cracking retirement - teleprinter

I’m Sorry I Retired

I’m sorry I retired!

From someone who posted just a few weeks ago about my 6 years of retirement being the best days of my life, that is a big change in a very short time.


Just the other day, I went to a presentation on ‘the future of automation, and how it will impact us’. Suddenly I felt left out. I was no longer part of this future.

Having lived and worked in IT since I first studied Computer Science in 1974, the thought that I am just going to be a bystander in this new, amazing world really upset me. In the 60’s and 70’s the use of computers transformed many working lives. From 2000 technology has taken over our lives, smart phones to tablets, online shopping to drones.

A little bit of history

So let me go back in time….

In 1974, I remember my first time using a ‘teleprinter’ – What was one of those? I hear everyone aged less than 60 saying? Basically it looked like an electric typewriter but it was connected to a computer.

(note – I’ve used a free to use wikicommons photo)

cracking retirement - teleprinter


The university had a basic AI (artificial intelligence) programme. We typed in a question ‘how are you?’ And it would reply ‘I’m fine, how are you?’ Very basic scenarios where the answers varied depending on the questions you asked. I was enthralled. One of our challenges on our AI course was to do a simple chess game.The logic involved in just getting 3 or 4 moves blew my mind! Think about it. You have 16 pieces which could move, then you need to interpret how your opponents move, then make your own…  Do just 3 levels of these questions, and I can guarantee your brain will feel like Swiss Cheese- at least mine did!

Computers mainly ran off punch cards that looked like this. Card decks could be 6 or 10 inches thick, or even more. I well remember the day when there was a card reject problem, and I unthinkingly opened the lid of the machine. Cards galore, spread all over the machine room floor. Manually re-sequencing them took me hours….

Cracking retirement computer punch card

When I left university I had a couple of choices. (I was of that very fortunate generation where there were more jobs than people to fill them). Work for a computer manufacturer or work for a data processor? I chose the data processor option – a bank. As it turned out, it was a good option for me. I wasn’t at the forefront of technology, but at the crossroads where technology meets reality.

Over the years, I had lots of interesting roles, from working in International money transfer systems SWIFT), ATMs, Point of Sale systems. Every day brought new technical challenges, and you felt like you made a difference to people’s lives, giving them new functionality. The best fun was the ATM test bed though… It felt more like play than work!

I read in Mr Groovy’s post the other day, that he was a bit of a database nerd. I totally empathise. So was I. It was such fun. It was great to be able to answer all sorts of weird questions, using data.

So what does the short term future hold?

Back to the original reason for the post.

Over the period of an hour, I was amazed by how close we are to a step change in how we live and work.

  • SwissPost are already using drones to deliver ‘agreed drone format parcels’. super footage available, but a limit of 20km at the minute.
  • Autonomous taxis have already been tested in Singapore, and tests are happening in Arizona in 2 months time
  • Some rule based jobs are ideal for Artificial Intelligence, such as in the Tax area. Not only can robots follow rules, but they can learn from them. What future for tax accountants then?
  • the use of phone apps as health diagnostic tools
  • More use of augmented reality in many fields such as training medical professionals.

However, I was struck by the stats where the most popular job in the US is ‘truck driver’ in more than 40 states. So what on earth is going to happen 10 years on, as we move to autonomous driver vehicles? What is going to be the impact to a huge proportion of the US/UK/EU population?? Software developer is only the top job in 4 states!

In previous generations, we would learn pretty steadily up to 21, but rarely undertake training after that. It is now likely that we will learn in shorter chunks over a longer period of time. We will continuously be learning new skills. The world will not stay still, and we have to stay up with it. We will need to continuously adapt, both our skills and ourselves.

Life as a bystander

It is the 1700’s / 1800’s industrial revolution happening again… Except far faster. Look at how much our lives have been transformed since the iPhone burst on the scene just 10 years ago. We have already adjusted to the gig economy. Many people earn their living being digital nomads. Gone are the days where you work for the same employer for 40 years.

So I’ll just have to get used to being a late adopter. No longer involved in providing systems that change peoples lives. No opportunity to get involved in live testing. I well remember those heart-stopping moments, when your changes have gone in, and you’re standing at an ATM at 2am with a card in your hand, with fingers and toes crossed. 99% of the time things were good, but on the days they weren’t, you earned your money the hard way! (best laugh was when one of our business managers got questioned by the Police for suspicious behaviour in the middle of the night near an ATM – boy did we laugh!). It didn’t help him at all, but we wound him up for ages as a result!

However, what I definitely will not stop doing, is learning. I haven’t yet got Alexa or Google Echo. I don’t think I need that technology in my life (yet!?) Though I was so proud to hear recently, that a team from my old university, Heriot-Watt, Edinburgh, are one of the finalists for the Alexa Prize 2017. The results are out as I type this, they made it to the last 3, but sadly didn’t win the prize.  As the only UK university to make it that far, that was pretty amazing. Well done all!

I would love a drone, maybe one day! I will certainly sign up to use autonomous taxis as soon as they are available. I am definitely up for the switch to the new generation…

Bring it on!

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  1. Several, first why does retirement keep you out of the game? I’ve been retired for 2 years and I’m as busy as ever consulting. Nothing is leaving me behind. Secondly, do you seriously think even 5% of the world’s trucks will be autonomous in 10 years, that’s just silly. Not gonna happen in thirty years.

    1. I chose not to go down the consulting route, although I did get plenty of offers. I do some charity work instead. I can see a lot of the long-haul truck driving becoming autonomous quicker than local routes. Maybe not in 2 or 3 years, but I think in the next 5-10 we will see it happening, particularly in less populated areas. If there are financial savings in it, then there will be a desire to do it. (I still cant get my head around what would happen in the case of an accident, if no-one is in the truck!) My point was really that these things are here to stay and we have to evolve to make the most of the opportunities available.

  2. Interesting article. I am a little behind you (age 53) and contemplating retiring next year. I used that Teletype as my first introduction to programming. Sending tapes off to the Town Hall to be run. Had a similar career path to you although followed the manufacturer route for 20 years and now contracting in the IT world. My eldest has just started A-levels and is doing Computer Science. I can see how AI is going to affect his world and he has the opportunity to ride that wave. They have the lease on the world for the next 80~ years. I think they’ll enjoy it!

    1. Hi Robert, I agree with you. Our children are the ones who will be riding the wave, The pace of change will get ever faster, and yes I think it will be really interesting

  3. Very interesting, Erith. My brother recently talked with Mr. Groovy about those punch cards and how when he studied computer science, he had to be meticulous with his school assignments. He basically had one shot at it, since he had to leave those punch cards over night at the computer center. My, how things have changed. And they’re going to change even more quickly, I believe, in the next few decades.

  4. Hi Mrs Groovy – I agree that things will change so quickly over the next few years. I empathise with your brother – we had to do the same – you got one run a day with your deck of cards, so you had to be far more careful. Mind you I suppose it was good for us.

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