad news is that it takes so long! [laughs.] But it’s so expensive to do! Because what they’d have to do would be troll every department individually, asking the same question; and then manage to interpret the answer, and then get it ready for the House of Commons. And this really brought me on the interface, which is my first dabble in the Parliamentary system, of how are we going to deal with this? The consensus view at the headquarters was that if we could keep some sort of database about what was going on and keep it updated, we could then [simply] interrogate a database. So commonplace today; rare [then]. I mean, we’re talking major departments.

Abbate:

Because this was only the mid-1960s.

Morton:

Exactly! And it was quite a challenge, because there were two problems. Well, okay: first of all, there was only three or four people—very senior people—and myself, so I was one Indian and several major chiefs, one of whom had been head of a major research establishment; and [second, it was] early days for computing, and there was absolutely no software available. So the first effort was—I was doing most of the legwork—was finding out if there was any software available; but not before they wanted to do it internally. They wanted to do it inside the Ministry: had we got any staff in the Ministry appropriate for it? Well, that was almost impossible to determine. I mean, all the ministries were growing; what programmers there were were not necessarily working where we wanted them, because they would be mostly working in the scientific areas—plenty of scientific programmers, but the ones working in the data processing areas were busy doing things for the Ministry, and they weren’t very many. Collaborating with ICT/ICL

Morton:

So we, after banging our head against this resource level for a time, my first entrepreneurial exercise was to look round to see whether there was any software that was available coming packaged from the industry. I discovered that there was a new package that had just come out from what was then ICT, which became ICL. It was an interrogational database–type package, but no one had done much to it, and there weren’t many users. It happened, actually, to be the first 4GL ever in this country, and nobody recognized it for what it was. How many times the U.K. have invented things . . .! [laughs.] You’ve heard of 4GL, fourth-generation languages . . .

Abbate:

Yes, yes.

Morton:

And it was new not that long ago! Well, it wasn’t that new: It had been done by ICT in 1965. And basically what it allowed us to do was, that the user, using their language, could interrogate the system, because it was major generation of coding by simple instructions. As far as the user interface was concerned, you simply asked for things by English-language words, in Boolean algebraic combinations, and you got out what you wanted. Very impressive.

Abbate:

Great!

Project Leader at the Ministry of Technology

Morton:

Yes. Well in ‘65, it was very impressive! Anyway, so I did the research, found that this software existed, and then I was suddenly. . . We then had to design a thesaurus. You realize it’s a meta-language one has to use, and a thesaurus of terms if we didn’t have it. Then I got deep into the information retrieval world, which is more library science people—because when we looked for a language to describe our research work, there was nothing in existence. There were some thesauruses of terms, but they didn’t match us or our needs; because we wanted research and development in scientific and technology areas, for thirty research stations and the thirty research associations, which are the groups of, say, Rubber and Plastics Research Association—which in this country was half funded by the government and half by industry.

Abbate:

So you wanted to be able to search on any of those terms and find. . .

Morton:

Absolutely, yes, absolutely. And so we had to therefore design the thesaurus from scratch—and there wasn’t one in the world, apparently, at the time. And so there we were, working on that, at the same time as. . . I now knew how I could get the stuff onto the system, but we were suddenly at a stop, because we hadn’t got any programmers who could do it for us. Now we’re talking about simple setting-up of files in a database. Did you believe this is possible? So!

Abbate:

Were you still at the chemistry laboratory at this point?

Morton:

No no, I’d been transferred to headquarters. That’s when this headquarters move came, in ‘66, when I went in ‘66 to Project Leader. That’s when I moved.

Abbate:

OK.

Morton:

Previous to this, which I haven’t included, was all my scientific stuff.

Abbate:

Right. So you were at the Ministry of Technology at this point.

Morton:

By this time, I’m in the Ministry of Technology, as I’ve said here, and that was my first movement into computing. I did a couple of courses myself. As I’ll go on to say, we have the experience here of. . . There were no degrees in computing—didn’t have time to do them anyway, clearly, because I needed it immediately. I’d done some appreciation courses—I think I was the only who had—but at the same time, I was a bit—this entrepreneurial thing meant that I would try to bring together anything that was available to get my task completed. My mission-orientation has been there for years. I could see an end product.

Abbate:

But you had taken computer appreciation courses even before this project, just out of your own interest?

Morton:

I did it just out of interest; that’s right. And that’s what got me into it! Amazingly weird! [laughs]

Abbate:

What kind of computers would that have been at that point?

Morton:

Oh. . . [word unclear].

Abbate: Were you using punch cards?

Morton:

Yes, punch cards; they were reading punch-card and paper tape. The users were kept as far away from the equipment as possible! [laughs]

[Pause to change tape.]

Morton:

Sorry, I was answering your question.

Abbate:

The first computers you had used . . .

Morton:

Yes, yes. Well, we didn’t use them in the computer appreciation. There was no use of the computer. You didn’t use the computer; you were talking about using the computer. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Oh! So you didn’t actually write any programs or anything?

Morton:

No. But very soon after that I decided I’d look at the question of whether I could do the programming that we needed, because it was so minor. And so I then went down to—the major center for programming tuition at the time was RAE Farnborough, the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough; and so, as it was one of our stations, I pottered down there and said, “Can you give me a whiz through?” So he gave me a whiz through FORTRAN. I ask you: FORTRAN? [laughs.] Do you remember FORTRAN?

Abbate:

It was pretty advanced for the times—at least they weren’t doing binary! [laughs]

Morton:

‘66! Well, it’s true! True.

Connecting Government and Industry

Morton:

So anyway, they offered me some FORTRAN, which I couldn’t see was very much use for data processing and databases. So I thought, “This is a blank here.” Then I had this bright idea. I saw they’d got a new machine, the 1907, which was the biggest of the 1900 series that the ICT company produced. It was in commissioning stage; it hadn’t been fully commissioned; and I got friendly with them down there [at RAE Farnborough], and realized at the working level that they would be very interested in helping me do something, but they didn’t have anybody who was going to be useful. But they introduced me to a couple of senior women at ICT itself. What was interesting was that they could see what my problem was; they knew to speak to the ICT company. Several of the women—you know, user-interface women in ICT—realized that I was in a very interesting place: I was at the very highest level they’d ever been inside a Civil Service department in contact with, and that I was being asked to do something that was very, very high-profile, in those days. And they could see big sales—which, of course, always rivets the [attention].

Next thing I know, they asked for a meeting with me, and they said, “What’s your problem?” And I said, “The holdup in getting this stuff on [the computer]. This pile of work material we’ve created: We just need to get it on, and I can get no one to do it. FORTRAN’s not going to get me there!” [laughs.] They went away and decided between themselves that they would support me doing this, so they seconded someone to me at the Ministry—which was at the big headquarters at Millbank Tower at Millbank—and this bloke did the very simple piece of programming that just actually set up the whole database for me. I remained friends with him for ages. Part of the spin-off from that was, in ‘67 I think?, we got ten column-inches in the Financial Times about “the newest database of departmental research and development,” et cetera et cetera et cetera, and they loved it! They absolutely adored it! And of course it started selling hardware through their software, which was the original plan.

Anyway, once this was tested and was proven to be able to be done, I then was able to hand it over to a team of people who would then go on doing it, which was great. But in transit—it’s quite funny!—I kept finding myself being invited into major discussions at the very highest level, because I was clearly a boffin who could speak English and talk to senior civil servants about technology without trying to frighten them to death. Because I wasn’t much into technology myself, other than as a tool, that was an easy task.

They started throwing all sorts of things at me about ,”What could we do?” Now, we became efficient in use of FIND 1. That was the title: “File Interrogation of Nineteen-hundred Data.” FIND 1: nice acronym, and Nineteen-hundred was the series of the computers. So much did we stretch what was possible with that original 4GL that ICT asked me what there was missing. They came back and said, “What do you need?” And I said, “The only thing we need is that you haven’t got a spreadsheet facility in it. We need it.” For FIND 2, which was the upgrade of this thing, they not only put this potential into the software—think about it: spreadsheets in ‘66!—but they made us a test site for it. This of course was unknown, [but they did it] because we’d specified it. Mind you, we were using their software to full stretch—I mean, we were using the most interesting aspects of it. It was very good stuff!

But that brought other people’s attention to us, because there was a Treasury body at the time, the Treasury Computer Group, who were keeping an eye on what other departments were using computers for; and they’d found that I was tucked away, as their phrase was—tucked away in a corner of the Ministry of Technology, using the most advanced software that they’d [heard of]. How come? And of course, as by some accident, somebody at a major meeting I’d been at, where they said how quickly we’d got the pilot off and running—I left it at the pilot stage, in other people’s hands—they said, “How did you make this work?” And I said, “Well, we needed this, and it was the only way. We had to just basically cobble it together, to make it work.” And just as a throwaway, I said, “I could just as easily have done it for the personnel skills.” Because I’m looking at all their qualifications as well—I’ve got the whole mess—because they asked me for that as well, because they not only wanted what was being done, but what were the qualifications of the people who were doing it? You know, “How many Ph.D.s were working in the automation of machine tools using laser techniques?” That was one question I remember! But this was ‘66, and when I threw this away, I didn’t realize there was somebody from the Treasury sort of watching in this committee. But in no time at all, they had said, “You said it. Do it!” So, on the back of an envelope [laughs], I showed them how, using FIND, I could interrogate any database that I’d managed to enter, which included some of the sample stuff I’d got from the scientists, you see. And about three weeks later I was headhunted by the Treasury from the Ministry of Technology to go into the Civil Service Department.

1969: Moving to the Treasury Ministry

Morton:

The Treasury at that time—it’s gone back since then—was split into two halves: there was the money side of the Treasury, and there was the personnel side of the Treasury, and that Civil Service Department was actually the department that ran [handled the personnel information]. We had half a million civil servants—nonindustrial civil servants—at that time, and probably just as many industrial civil servants. So now we’re talking a database of half a million staff.

Abbate:

So they poached you in 1969. . .

Morton:

Yes, that’s right. They did. But that was really quite interesting, because when I got there, I discovered that it was an enormous, what I called “brontosaurus” of a job. It was massive; I mean, half a million [records]. Nobody much except banks, I suppose, would have—and we’re not talking about banking; we’re talking about personnel and various other elements of the whole HRD problem area. There weren’t enough staff to continue with this massive thing, and I felt that I couldn’t add enough or make enough effect. That’s what it felt like. As I implied, it was a brontosaurus, with a small brain and big body, and the number of people who could be assigned were just not enough, and no matter how much we attempted to recruit, there was no one out there to recruit.

Whilst I was in there, ‘66 to ‘69, I had to design my own training program; and I discovered that what I’d been doing—apart from the project-leading aspect, which I recognized—was systems analysis, design, and implementation. I hadn’t a clue as to how to do it, and I’d been doing it! So this is how this link with the National Computing Center came in, because this was the national body with the terms of reference to set up training courses right at the early days—’60s, middle ‘60s. They were going to bring more of this analysis and design group on board, and quite often it would be people like me, with what I call “user interface” experience. So I sent myself on this course, which was held at the then Woolwich Polytechnic, the precursor of this university [Greenwich], down the road a way, on the river.

When I got to the course, I found it was very interesting. Have you heard the phrase, “The curate’s egg?”

Abbate:

No.

Morton:

Yes. It’s a lovely story. A curate was asked whether his egg was good, and because it was really quite ghastly, he said, “It was good in parts.” Well, that was me! [laughs.] These were crash six-week courses, with just small groups, sixteen at a time; and I discovered that I was an absolute expert in certain areas of what they were covering, but in other areas totally ignorant. But it was fun! And, you know, one [learned] through that little exercise.


Morton:

At the end of it, the then-director of that course asked if I would be prepared to go back and lecture for them, because clearly there were areas I was expert in. So I said, “I don’t mind.” And that was my first taste of teaching. But of course, I then came up against the problem that several people asked me to do other things for them: industrial people. As you can imagine, some quite senior professional people were turning up on these courses—middle-rank people—and they wanted me to go off and teach, which I did for some of these big companies in the early days. I went off and did stuff for the system design area for all these companies, which was quite fun, but it was in a very specific area, the sort of logic thing I was particularly au fait with. And it was quite an interesting thing to realize that the government departments didn’t want me to do it, and I couldn’t even do it in my leave: no!

Abbate:

Why not?

Morton:

I don’t know. I was on some quite high level stuff, in terms of security—and once that’s happened, the Civil Service don’t want you going out talking about anything else. I’m not talking about the [secure information]; of course you don’t talk about that; but they don’t want you to talk about anything.

ARPANET

Morton:

So at that point I realized that I’ve got some industry interest in what I was doing; specific area of systems design I was quite strong in; and then an extraordinary thing happened. The director of this course at the Polytechnic was invited to become an Assistant Professor over in the states. He was quite a live-wire character. He got the Woolwich Polytechnic onto the ARPANET in—we’re talking sixty-seven, ‘eight!

Abbate:

Well, there wasn’t an ARPANET until . . . It wasn’t until ‘69 that they had anything.

Morton:

Well, whatever it was, the precursor—and then we were on at the same time pretty well as it became public. So we actually got the ARPANET link, which was—and we had this negotiated thing with ARPANET—so we were almost the first establishment in this country to be on ARPANET—because of this quirky link between this guy who was in America! Department of Defense.

Abbate:

But it was University College, wasn’t it, that had the first . . .

Morton:

Yes, it may have been, but this is one of the first, if University College was the first. I mean, look up the books. It’s a most interesting thing. It was a quirk that the Woolwich Polytechnic had an ARPANET network link at the same time as other places. I didn’t realize how early that was—and you’re telling me now. But anyway, we did, and through this chap called Tom Crowe, who was this Assistant Professor out in the States.

1970-1991, University of Greenwich School of Computing and IT

Morton:

But while he [Crowe] was away, they asked me, would I be interested in taking over as course director? Because of the bit of teaching I’d done, and I did work very well; and they knew I was an organizer, and they thought I could run teams and get people involved and so on. And I said, “Well, I don’t mind having a go.” So I did what’s called a two-year secondment. The Civil Service weren’t letting me work [elsewhere] while I was working for them, but they permit secondment, particularly into the education system; and I was therefore seconded for two years into Woolwich.

[Looks at CV.] Here we are. I call it this: “1970 to ‘91, University of Greenwich School of Computing and IT”—is what it became, but in the early days it was Woolwich. It was Woolwich Polytechnic, then it was Thames Polytechnic, then it became University of Greenwich. So I don’t know if you’ve necessarily picked up the fact it’s a progression. This place was a progression from Woolwich to Thames, which was much bigger, and now Greenwich, which is even bigger still—because you probably know, we’ve got 2,000 students in computing right now. Did you?

Abbate:

I didn’t realize you had that many.

Morton:

2,000 in computing. Dr. [Liz] Bacon is responsible for 2,000. . .

Abbate:

Wow!

Morton:

Some are postgraduate, and some are undergraduate—because we’ve got M.Sc. conversion courses. You may or may not realize that’s a major feature of what we’ve got. A lot of women are on those, by the way. And it’s a real worry to people that that’s not being funded any longer, because it was converting women with graduate qualifications from other disciplines. I think you should actually have a look at some of that, because I think there’s quite an important aspect to that. I’m going to suggest that you have a look at these things, in particular those M.Sc.s, because it would be interesting for you to realize where the development has gone and where the women are coming now; and more importantly, why are they taking the funding away? That’s the question that worries us! I mean, I say “us,” meaning the university. The funding is a necessary element.


Morton:

But, having said that, that the old days at the university—polytechnic; it was a polytechnic: My running of that course there really set the pattern for my working life thereafter, because I had . . . We ran, three times a year, these six-week crash courses. They work all day and night, practically, in that six weeks, and we got—in the ten years that I ran it, we must have had about 500 quite senior people, because we were getting. . .

[Pause to change tape in recorder.]

Morton:

Yes, we had quite senior professional people. We had a lot of doctors came on this course, because at that time the whole of the medical world was looking at putting computers into hospitals. And we’re talking so early—we’re talking, you know, the ‘60s, the ‘70s, 1970 onwards! And we were seeing graduates of very many professions on these courses, all developing their particular sector for computing, and particularly the design phase; so I kept seeing people like myself, who were on the user interface, coming for these system design courses. And out of that came a lot of my consultancy, as you can imagine, and as soon as I had got into this area, I began to do all this education consultancy with major companies, major players in this country, as well as some government departments as well.

Abbate:

How did you end up consulting for the Algerian government?

Morton:

Would you believe, it was through the NCC? They discovered what I was doing—you know, they knew, because they ran these courses; they also ran the Examination Board. The Exam Board was—it was done by national level, and the Exam Board sent round—”Systems Analysis Exam Board,” it was called—sent round examiners from all sorts of backgrounds, into all the colleges who were trying to do this course. A lot of them failed, but we—I’ll come back to that—we did very well on it, because of the style of what we were doing. We chose to do it in a special way—and chose to use videotaping: that was the crucial thing. I’ll come back to that. But this was—this is an organization set up by government to really—to support and disseminate computing into this country. That was their function.

Abbate:

Did the National Computing Center have a physical base?

Morton:

Oh, yes. Manchester; it was based in Manchester, close to Manchester University, where some of our original computing was done—in the world!—in Manchester. So, yes, it was Manchester-based, and had all these people who had the responsibility to go out and keep standards—maintain standards. Eventually I was asked to be on the board, but—not my thing, much.

Introducing Videotaping into the Classroom

Morton:

But [our course was] basically this kind of approach, which was to use a very disciplined package of education and training; but in particular, the training included the elements which I found were particularly attractive to senior people, which is how to so present their technical design that they could convince the finance directors and personnel directors that they should go for it. Because you must know, as I do, that many of the early computer systems failed: not because of technical quality—wasn’t that, was it?—they were technically sound, but hopeless user interface. And they didn’t do exactly what management wanted; they did what the technical people could manage. Now, that was fatal! Still is, by the way. [laughs.]

Abbate:

Yes.

Morton:

A continuing problem! But in those days, it was very clearly bringing computing in all sorts of organizations into disrepute, which is why it [NCC] was set up; that’s why this national body originally designed this thing to act as the interface between the managers and the needs of companies and industry and government and local authorities to get computer systems that would work.

Abbate:

That was forward-thinking.

Morton:

Oh, absolutely! Absolutely forward-thinking. Anyway, it was the development of what I did on that—I did for ten years this post-grad stuff—and it was the fact that we were getting known in the country: we had never had a failure, and they didn’t know how that was. Well, as course director, I had a free hand to look round for what resources I wanted, and found in the Polytechnic that we had a very nice television studio. And I had had, in my—my own experience was that you had to find rewarding things for staff, and I decided I’d have to find some rewarding things for my students, particularly as many of them were quite senior. In fact, I’ve got some photographs somewhere . . . [Shows a photo.] In fact, that shows a bit of it, how old some of them were; and I think it just happens by accident that we actually got—look at the age group: one of them was 50!—and he happened to be there when these photographs were taken, as I was using it [the video system]. Because what I did was, I would use the then–quite sophisticated split-screen techniques, so that people could see themselves interviewing senior managers—all being role-played by the students—and could see how effective they were (or not) on the same screen. They also had all their presentations videoed. In other words, they make a presentation to management—the staff would role-play management—and now they have to justify their design, and how it should be implemented, and the time scales, and—the whole bit! And make sure the whole thing would be tolerable for any organization they designed the system for.

The effect of using television was dramatic. It went from being rather laid-back—you know, “I’m a doctor, and I just lie back here and listen to this thing”—to suddenly being totally engaging, because they’ve now got to prove themselves to themselves! Do you see the crucial psychological leap in that?

Abbate:

Watching yourself on television can be horrifying. [laughs]

Morton:

Been there, done that! Do you not find it makes you think twice? Three times? You polish up how you’re going to present it—because you’re not just satisfying your boss: you’re satisfying yourself. And of course, it’s also extremely rewarding, because in that six weeks we used to give them five presentations and at least two interviews that were videotaped—because I had massive resource, you see, and we were really the only ones using it in that way—and they loved it! They kind of grew in front of your eyes into being competent and effective. Television the Miracle Worker Morton:

Next thing I knew, I had a whole of consultants came out of my [course], going round doing it for other companies. Because they all went back in totally different people—which was amazing! People who had been probably effective in their own world, to a level, and then suddenly they came back from a [word inaudible] course, having an effectiveness that was . . . I had one man who came along who was stammering when he arrived, and he left without a stammer. And at one point he asked me, Could he bring down his senior people? He was a banker; could he bring down some of his senior managers? And I said, “I see no reason why not, as long as they join in the role play.” And he laughed, and he said, “Sure! One of them is the HLD director, and one of them could be a Finance Director.” And they actually came in, and when their chap came on and did the presentation, they sat there in utter silence like this: [mimes a stunned look]. And I hadn’t realized that they had never seen him not stammer. Isn’t that amazing? I mean, they practically cuddled him! [laughs.] You know, men are not so often so emoted by this. But I personally thought he was one of these people who had temporary stammer, because that’s what it seemed like to me. He started, when he was nervous at the beginning, with the stammer; and then as we progressed in this six weeks, he worked so hard—he was working to all hours of the night, you know, to get the stuff ready—and then the stammer thing disappeared. So I thought, “Okay, he’s one of these people who’s a variable stammerer.” Turned out he’d never, ever, in the workplace, not stammered.

Anyway, that was the kind of thing.

Abbate:

A miracle worker! [laughs.]

Morton:

Well, no no: the television is the miracle worker, not me.

Abbate:

How did you get access to the equipment? There were just television studios not being used?

Morton:

Well, they were used, but not when I needed to use them. And because we were able to work into all hours if we had to, we could use them when they weren’t being used. And the television studio still exists. We have them on all sorts of sites around here. They were much used by the business school for foreign language teaching, because there’s a great deal of necessary body language, as you know. If you’re going to France. . .Because we have an International Marketing degree, and these marketing people have to speak French, German, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, or whatever it is, and they have to be able to do some of the body language. That’s what it was there for, undoubtedly, in the original. . .

Abbate:

Interesting.

Morton:

Yes. So that’s . . . We had one of the most advanced International Marketing degrees early in this university—then polytechnic. But anyway, I think it was one of the leading things in the country.

But anyway, the essence of the use of it was that that’s what made the whole thing riveting, and when people said to me, “How come people do not fail on your course?” I told them the reason was using the videotape. People don’t believe you, but it is! Because if somebody wants to get better enough to see themselves as they’d like to be seen, they worker harder than you would believe possible. So I actually had people who would probably have not bothered under other circumstances, but I think the use of the video made them bother. And they worked like absolute slaves. [laughs.] I used to come in sometimes, once or twice; I’d come back late—we’d assigned them certain rooms that they could use, and I’d come back late, perhaps I’d been teaching an evening class, perhaps—at nine o’clock, and they’re still working! Because I was also teaching other courses, undergraduate courses, simultaneously; but not much. And I walk in, and they’re still slaving away! And I say, “Haven’t you got homes to go to?” And they said, “The deadline for this is tomorrow, for the presentation.” And I say, “I don’t need it to be perfect, you know! “ [laughs.] “You know, good enough will do.” But it wasn’t anything to do with me; it was to do with them!

And actually, I think that was almost one of the biggest breakthroughs I think I registered: that that was human.

1980: Developing “The Company Survival Game” for Undergraduates

Morton:

Because in 1980, I moved into—this is still within my role within the university—I moved into the undergraduate group. Now, up until that point, I’d not been working on the [undergraduate level], other than peripheral—it was not major; I wasn’t on the Computing Science degree. But a strange thing happened here, in the university—I’ve got some copies of an article we had done at the time, which you may wish to take away—but we had a new degree. This Computing Science degree had been here from 1973 onwards, which was quite early; but we were, in fact, in the Greater London area, which is the big region that we’re in, one of the groups that got the equipment—the machine; the hardware and the staff were given to us to develop these degrees. So from ‘73 until 1979, we’d been, you know, an average sort of development: we had the dropout rate of 15 percent—which was the national average for Computing Science degrees in the higher education sector.

Abbate:

Fifteen, not fifty?

Morton:

Fifteen, one-five, right. Now, in that year, ‘79-’80, we had a new degree, and we had a new team of people doing it, and there were one or two decisions made, which in retrospect we could see was wrong. We had a tutor—there was always an assigned Year Tutor for the first-years, because as you will know from the academic world, if you can’t grip them in the first year, you lose them. After that you hardly lose any, as you know, after the first year. And they made the mistake of making the tutor the same person who was leading one of the—it was a system design area, but was the most technical: this chap had got a Ph.D. which was a bit technical, but he also liked the system design area—but they put him in this particular post, and unfortunately, the person they wanted to complain about was the guy they had to complain to.

Abbate:

Mmm.

Morton:

Fatal. In that year, the dropout rate doubled. And it was only at that point that they decided that they’d have to throw everything they’d got at it, because it was a serious problem.

[TAPE 1, SIDE 2]

Morton:

And so what I then did was, I moved what I’d been doing with the postgrads into the undergrad. That was the challenge: what could we do? And that’s what we thought was different.

And so: Day one of week one for undergrads is a time of great trepidation; and our groups were getting very large—60, 70, 80 first-years. They’re much larger now, they’re more like 300; but at that time, it was very big. And I decided, with a colleague of mine who agreed we should have a go at this, that we should try to put—and this is the crucial thing—what effectively was a thing that we went on to develop for sale nationally . . . [pauses to look through papers]. This is it. [Shows brochure for “The Company Survival Game.”] We did eventually sell it abroad, and so on and so forth. I decided to put that into undergraduate courses.

Abbate:

“The Company Survival Game”?

Morton:

Yes. Now, if you give that to a group of—mixed group—and, in day one, none of them know anything about being Production Manager, Sales Manager, Accountant, and Systems Designer, Systems Analyst/Designer role—in teams—and none of them know anything about it! They’re either straight from school, or straight from someplace . . . And they’re all a mixed group: because some of them will be hackers, some will be—you know, definitely not—the girls tend not to be hackers, even today, but in that time, when it was 1980, it was certainly so—and you mix them all up, and you make them go into teams. And now we’re looking at project team-working for the first time: but it’s day one—they’re in shock! First of all, they can’t believe what they’re listening to; and in particular, we were very careful about never allowing friends—i.e., people who had come together—to work together. So here was this, shall we say 70 people, or 80 people, whatever, and we’re putting them into teams of eight, because we thought we’d better have—unlike the [postgraduate] courses that were so expensive, these courses I was running, the undergrads would just vote with their feet and might disappear—so we basically thought the thing to do was to make sure. . .

[Pause to change tape in recorder.]

Morton:

The thing we had to do was to make sure that there was—everybody was a colleague. And the friends could have cliques later, but in the context of the system design course element—because it’s only an element; they also had hardware systems, they had to do software engineering, had to do all their business systems as well; so basically, it was our particular area—they had to work as colleagues, in teams. And this [assignment] is a riveting case study, where, as they knew nothing about it, the first thing they did—well, one of my challenges was, “How do I get first-year undergrads into the libraries?” That gets ‘em there. That gets them there because they had to not only find out what their role was, but they had to be able to do it, by the next time we saw them.

Abbate:

So they’re in a team, simulating some actual business situation, and they each—you know, “You’re the marketing director. . .”

Morton:

Exactly, yes. And they had to go and find out what marketing directors did, so that got them started on their business and management side; the accountants started looking at what the Finance Board wanted, et cetera. So they’d already started registering what these guys had to do—and many of them hadn’t a clue what these people had to do. So you introduced them to the context in which many of them went out to work, which was very important, we felt.

Addressing Gender Differences in the Classroom

Morton:

And of course, what the other thing we did—which was very important—was, I managed to persuade the then-Polytechnic that we should have an enormous sports hall set up for this to happen in, because we discovered that the dynamics of the thing were very important. If we could get the students seeing each other visibly—because we clustered desks together to make offices, and then we work them in their teams; then we turn them into remote working after a couple of weeks—and weeks were about twenty minutes long! [laughs.] And all of it was paperwork, you see; we didn’t bring computers in at that point at all, because at that point in the recruitment of undergrads, half of them wouldn’t have worked much in computers—and of the women, even fewer. There were about a quarter women, you see, at this point, because the women didn’t know that it wasn’t a boys’ job, you see, at that point. This is 1980s—well, 1980 itself when we started. And we had this most extraordinary effect, because they could see who was doing well, you see, as soon as this was happening. They got very into getting their company—and of course, it’s very interesting, the combination of the talents of men and women in this context. The men wanted to win, yes? So they wanted their group to be successful. The women wanted to make it happen, and they were busy patching up problems that occurred, dealing with any emergencies, and instantly doing this parallel processing that we women do automatically, which people—other people—call “project management.”

Abbate:

Hmm.

Morton:

Do you agree?

Abbate:

Sort of simultaneously doing the technical and social. . .

Morton:

. . . and keeping things going, and multiple tasking: parallel. I always use—I’ve done a lot of public platforms on this particular thing, as you can imagine—and I would get the women in the audience saying, “Yes!” [laughs.] We used to teach the chaps project management; the girls understood it. As soon as we said, “You are defining tasks; you’re allocating sequences of. . .” [It’s just like] preparing lunch! And doing it so it’s not arriving raw, underdone, or incomplete; we’re working with float, so if there’s any spare space here in that parallel process. . . And the women [think]: “No problem.” And this gave us another kick for the women, a plus, because they’re infinitely better at project management, because of the training.

I’m not saying it’s [innate?]—but actually, it has struck me for years: Has it not been said, for survival of our species, that it’s a good idea women can do 17 things at once? And that the chap is single-minded enough to go out there and kill a—whatever it needs to kill—and bring it home, and he only wants to do one job and he wants to do it well; otherwise we all die. So it’s practical for women to have multi-tasking, routinely—yes? Baby under one arm, food in the pot, checking the heat, that we’re safe, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Whilst the other chaps are out there, going to get the food - and not being stopped in any way: he’s going to get the food, and he’s going to bring it back. Is this not a wonderful combination of talents? [laughs.] Well, it was a developmental thing. I can see that this would be—the females of the species that work like that would have families; the males of the species that work like that were actually going to provide for families, and they would be the survivors. We’re the great Darwinian development, I think.

Anyway, once we’ve raised this issue amongst the undergrads, it is extraordinary how quickly the women became valued. Now, I wonder if you realize that the women being valued is the greatest single step to holding them into an interest in a course. And we had extraordinary things. In that first year that I was running this particular part of the course, and was course tutor at the same time—which could have been a disaster, I guess, but it turned out to be very good—we discovered that the girls were seen on the projects as so valuable in running this parallel processing—and the mental project management they could do: you know, they were the ones who said, “Well okay, you’ve finished X; you could help So-and-so who’s not doing so well on Y; and Zed is also going . . .” You know, this was all going . . . They were so valuable that the students on the course, some of the more mature students, wanted to keep the women on [i.e., prevent them from dropping out]. And we discovered one or two little things were happening. We had a couple of electronic engineers from—you know, who’d been HNDs and electronic engineers, and worked before they came onto the course—and they realized the girls were struggling in hardware systems, because they hadn’t got physics. It wasn’t required—we don’t require maths, we don’t require physics, for A-levels—but you could see there were some who had, and they were trying to support these women. There were a gaggle of them, four or five; you know, there might be twenty women, and four or five women would be struggling—and they had set up a little seminar for them, and they’d help them with that part of the course: the hardware systems side. And I thought, “This is a brilliant idea.” I formalized it. I said to the group: I said, “Look,” I said, “we’re discovering, as you might have guessed, that there’s a multi-talented group here. I have a theory that you’ve all got talents, and that if we can get you to pool them, we’ll have a pretty effective group.” I said, “For all I know, the types will be enough that you could pass a degree today”—you know, in week one. And they all look at you as if you’re crackers! [laughs.] Which was quite all right, because I spent the first three months being considered crackers—and then they were very supportive, because the undergrads grasp what you’re giving them, because they kind of see for themselves how effective they can be.

Transforming the Undergraduate Student

Morton:

A commonplace was for— On graduation, I’d meet parents for the first time—this is four years later: the first thing they say to me is, “What did you do to our son/daughter that turned them from a laid-back, layabout, scruffily [dressed person], into a suit for Christmas?” Term one, end of, is Christmas. I said, “I don’t know!” But of course I knew; I’m not going to let on. I knew they’d seen themselves on television—and I knew they didn’t like what they saw. And as we’re turning them into semi-professionals, they wanted to look professional. So they started . . . I mean, we used to take groups—that was the other thing; at the time, I was coming into being—I was vice-chairman of London Branch of the British Computer Society. [Looks at CV.] Oh yes, here we are. All this period—yes, I was Education Liaison from ‘76 onwards. Well, by 1980, I was bringing the undergrads along to professional meetings. What I’d say was: I’d say, “Look, there’s this professional meeting.” I’d put the schedule up. I said, “I’m taking a bus for fifteen—space [for fifteen people].” I said, “Who wants to come?” I said, “But I have only one thing I insist: I insist that you wear sensible jacket and trousers—it doesn’t have to be a suit,” I said, “and a shirt and a tie.” This was the chaps, of course; the girls had to smarten up equally. But: “I don’t care who you borrow it from, but that’s the minimum. If you don’t look like an employable person, don’t come. Send someone else—wearing your shirt!” [laughs.] Because a lot them lived together, you see. They took up houses, bought houses; a lot of families bought houses and filled it with the undergrads. And that’s what they did. So I’d take along regularly large gaggles of these undergrads—looking very nervous but extremely [smart]. And then of course they’d meet up with all my colleagues, who were professional colleagues, in the CPD meetings—you know, Continuing Professional Development–type meeting, aren’t they? These things that one has in the . . . You’ve got the ACM that do similar things.

Abbate:

Right. So the meetings you’d take them to: What actually...?

Morton:

Well, they took place in London. But they were based on different, new developments. It was often an industry, you know, an industry thing that was . . . But it was linked with professional development for those who were full-time professionally qualified workers in the computing world.

Abbate:

Someone might give a talk or something. . .

Morton:

Yes. [inaudible] or something.

I’d take them along. And then we’d also train them about how to meet people, because that was the other thing: no good going along in a gaggle; we pointed out that a gang of ten or a dozen undergrads would frighten anybody off. They were forbidden to go around in gangs! They had to go around in dyads, on simple principle that a dyad was about right to meet a professional person. They would introduce each other—and you know, you’d be surprised how much you had to tell them how to do this!

Abbate:

No, I wouldn’t! [laughs.]

Morton:

You wouldn’t? Well, I mean, they weren’t all straight from school.

Abbate:

Oh.

Morton:

See, so some of these people, you know, they didn’t . . . So I said, “No, no!” I said, “Introduce yourselves,” I said. “You’ve all got to be prepared, too”—because that was the other thing I required. I said, “You’ve got to promise not to go around in gaggles; you’ve got to go around in dyads. You’ve got to promise to have learned out the complete syllabus of your course, even though you’ve not done it yet.” So they had to know what was coming in the second year, and how their third year was in industry, and their fourth-year final had this project element. And they had to be able to talk their course—so people knew what they were buying.

So they used to get fat jobs, and industrial placements, and government. . . . IBM took their complete intake of industrial placements for their scientific center down at Winchester from this place alone. And we’ve recently given evidence to a select committee, in this country, on student retention, because—I didn’t tell you: The outcome of that first year of attempt was seven percent dropout. Now, that’s half the national average, and a quarter of the previous year. So, the students not only were more challenged, but they enjoyed it more.

And one of the undergrads told me after the vac—summer vac—he said, “You know I’ve got a house near the Woolwich site?” So I said, “Yes—just across the road, really.” He said, “I couldn’t move for bodies in sleeping bags,” he said, “in the last week before the start of the term.” So I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, that was the group who were re-sitting their examinations.” He said, “And they wanted to be near the (then-) Polytechnic, to get to the library, to get the examinations under their belt.” They were so desperate to get through the exams, and he was having twenty or twenty-five in his one little house—in sleeping bags! So they could come to the university, and get through the exams! Now, is that incentive, motive, or what?

And apparently the end product of this rotation . . . Because, you see, we didn’t just have them in one group—which they got friends for life, within this group that was on this company survival game—but we actually rotated them. Now, the rotation went something like this: You could not be project leader in the next case study, if you’d been project leader in the last, and you couldn’t work with anybody you’d worked with before.

Abbate:

Did you need a different position?

Morton:

Yes, we would put them through different positions. We would have it so you’d have either . . . We tended to have, you know, the secretary of the group—I said that we’re learning how to work in groups—and we’d have a quality-assurance role. So that it wasn’t a matter of how long you worked on a particular project; it was what you delivered. Which is a very insightful thing, you know, because it helps with even the weakest—because the weakest people may work longer, but if they can deliver something, they get the credit for it.

And—talking about credit: This was another breakthrough, which. . . I mean, I’ve had platforms where universities, old universities, told me what I do is impossible. So once I realized that was the general line, I took undergrads with me, and I’d have the undergrads say “Rubbish!” to a vice-chancellor. “Absolute rubbish!”—which is important, because if the undergrad says, they have to listen! I mean, me talking is one thing, but an undergrad saying, “That is not true!” Our straight-from-school people—because that was their argument: some of the old universities, they’d get these straight-from-school people, and they’d claim that my system of keeping students working in project teams wouldn’t work. But in fact, it brings them along even faster, because they’re really keen to know how the world works! And working in teams, and getting things . . . mission orientation, bringing a task, getting deadlines: they understand it—but with a willingness at that age which is amazing. Because it did help that we had the major help of post-experienced people: mature students. If the undergrad 18-year-old would go and say: “This is terrible! You know, I’m having to work late,” they’d just say, “You are so lucky!” I mean, I’ve been in on this. I’ve heard—overheard—somebody say, “Why are you whining? You are getting unique experience in this place. Shut up!”—basically. And I mean, that pulls them into line quicker than anything, is their peers—doesn’t it? If their peers say to them. . .

But you see, they’re still young enough, childish enough, to want to be with their friends. But of course, we never allowed that. This rotation so that you were colleague-after-colleague. But having said that, this also explained how we managed to get the marking system working. Because we then were attacked on public platforms—I was at one presentation, where there were 29 vice-chancellors in the audience, on “Capability in Undergraduates.” Capability, that was the thing. I have to say, our people were capable. [laughs.]

[Pause to change tape in recorder.]

Integrating Every Student: IBM Wants to Spread the Word

Morton:

I have some paperwork here that’ll show you how capable our undergrads were, because for IBM to give me, as they did, major platforms at every possible opportunity, to talk about what we were doing—because they wanted our best practice to be used by all the universities that they took their graduates and undergraduates from. And I went and did a presentation to their headquarters at [inaudible], to their senior managers of—I don’t know what they called them—but anyway, it was departmental senior managers. This had this annual thing, and when I told them what I was doing with my undergrads, at the end of it, there were vice—V.P. something-or-other—who said, “How can we help you spread the word?” Our presentation ended up with “How can we help you spread the word?”

And, they found that the marking—which was another thing I was in on. You know how we did it? We knew, as they knew, that if we weren’t careful, the cleverest would just ignore the weak. . .

Abbate:

And do it all.

Morton:

Yes: and do it all—at twice the speed. But we also knew that the presentation stopped them doing that, because the weak couldn’t stand up to our questioning. It took too much effort to try and bring these paper characters on board, because we were asking them direct questions. Equally, when these people did all the work, they wanted all the credit, you see, including the marks. So when we said to the students, “We are giving you the marks to allocate amongst yourselves”—the maximum marks—so, for example, a five-handed team, which was quite common, would have five hundred percent to allocate. Now, the first round of proposals of the allocation of marks would be totally distorted. You’d see. . . We didn’t allow more than 30 percent to be levied off of any one person, but they knew who their weak ones were, so they’d whip away the thirty percent, and the top, say, two or three would mop it up, so they had 120, 150, a hundred-whatever percent of the total mark we staff allocated—no matter what the mark came to. And that was a beginning, but it didn’t go on, because the weaker ones could work harder and longer; they were more tenacious, in a way—and they said, “Why should we have seventy percent?” So, the rows that went on in these groups of “colleagues” was unbelievable—and so we actually had these battles going on behind the scenes. So, by the second round of proposals for mark-allocation—because we said, “We don’t mind how many offerings you make, but we have to have formal documentation. We wish to have the proposals on a proper report proposal form; we want it signed by every member of the team.”

Abbate:

Did they do this just at the end, or. . .?

Morton:

No, right at the beginning.

Abbate:

So they started at the beginning. . .

Morton:

They start at the beginning allocating these, in this way I’m describing, which was extremely distorted—but we used to say we would consider any proposal for re-allocation of the marking system right up until the time we allocate—we determine the assessment.

Abbate:

OK.

Morton:

Right. And you could watch this change over a period. Where there’d been major distortion, over a period you could see that the second proposal was more evenly spread; and it was very rare for us to reach a final presentation, with the report written to national standards—ISO standards, actually—plus the presentation, without them pretty well being even. Now, what I knew was, that that meant that in terms of the hours allocated, some of those weaker people must have allocated three times the hours! But they got the marks.

And you don’t have to tell me, “Who knows who’s doing the work?” It’s the people doing the work. And as I based the whole of my theory on this—on project-management teams in industry I was aware of, where your bonuses came directly out of how much effort was put in—it wasn’t difficult for us to see the bonus-marking scheme was totally understandable: they understood it! You know: you get bonuses for working harder; you get bonuses for being team leader. But we also could see that there were arguments why they should share it more evenly.

And actually, as we kept on saying to them, there’s a pass mark involved - pass mark; we don’t require you to be well above the pass mark, because the assessment for the continuous assessment is only a pass. You don’t have to do 80 percent; you just do a pass. They couldn’t live with that! It was amazing; they couldn’t live with that. They wanted to excel so much, they were competing beyond the pass level—nothing to do with us at all. It used to be a joke amongst us: I had colleagues who kept saying, “Your work is taking up time—I want them to do software engineering!” I’d say, “Look, I don’t require”—they could not believe I didn’t require it. I said, “I do not require it!” I said, “You can come into the room with me, with this group of undergrads, and I will say very loudly, ‘I do not require more than a pass on this course work!’” And they look at me, and they know it’s true. And I’d say—I’d even openly say, “You know, Doctor so-and-so is actually saying you’re taking up his time doing my course work, and that is not true.” I said, “Not from what I want, anyway.” And they’d be there with the—I mean, my colleagues had a terrible time. They hated me! And all my efforts! Can you see what a diversion it was?

Abbate: Well, from their perspective—from the “real” work of hardware, and so on. . .

Morton:

And I was in real hot water! I was a very unpopular member of staff, for the whole of the duration we did this. But some of the spin-off was that we became consultants to different places—and I was telling you about the Algerian government, was one of them; and also to Holland, because I don’t think I’ve actually . . .

Abbate:

[Reading from CV]: “The Netherlands.”

Morton:

The Netherlands: Yes, that’s right.

Consulting for Foreign Governments

Morton:

With the Algerian government, I was doing work, at the time, of this nature, which the NCC realized came out of their original work—that we would develop their work from the post-graduate and post-experience crash courses into an undergraduate context, and that’s what the Algerian government wanted to know about. So they paid for my trips up to Manchester to meet the Algerian Ministre de something-or-another; and then it was Études et Recherche, he came over several times, and I was equally lucky on that. They introduced this guy, who would only speak in French, which was hilarious; and as soon as we started chatting—they’d spread us, the consultants, round this large room, and he was introduced to me, and then they just went away and left us. And I thought, “Oh god, how’s my school French?” And I suddenly realized that—I said, “If I speak”— In French I said this— “If I speak English slowly, and you speak French slowly, I think we can do this.” And the guy had a really nice sense of humor, and he said, you know, “Essayez!” He said, “We’re going to try it.” So, we started by doing this, and of course you get very good at it! The thing that’s difficult for individuals in another language is undoubtedly their construction of the other language—not understanding what someone’s saying. And so we started, and of course we may have started rather [slowly], but we ended up speaking at normal speed. I was left with that director for more than ten minutes, which was bloody unfair, because other people had had him for two or three minutes, and I . . . He was with me for nearly fifteen minutes; it felt like the week! Why? Because they’d watched to see, and at the end of it, they said to me, “Pam, your French must be brilliant!” And I thought, “Do I tell them the truth?”

Abbate:

[Suggesting a response:] “It is, actually!” [laughs.]

Morton:

I think, if I’d been a man, I would have insisted on it! [laughs.] But, no, basically I didn’t say anything—left it at that. And as a matter of fact, that was where we kept on getting interesting advice to do this, which was good.

The Dutch one was this stuff. [Shows a publication from Dutch VHTO (Women in Higher Technical Education) program.] The Dutch—and again, it’s the women in higher technical education who got this pressure—they discovered the retention rates in their universities gave major problems. They couldn’t keep women on at all, they couldn’t keep the students on the seats at all—and worse, they are paid by out-turn. Now, I don’t know if you knew that. The Dutch are very hard-headed!

Abbate:

Interesting!

Morton:

So they’re paid by product [i.e., graduates], not by intake. And so, they tried—they tried in their technical universities, out there, to graft on [to the technical course] business studies and the management skills stuff. And they wouldn’t have any of it.

Abbate:

The women students, you mean?

Morton:

No no! All the students! Because the staff didn’t care for it. You see, the high-tech staff, just like my colleagues: they don’t think the personal-professional skills have got anything to do with it. They also don’t believe that it’s a locking-on thing, because it’s an extra skill. . .

Abbate:

So it would come at the end, or something?

Morton:

Yes, normally. We have a major conference here on e-skills, which you know is the current high potato here, which I must get Doctor Bacon to give you a paper on, because we did speak at this thing. And Imperial College—a professor from Imperial College—whom I’d spoken with over the lunch break: when he came to do his presentation, he said, “I was going to tell you about some professional skills and entrepreneurialship that we do in the fourth year”—and Imperial College is one of our top [schools]. He said, “I have to tell you that what Pam Morton’s been doing with her first-year undergraduates twenty years ago [laughs] is better than we’re doing now!” And I thought that was incredible! Plus, for him to have conceded that this was—you know, we were doing this, and in the first year, for which we got a major prize at some point—a major national prize—which was . . . [looks through CV]

Abbate:

I noticed; I was going to ask which one that was.

Morton:

Yes, it was the . . . that one. [Reading from CV:] “1990: Winner of the Peugeot Talbot/ Council For Industry and Higher Education Partnership Award.” All the universities, and all the polytechnics at that time—because it was polytechnics still, at that time—enter for these, annually; and they’re an industry and higher education partnership. And we got it for getting the entrepreneurial and professional skills into the first year; that’s what we got it for.

But the Dutch had been coming to this country—because you know their English is wonderful; language is wonderful—and they’d been coming to this country because the two things came together: The women wanted to get more of an injection of getting women in and keeping them on their degrees; and the other thing was what we were doing over here, of keeping the higher retention rates than anyone else—which we managed to sustain for six or seven years, while they gave me the staff to do it. After that, the pressure of student growth was so great, we had to take the staff off something, and this was the one of the things that lost something. But so long as we sustained the input of staff time on the assessment on this, we were able to keep the dropout rate to seven percent. But as soon as we started taking out these elements, because they no longer had the time to do it, we actually—not for the students, because it’s not a substituting for student time, in one sense, because the student presents once—but we have a lot of staff associated with the continuous assessment of those presentations, and the interviews, et cetera, and so that was the staff time that was suddenly short—that we were short on. So therefore, as we dropped these—cut back on these assessments, of this nature, with the video studios, and all that stuff—so the dropout rate started to go back to the national average. So it was clear-cut. And that’s the evidence we gave to the Select Committee.

As recently as...It was embargoed until Friday the twenty-third of March. That’s how recent. The report: We have a full report, which I can get you. I’ll give you the reference for it. I’ve got several things here. M. Sc.; I’ve got the . . . this report I’ve just —the report of the Select Committee. In this country—you may not be aware—but the Select Committees are the top group of anything that happens in the country, because they actually oversee the work of departments. They are filled with MPs.

Abbate:

Ah! Okay.

Morton:

Yes. You’ve probably got similar things, but you call them something different. And the report to the Select Committee, plus the e-skills report that we did —which we recently finished—again, some of this may be embargoed; that was embargoed until the twenty-third of March, a week or so ago. So it’s very current. Women-into-Computing initiatives

Abbate:

You’ve been quite active in these women-into-computing issues, not just within your course. . .

Morton:

We started in ‘80. Did you gather from this? [Refers to CV.] In ‘85, I had seen—all these skill shortages things were coming up in ‘85, ‘86, and I had given evidence in ‘84 to the Women’s National Commission, which don’t know if I’ve included in here; but the Women’s National Commission—here you are. [CV reads, “1984–86: Women’s National Commission / Cabinet Office—National Steering Committee for Women’s Training Roadshows—Vice-Chairman SE Region.”] It’s part of the Cabinet Office in this country. And they were doing a report on skills for women, or employment for women, and they were trying to point up in ‘84 about women weren’t getting into technology, which was beginning to be true. That year, ‘84, was the first cohort of the group that I’d started with in 1980, and five out of the six Firsts were women. That hit the fan! A public press release went from here [Greenwich]. Now, of those, half of them—the women—had never done computing before. In the era, in 1970s, late ‘70s, women didn’t do computing. But for them to come straight through, survive the course, and do so well—with the chaps commenting on how much the girls were, you know, at the front—was something that the Women’s National Commission wanted to know about. So it was in a major report at that time. Then they asked me to go on television and speak about it; so I did, in an ITV program, and we dealt with over three hundred inquiries that came out of that television alone, on giving women skill.

We did the Women’s Skills Workshops, which came out of something else I did. In ‘85, the university—poly it then was—said, “Why don’t you take a sabbatical, and look at how to get more women in?” Because we could see, by this time: [only] 25 percent women in 1980, and it was on its way down, so that by 19[85], the polytechnic could identify that we were down to 17 or 18 percent or something—despite all our efforts! So they gave me a year off, to get out there and do something about getting national publicity for it. And this led to the . . . I went and fought with the Department of Industry in this country for nearly half a million pounds to support such a campaign . . .

[Pause to change tape in recorder.]

Morton:

. . . and this campaign is history. [laughs.] This campaign was so successful, I got five times that from industry. They were so keen! And that has lasted—it was for a period, for a number of years, that that was funded—and we did various things.

In the meantime, because we’d got such a high profile with all these things we’d done and all this stuff—articles I’d done and all this stuff—we managed to get the women joining us, coming up. But the thing that defeated us, I think, was the fighting—and this is where I’ve some articles for you on the subject. I did some—which again, you may choose to incorporate or not—I’ve got quite a lot of articles on . . . [looks through papers] . . . in the Times and in more specialist things, discussing the way in which—including the IEEE stuff for the States—discussing how we—how women succeeded—and some of the successes were incredible!—and why they did. So we did—I did have a platform to. . . It’s all in there; there’s a pile of stuff there (which eventually we can photocopy), in which we were pointing out that the success of women was basically because of this dynamic, almost certainly in the first year, of them being so valuable that the group of men who were the techies would support them. As I said, I formalized that; I actually turned it into an arrangement whereby they—everybody contributed. They all had a list of consultants—informed consultants—and these lists—everybody was on this list, and they all do something for somebody else. And because everybody knew where they were, because of their role-play in the first week in that game—because they all had roles, and they were on a list—they could see—didn’t know the person, but they could see that X was an expert in electronics; I was an expert in physics. By “expert”, I meant A-levels!

Abbate:

Right.

Morton:

Yes, right. And so on and so forth; and there would be maths, and there would be whatever. And then there’d be some of the girls who would come in with arts, English literature—and they were the ones who could write reasonable reports, you see, and would help polish up a presentation! And so therefore they valued the girls; and that made a tremendous difference to the whole thing. Now: Have I brought you up to date?

PITCOM

Abbate:

Pretty close. You. . . [Looks at CV.] There’s something about the PITCOM [Parliamentary Information Technology Committee].

Morton:

Ah, yes. Way back in 1980. . . I explained I had got involved with the parliamentary people in the Parliamentary Question era of my life. And I’d met quite a few MPs, and knew quite a few, and there’d been a problem: the all-party committees of the House of Commons. . . Well actually, the House of Parliament is actually all parties, plus both houses: Lords and Commons. And they were made up of interest groups, and they liked to keep themselves informed, because after all they’re legislating; the Commons group are legislating—and indeed, the government of the day could be any party, so it was a good idea to have them all. But they had got an all-party IT committee, which was not working very well, and we—two or three people and I—decided the thing to do was to set it up with an industry input, which we can formalize into the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee.

Abbate:

OK.

Morton:

. . .which just has grown and grown—and I of course—I was on the—elected member of the . . . I’ve got all the bits of this if you want it, if you want the list of the this, but it’s basically: The council of the PITCOM is composed of 15 members of the House (of one flavor or another) and 15 elected members—and I was elected every year for 20 years, until I gave up just recently. Because I’ve taken on a new one, which is not on my CV yet: I’ve taken on . . . I’ve been approached to act as a liaison between PITCOM and the other Parliamentary group which is associated, which is the Parliamentary Engineering Group. And so I’m the only person who is actually from PITCOM who is in that group, except the chairman. The chairman is an MP who is actually on both committees.

There was also the “statutory woman” thing, because basically I had . . . There were no women on this engineering group—except Baroness Writtle, Beryl Platt of Writtle, is an aeronautical engineer from way back, and is in the House of Lords right now. And . . . but of course, she wasn’t quite so active. So of course that’s quite recent—I was elected only January or February—and so therefore I’m actually now bridging both: I’m on both the PITCOM [and the Engineering Group]. But the university now has continued to be supportive of PITCOM activities.

Managing the Commons Exhibition Week

Abbate:

You had said you managed the Commons Exhibition Week, and I wonder what that was.

Morton:

Well, one of the challenges in the nineteen eighty-something—early eighties—was to get any of the MPs interested in computers. And they threw it at me. They said, you know, “If you can get undergrads interested—how the bloody hell are we going to get MPs interested?” And I thought about this, and I suddenly realized the only thing that intrigued MPs—the only thing that intrigues MPs—is people who ignore them. They’re used to people sucking up to them. So, as the . . . There’s a sergeant-at-arms—he’s so-called—is the head of the security at the House of Commons; and I had to negotiate with him to have over a hundred youngsters, from I think eight upwards—including some of my undergrads—go, be there, to sort of basically be on their computers, doing their projects, and ignoring the MPs!

Abbate:

[laughs.]

Morton:

And of course they came from all over the country—all different constituencies—and, whereas they’d expected people just to go straight through [the hall with the computers], we’d got a book where we’d got them signing up: if any MP stayed for more than five minutes, they had to sign this book. And we had over fifty MPs who spent time with these youngsters: talking to them, finding out why they were. . . What fascinated the MPs was, why were they so gripped? And if you want to get senior men taking an interest in something, you show them youngsters gripped by something. And of course we had a lot of support. It’s a special part of the House of Commons called the Upper Waiting Hall, which is quite large, in which we had all these displays around of—by the different—you can imagine, I brought the manufacturers from PITCOM into it, and they supported with the kit. But the undergrads were running one lot—I’ve got some photographs somewhere of the undergrads showing a minister or two what we were doing in this exhibition—and all these little ones, eight-year-olds, sort of helping. And in fact, some of them came afterwards—the MPs afterwards in the meeting, and said they’d got the kit for their grandchildren as a result! Et cetera, et cetera. And I used to think, well, selling is obviously my entrepreneurial thing! That was very successful; you know, everybody marked that a success. It was almost a breakthrough to get these—there were a hell of a lot of MPs who, you know, came from backgrounds remote from computing—you know, farming, law—and they had a fear of them! Well, you cannot see an eight-year-old in there without realizing that there’s got to be something going on. And, that was the, you know, the outcome of that—so that was a success. [laughs.] Number one!

Abbate:

That’s fascinating.

Morton:

Yes, it was very successful!

Childhood

Morton:

Is there anything else that I haven’t covered?

Abbate:

Probably not, chronologically...Actually, I was curious about the very beginning, just to fill in a bit: You were born in London in 1933. Did you grow up here as well?

Morton:

Well, don’t forget I’m a wartime person. I actually spent my childhood in the country with my grandparents, on a farm, so I was a farming kid, if you know what I mean. So it wasn’t really—you know, it wasn’t likely that I’d be interested in anything [technical?]; just maths happened to be my thing!

Abbate:

What did your parents do for a living?

Morton:

Well, my father was in insurance, and my mother never worked, so there was no history of that, at all.

Abbate:

So they didn’t have any, you know: They didn’t encourage you particularly to do that?

Morton:

No, no, they were just amazed! Because I had a very retentive memory, from early days, as well as my interest in—well, preliminary mathematics, really.

Abbate:

Did they encourage you to have a career, work for a living? Did you have an idea you would need to support yourself?

Morton:

They were relatively laid-back. They left it to me to decide what to do. If I wanted to do higher education, do higher education. But they weren’t particularly keen on funding me to do it, because I fell out with my father. So that was fine; I did it my way! [laughs]. Part-time.

Abbate:

Did you have brothers and sisters?

Morton:

Two sisters.

Abbate:

Did they do anything technical?

Morton:

No, no. Other than my sister, who became an office manager, was one of the earliest—that was interesting. You realize a lot of women are way ahead in computing by virtue of running offices on them. And so my sister went off onto all sorts of courses for early computing, but—by learning it the hard way, and doing it by courses, in a way as I did very much. You know, I mean I went to a number of courses to get this—some knowledge of—because I was so ignorant of computing in the early days. But not really, no.

Early Beginnings

Abbate:

Did you have any particular mentors and role models? I mean, I remember the first—that first chemistry job, I guess. . .

Morton:

Oh yes!

Abbate:

. . . There was that one. . .

Morton:

. . . One brilliant project manager, yes.

Abbate:

Was there anyone else who stood out?

Morton:

No, I don’t think so, particularly. Not specifically. I mean, I had a . . . At various times I think one’s had a certain mentoring thing, where they’d encourage one to—and I think that happened in the Ministry of Technology job—I think they gave me a free rein. I mean, as much as anything, when I was negotiating all those cross-fertilizations, and using uncommissioned machines to test stuff—programs and the use of the FIND package, and all that stuff—that was a negotiation at the working level, which I then got my bosses to agree. But they gave me a free rein—and, you know, all they would say was, that if I fell into the mire, they’d throw out . . . a few . . . because they were very pleased with what was coming out of what I was doing, the entrepreneurial aspect.

[TAPE 2, SIDE 1]

Morton:

Both of my bosses were scientists, neither of whom—apart from being managers of major laboratories with, you know, thousands of scientists in them—they didn’t have this entrepreneurial thing. Also, they were too high-powered, you see; they couldn’t go in there at the grass-roots level and negotiate with the functionaries. You know: “What about a little bit of space on this major machine, to test it—in exchange for which, you know, there might be some publicity?” So it was a matter of persuading people that this was the right thing to do, when it was really outside their terms of reference, frankly. So this aspect I think of one’s interest is a selling job, really.

Abbate:

What have you found to be the most satisfying aspects of your work with computers?

Morton:

I think it’s the products: the undergrads getting to be graduates, getting to be senior managers, getting the best pay that anybody gets. We were in—we didn’t even know these statistics, but in the Observer, which is one of our major Sunday papers, an article turned up a few years back in which we were quoted as having the highest-paid graduates in the country, by about 30 percent!

Abbate:

Really!

Morton:

And that was beating everybody at the time. I mean, this was in the mid-’80s when we were doing this at full strength. And of course what happens is that these graduates become incredibly employable. And because they worked in project teams, they know how to relate to a project team leader in the real world. They do not expect miracles, and they work with them; you know, they’re mission-oriented and task-oriented and et cetera. So of course that’s the big thing. If you ask me to say what I think is the positive thing in this, is all the undergrads who became my support. They would do anything to help: the second-years would help the first-years; the fourth-years would help the third-years and the second-years—you know, in trying to support them coming through the [program]. So that helps, if you’ve got people ahead of you in a course who are saying. . .

I shall never forget one day: It was actually the first week, and the second-years came up to me—a group of seconds, about fifteen of them—and they said, “We would like to help the first-years on this business game, because we know it’s when they’re most floundering, and we’re a little bit of help.” And I said, “Yes, I think it’s a brilliant idea, providing you can give me absolute terms of reference of what your intention of help is.” So we had a little thrash about that, and in the end they decided they were going to be consultants. They would not get engaged in doing it; they would be helping them, but they would be advising them. And on the morning when we started, I shall never forget: well, these fifteen turned up in suits, and it was unbelievable; you should have seen the group, about a hundred and ten, I think, of these undergrads—they were absolutely stunned to see these second-years looking so professional! [Her voice breaks with emotion.] That was quite one of the most moving things I ever remember. It was incredible!

Abbate:

It sounds like you’ve really instituted mentoring, maybe without to planning to. . .

Morton:

Yes. Oh yes!

Abbate:

. . . or that they kind of instinctively . . .

Morton:

Well, they picked it up, I think. They saw that what I was doing was what they wanted to be done. They tried to find out how to help me, and they fought for me. [Pauses to wipe her eyes.] That took me back a few years! They fought with me over how best to keep this particular aspect of the course alive and running, and then they had the experience to know how to do it, because they knew where they’d struggled. And they used to come out with me to major conferences. They’d offer to come; they’d come out. I did some staff development for some of the old universities—IBM pushing me into this, I’m almost certain—and when I took undergrads, they’d volunteer. They’d say, “What have you got on, Pam?” You know, “What have you got on?” It was commonly the second-years, because the fourth-years were working too hard; the third-years were out in industry—but the second-years would come up to me and they’d say, “What have you got on? What’s in . . .?” And of course I was being like, “Do this, do this, do this,” you know. And a lot of the stuff also was in terms of recruitment, because I was partly responsible for that at the time. I’d go out to schools and colleges and F.E. [Further Education] colleges, and have this fun, you know, talking to—usually the lower sixth- and fifth-formers. And with the girls, I mean, they just couldn’t grasp what we were doing, so I always took girls with me—and I might take two or three girls with me—and then I’d leave them to talk, because I’d say, “Look, it’s no good just me chanting away.” I’d get the undergrad to do something on her feet about one aspect, usually about the thing that came after that time, when we got all these firsts. We had the first—the list goes on and on—it’s that we had the first undergrads in. . . [Looks through papers.] This is the paper that was for the Select Committee in which all of it was published—and we have sections in here, which I can show you. This was a report of the success of what we were doing—what I’ve just described to you—and this is the Select Committee report.

Abbate:

The one on retention?

Morton:

Yes, yes. And this was what we got: First this, first this, first this . . . At the same—this cohort, from the sort of ‘80s onward, that group between ‘80 . . . Well, the second-years it was mostly who would be our most active, because the first year you take—they get to understand what we do; the second year, they basically do it. And by the second year they were all doing this sort of thing, so this is ‘81: We got all this “first this, first this, first this, first this.” And I also got them involved with the ACM. I think the ACM was a very interesting group who were not doing too well over here, and then we decided we’d get this programming competition off the ground. And we floated a brochure to get some funding, and we went out and got money: the same undergrad second-years—you know, sort of ‘81, ‘82, ‘83—were doing all these fund-raising and getting out there and doing things!

I was really quite pleased with all that, frankly. I’ve gone to so many weddings, I won’t tell you! [both laugh.] You know, I mean they go off, they become this, and this, they marry, and I hear all about their children; I get cards, and letters, and stuff. And of course they admit, of course, that in the first term they hated my guts! [laughs.] I was the impossible Iron Lady! You know, I think they did me up something on the printer once, which said, you know, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here!” [both laugh.] In the first year; in the first term of the first year. But within—immediately after Christmas, there was this almost tangible turnaround. I think they’d gone home, a lot of them, and they’d compared notes; and in fact I did have that confirmed to me. I had some of the undergrads coming back in after the first term, and some of them were extremely fascinated to discover—they met up with their previous school colleagues, and comparing notes about their courses, they were, as they said, totally, unbelievably different. What they were doing with me at Woolwich Poly was completely different from anything that anyone else was doing. But, of this negotiations between their grasp of what each other were doing, came out that my people felt that what I was doing was worth doing! Because that’s what the end product was: I mean, if they didn’t believe you, I think you couldn’t do it; it would be impossible to carry it out. But I have—I think that’s why they put the effort in. That’s why they wanted to help; that’s why they wanted to do all this.

We’ve currently got —it’s absolutely current: The chap who’s running the Internet is setting up—he’s one of our graduates—He’s going to run the web page for the CVs of undergraduates for the whole country, to be available to companies. That was one of our people doing this initiative, that’s quite current; it’s not even in here! [laughs, gestures toward pile of documents.] Yes.

Changes in the Field of Computing

Morton:

Has that. . . Have I answered all the questions that you’ve. . .?

Abbate:

I’ve got just one or two general ones. How has the field of computing changed since you’ve started—sort of broad trends?

Morton:

Totally changed. Totally changed. For a start, the fact that at last users are actually directly involved with the interface means that we don’t have to have the problems of, you know, design of systems that we had in quite the same way. But then the macro systems have still got the same problems. But the interface of everybody with computers, I think, is going to be the greatest single breakthrough that . . . But there is the danger of the hacking, unless . . .

Negotiating with Hackers

Morton:

One other little quirk on this: We had picked up some hackers in the first year of this, ninety . . . well, up to that point, we had picked up the hacker variety, and in year—the first year I took it over, we had the usual crop, you see. And instead of sending them down, or punishing them any other way, I actually negotiated with the three most difficult cases, and I said, “You are under threat of suspension because of what you’ve done”—you know, damaging, as it was at that time—we had just terminals based to a major system. I said, “But I have one suggestion, which might be a sensible one.” I said, “One, that I will give you the responsibility of being the”—Now what did we call them? We had a word for it at the time, but it was a kind of overlooker, someone who was going to be, effectively, the anti-hacker brigade. So I turned them into an anti-hacking unit, which meant they controlled everybody else. And then we took them on, because that was the other thing I promised them: I said, “I know that, as a result, I can get you the industrial year in the computer center here, which will give you a free run of all kinds of access,” I said, “if you can carry this out.” And so we developed an anti-hacking group within the undergrads, by getting the hackers and negotiating with them.

So, I argue that my training in negotiating skills was good, too! [both laugh.] Which is great, you know? You know, that they particularly could see that this was worth doing! I think it’s very much as companies have done it, haven’t they? They have as many people trying to break the systems as they have creating the systems.

Abbate:

Yes, I was talking to a computer security person yesterday.

Morton:

That’s what they do; they try and crack it. One group—they have to be separated, of course; they have to have Chinese Walls, you know; they have to have the creators, the designers, one side, and then they have to have the hacker, the cracking group separate; otherwise there’s a danger of collusion. But anyway, the essence of the thing is that that works—and of course we did it all in those early days. And of course that was another little challenge that my colleagues had thrown at me—”How do I stop them hacking?”—and I said, “Yeah, I know how to do that: make them manage it themselves.”

And of course some of the stories were lovely ; you know, there’d be . . . Some of the engineers were particularly bad—not just my computer scientists, but the engineers—and their fun was to bring the whole system down.

Abbate:

Right, right.

Morton:

And on one occasion, there was one of my hacking team, was actually at that time on the—working in the—his industrial year in the system; and he had a ghost—he called it ghost system—that was ghosting everything; he could see what everybody was doing on every terminal, in the whole network. And he went in to this particularly bad guy, and he stood over him, and the guy of course immediately sort of changed what he was doing, and he sort of spelled out to him exactly what he’d seen him do. He said, “I’ve just seen you do this, this, this, and this.” He said, “Do you want to be sent down, or do you want to join the hacking team?” [both laugh.] Anti-hacking team, I should say! [laughs.] Which I thought was quite interesting. And why not?

Abbate:

You could be a spymaster! [laughs.]

Morton:

Well . . . I don’t know, it was so interesting. I don’t know what you mean by “spymaster”; is it a special term?

Abbate:

Well, I mean, it sounds like you could, you know, turn double-agents or something; kind of get the bad guys to be on your team.

Morton:

[laughs.] Well, no, it was just a way of making sure they were productive, and not counter-productive.

Abbate:

Exactly.

Morton:

And they loved it! You see, they just love it. It’s a sort of reward for their effectiveness, but channeling them into the honest guys. They’ve become the good guys, instead of being bad guys! After all, they only want to show how they can do it. It’s all down to wanting to show they could do it.

Isn’t that the most dangerous thing we’ve got?—is that mob of hackers. You’ve got masses of them [in the United States], I know. And all they want to do is to just show they can do it. They want to show they can crash all the systems. Now, all you’ve got to do is to say, “Well, now show me how you stop people crashing the systems.” You know, then you actually would perhaps get some of these really bright undergrads, whose role would be to predict and get ahead of the bad guys—the black hats—with the white hats. I don’t know why they haven’t thought of it! [laughs.] Have they thought of it?

Abbate:

I know they do it . . . The woman I talked to who does security says they have some ex-hackers.

Morton:

Oh yes. You must! They’re the only ones who know.

Abbate:

Right. It takes a thief to catch a thief.

Morton:

It’s so true. And it’s still true, you know. I think that’s . . . Well, I’m glad they do it. Otherwise we’d never have anything work! You know, there would be no electricity, no water . . .” [laughs.] I mean, think about it. It would be quite disastrous, wouldn’t it? Is there anything else I can get to?

Advice for Women Contemplating a Career in Computing

Abbate:

Do you have any advice for young women contemplating a computer career?

Morton:

Well, the first problem is getting them to contemplate it.

Abbate:

Mmm.

Morton:

Do we agree? My first thoughts, whenever I talk about this, is that you’ve got to get ‘em young. And I think if only we could be sure that the primary school teachers made them enjoy playing about on the computer, they wouldn’t have the negative vibes that the fight over the equipment used to cause. Now, the Australians found a way of doing it, and when limited facilities were available in the secondary schools—I don’t know if they still do it—but they used a rather crude technique of spraying half the computers pink!

Abbate:

[laughs.] I’d never heard that!

Morton:

Yes. No boy would be seen dead on a pink computer! They’re clever, crude, effective, and you don’t have battles for the equipment. And then the girls, I think, nevertheless do need to be . . . You know, I think the phrase, “You can do it!” will be engraved on my brain—because they don’t believe they can. Somewhere, somewhere along the way in which we deal with girls culturally, they never get the real feeling at first that they can do it. The ones who do—and I have a colleague who’s pointed this out, who’s a major strategy manager in IT: He said he reckoned the ones who are given the “you can do it” message are the daughters-only families of technical men. Some of the most successful women in computing . . . They’ve looked at this, I think, and they’ve discovered they’re nearly always the—don’t have any brothers; they have a father who’s technically effective in one source or another, and they’ve said to them at that point, “You can do it.” It’s a kind of permission to be successful.

Abbate:

Right.

Morton:

Is that true?

Abbate:

Well, that’s one reason I ask about [family] background. I think there is a definite...I don’t have a statistical study yet, but. . .

Morton:

I’m sure it is. But, you know, this guy said, “If you want to see where they are,” he said, “just look at their backgrounds.” You know, somewhere or the other they got permission to do this—tacit, of course—and therefore, that’s where the engineers—woman engineers—tend to come from. Engineering families, for example—apparently—without brothers.

Abbate:

So if a woman gets that far, of being 18 and thinking she wants to do computers. . .

Morton:

Well, at that stage, of course, we find the big take-up here is on the Computing and Information Systems courses. We have a very high proportion of women on that; at times it’s 50 percent. You put information systems with computing, and the women can see it as an attraction.

Abbate: And why is that?

Morton:

Well, because the information system’s helping people. And it’s not—doesn’t sound so hard—it’s not so hardware-oriented.

Abbate

And it’s more goal-oriented, in a way?

Morton:

It’s more. . . Well, in a way, but I still think there’s this aspect of. . . We’re talking about people coming in it from school. They can see that this is not requiring them to do techie things, so much, as would have to be [in a typical computing course?]. But I mean, you should talk to Liz about that: that’s quite an important point you make, that the kind of course makes a difference. I think if I get you to—not with the M.Sc., but the B.Sc. in information systems and computing—I forget if that’s the title; I can’t remember now, because I haven’t been—I’ve been working as a consultant to the university, but I haven’t been hands-on to any of the courses. But there’s a whole range of courses for those 2000 students they’ve got, computing students, of which this Information Systems recruits the highest proportion of women. Except for the M.Sc. conversions. There’s a very high proportion . . . I’ll go on to say, you don’t have problems with mature women in quite the same way, because they’ve got the confidence to think, “I can do it.”

Abbate:

. . . or they wouldn’t have gotten that far.

Morton:

That’s right. But you see it’s the young people we miss; we miss the young women. And then another theory I have—which is, I’m sure, true—is that unless you’ve got this original confidence from your father, to say that you can do it and it’s okay to be a—you know, doing these interesting technical areas—how can a girl survive at puberty, when in fact she needs to be both popular—she can’t—well, she has to be popular, and she can’t be clever? Women shoot themselves in the foot at that stage age. Aren’t they? They’re sensitive to being not popular?

Abbate:

Right. The young girls are actually fine with the computers, and then there’s this drop-off in the middle. . .

Morton:

We agree. There’s nothing—there’s nothing to deny that they have the skills, but at some point it becomes—and it’s clear; if it’s in your country, it’s certainly in this country—that it’s suddenly recognized that to be a boffin—I think is the pejorative term used in this country—to be a boffin is unpopular—to be unpopular.

Abbate:

Right.

Morton:

So they have to come out of that, don’t they? They have to come past that. Which is why in some senses, to keep the groups apart until they get the confidence level, say sixteen, has got its advantages. I mean, mixed schools do all sorts of positive things for chaps, but for the girls, I think you’ve got the handicap of this being-popular bit.

Abbate:

Did you go to a mixed school. . .

Morton:

No. . .

Abbate:

. . . or a girls’ school?

Morton:

No, but I did get in mixed school at sixth-form level—because at sixth form, we joined up with the local boys’ grammar school.

Abbate:

That’s at age sixteen, something like that?

Morton:

Yes, at sixteen. And at sixteen, you’ve already decided you can do whatever you can do. And, of course, nowadays, you see they’re very high-tech, the girls’ schools, and therefore the girls would also know whether they could do it.

But the other thing is that there was a real trouble, I think, also, with the people they had teaching the subject in the girls’ schools. That was the other problem. And in schools all told!

Abbate:

Was it women teaching in girls’ schools?

Morton:

Not so many. They would find a lot of them had to have men to teach it. And the other thing that was a worry was, I remember going around doing some interviews for—with some youngsters who were looking at coming to do this—and the idea was that I would do a general chat about careers in computing; and I was horrified to see that of the 80 people in the room, about 30 of them were staff, looking to do careers in computing. So guess what the people who’ve got any computing skills do at regular intervals?

Abbate:

Leave.

Morton:

Leave education! So who have we got left? [Pause.] Is it worrying? It is. A-Level Math Is Not Needed for a Successful Computer Career

Morton:

And, of course some of those computing science A-levels that we have—I don’t know if you have anything like this—but they were terrible! They were full of techie stuff that was, you know, practically at the level of machine code kind of thinking! Well, we knew that the A-levels in computing science would never be correlated with effectiveness at the degree level, which is why we never required it. That’s true of maths, and it’s true of . . . Do you know what the correlation was? When the press got onto this five-out-of-six Firsts bit—women—the first thing they asked me was “What do they have in common?” And do you know what they all had in common? They had a wide range of O-levels. A-levels were irrelevant. It didn’t matter what A-levels they did. What they had was what used to be called, in this country, the old “matric” range of subjects: maths, English, a science, a language—and that was a five—you know, there was a core of the people who were matriculation-exemption in our old university entrance system, years and years before I was in it myself. But I knew that if they had seven or eight subjects at O-level, right across the board, providing they had the English language, and maths, and a science, and another language . . . That was what they had in common, was breadth. Not even quality! We’re not even necessarily wondering about whether they had brilliant O-levels; but it was their breadth, which is an all-rounder, really. And they’re the ones who did the best!

Abbate:

Interesting. And not—they didn’t necessarily have math, strong maths?

Morton:

They didn’t have maths! A-level maths was . . . not very often.

Abbate:

See, I think that’s another issue, this idea that to do computer science you need to already have this big math background.

Morton:

You know what it’s about? Engineering. The engineers still insist on A-level maths; and for their kind of engineering, they might need it. But for the kind of computing degrees that we are producing people for, who needs A-level maths? You’re not going to be a designer of hardware, sitting at a computer-aided design center, are you? No, you’re not! You’re out there fixing people, and ensuring that the implementation will go. Because if you don’t get the people problem settled, the implementation will die!

I mean, when I was first in . . . they were . . . When I finished doing some of this work, they [the Ministry of Technology?] started asking me to do various jobs for them, and one or two of them were troubleshooting to find out why a particular department’s machine, system, whatever, had gone down; and I did it just for a short while, but it was such a drag. I thought, “No,” because it was always the same answer: they’d missed out on the people problems. They’d got a technical design: technical design could deliver—well, providing the—providing the interviewing of the user interface had been right, and not all the interviews were good; you could tell that by the attempts to redesign, redesign when the interviews were inadequate. The failure was the implementation. They hadn’t brought in all the little people who had to be persuaded this was worth doing. Sometimes little people would not be persuaded, because they would lose, some of them, their jobs. Of course, it took little people’s jobs away. But, having said that, there were usually compensations, by redeployment, et cetera. But it’s certainly true that the failures—well, it was: I used to call it “dragon’s teeth” when I used to lecture on it to my undergrads. I said, “You sow, at the interview stage—which may be the only time you’re going to see the user staff—the seeds that will be your destruction implementation if you get it wrong.” True! Do you understand the “dragon’s teeth?”

Abbate:

Right . . . well . . .

Morton:

It’s a mythical allegory. . .

Abbate:

I’ve heard that, but I can’t remember what it . . .

Morton:

Yes, it’s that you sow the dragon’s teeth, and these monsters emerge from the earth to kill everybody. You know, it’s—that’s the dragon’s teeth, you know. I think it was monsters of some kind or another that emerge. But, you see, I point out that if you do it at the investigation stage—it’s the earliest stage, while you’re trying to redefine the terms of reference of the project, which are being done at the interview stage: if you get that wrong, you won’t—while you’re away from the organization, you’ll design away, and you’ll perfect and tune and program it yourself to death—then implement, and see the disasters that occur because you didn’t get it right at the investigation stage. And women are very good at interviews. Because that was one of the things we kept picking up on the television: as soon as you give women interviews. . . And we used to let the students see their playbacks; we never saw them.

Abbate:

Oh, interesting.

The Advantage of Using Video in the Classroom

Morton:

Yes. We assessed live. That video was only for the students, and sometimes they could see it half a dozen times. When we stopped them—because the library had a place, a room where they could all plug in to earphones, you see—we’d stop them after they’d seen it, and if the librarians passing could hear hysterics coming out of the [room], they’d just say, “Enough!” [both laugh.] Because that’s what happened, you know: first time round, they learned something; the second time around, something; and after that it got more and more hysterical! [laughs.] But they sometimes would see their stuff, you know, three or four [times]. I’ve even had undergrads ask for copies of what they did. And I said, “Not my problem; I never see it. Just talk to the technicians. If the technicians are willing to do it for you, for a consideration,” I said, “do it. But it’s yours; you know, those videos are your property.” But they only lasted—because we were overwriting them all the time—for a week, and that’s how I got them concentrating on watching them. I used to say, “Your videos”—and they got a little form as they came out of their [presentation]: “Your videos will be in the library for one week from today. See it, or lose it!” [laughs.] And, as I say, they’d see it and see it and see it. I think people are continually fascinated by their own progress, and I think video gives them that progress.

Abbate:

Yes. I’ve never really used it that way, but. . .

Morton:

You can imagine it.

Abbate:

I could imagine it, though.

Morton:

Do you mean to tell me in the States you haven’t thought [laughs] about doing it?

Abbate:

I have students give presentations in front of the other students. I have them do team projects and then they present them, and I’ve definitely noticed that just presenting it in front of the other students is enough of a motivation; and the student who kind of doesn’t do anything is suddenly the most brilliant person. But, you know, I’d never thought of [using video]. There’s no reason I couldn’t; I just had never thought of it.

Gender Differences in the Classroom

Morton:

But if you understand the principle of it, in terms of motivation—and also improvement! Because the thing they’re looking for is, “My first efforts were terrible; my next efforts were not so bad; and now I’m looking at myself and thinking, ‘That’s not bad!’” Because they were all very self-critical.

That’s the other thing that I have to say! When the presentations went on, the women—people took this from me several times, as a quotable quote: Five people have just presented. We switch off the cameras. My first question is always: “How did you find that?” The second question was, “How did you think it went?” But “How did you find it?” is first. First thing you get is, the women would say, “That was terrible. I was terrible. I made a mess of this, and I made a mess of this.” Chaps would sometimes—the most perceptive of them would tell you there were problems, but they don’t tell you about the problems; they won’t mention it; and there’s even the fat-head who’s sitting there thinking he’s done wonderfully well! Then I would say to them, “Okay, well tell me how you think your presentation [was]; how acceptable was it?” And then they’d start doing the analysis of “Well, you picked up on this, and you picked up on that”—and the brighter ones would see this. All the way through, perhaps, the fat-head would be still sitting there thinking, “I’m wonderful.” And then the group would start turning onto fat-head, saying, “Of course you realize that what you said was what left the managers able to hook in on this problem that we hadn’t dealt with; and you made a mess of this, and this, and this!” And it was like blood-letting! [laughs.] And at that point I’d say, “Stop, stop!” I said, “No more blood-letting in front of the staff. This is outside, you have this little battle.” But notice: characteristically I spent time saying to the woman, “You did a first-class job. You’re too critical of your own performance,” and to fat-head—he has to be taught by his peers that what he thought was so wonderful was “Go cut your throat!” sort of thing. Does that tell you something about these attitudes?

Abbate:

Yes.

Morton:

And it was commonplace! I mean, I’m not talking about a single interview. Commonplace. Because I always used to mix the girls in, you see, there’d be one girl—and I told you, they wanted them to be in, so we’d have one. And the battle would be over who got the best project manager, frankly, and they’d try and do—you know, you want to see them try and work on this! But no, I used to be totally fair, you know. You could not work with anyone [you knew] until you’d gone through the process of everybody you had in your group was unknown—and it’s only at the point where it got to be about the fourth, probably, project, that you’re meeting people for the second time. You know, now you could bring on board your—start fighting over who were the favorite project leaders. Well, sometimes the girls wouldn’t take the title of project team leader, but would do it, and that was other thing.

Abbate:

Hmm.

Morton:

Interesting? They’d actually run it. They’d be the project team organizer, or something, and they’d let the team leader do the leading of the presentations or whatever, but they’d be running the thing. So I was really very . . . I was very impressed by the way in which these girls could run with it. And I think IBM was the one who picked this up. They had several of my girls who went in industrial placements; it was a time when graduates were getting £10,000 a year, and several of the girls were being bribed at, I believe, the equivalent of £15,000 in their industrial year—now, industrial year is third-year—to stay on.

Abbate:

They didn’t even have a degree yet.

Morton:

They didn’t have the degree. But to stay on; and they want them to come back, and they want to give them bursaries, and they want to employ them . . . I mean, IBM was a very sharp maneuverer. And they used to, for example: After the first year, we used to get them ready to be interviewed by industry, for—we used to hope to get it by the first of November—and that was doing all the mock interviews for them, and letting the students see their mock interviews, and so on and so forth—and that took up until to November to do. But IBM was always stamping their feet outside the door; you know, they’re on the mat waiting for them! Which I thought was quite—they’re pretty tough cookies, the IBM’s people, but they were always looking for the group coming in. I mean, we had, as I told you, twelve at a time in one year, which says something! [laughs.] They even came back and took people we thought weren’t that wonderful! But they . . . quite frankly, they obviously weren’t [finding more qualified people elsewhere].

Abbate:

Compared to what else was out there.

Morton:

What else? Well, whatever. . . Anyway! So we’ll leave it there, yes?

Abbate:

Yes. Thanks so much!

Morton:

Not a bit!

[END OF RECORDING]