Mirta Ramer


When I think of my years at the company, three stories come to
mind. During my job interview, Gene Gminski, the CM Group
Head, was looking through my application and noticed that
under hobbies I had listed "sewing." He asked me, "When you
sew, do you take the sleeves from one dress, the collar from
another, and the skirt from yet another and make up a dress
of your own liking?" I told him that sure, I did that all the time.
I mixed and matched from several patterns to make the dress
I wanted. 

It took me several years of working in the Specifications Department to realize how clever the question was. The similarities between sewing a dress and how specs were put together – the front ends from one, a few guide specs, and several past project sections – all combined to make a new specification.

Gene Ryan, an electrical engineer and Head of the Specifications Department, was my first supervisor. After an engineer brought Gene a spec to prepare, prior to going to the typist, he would read and edit the document. With his red pen he would bleed all over it and paper-clip questions for the writer. After his reviews, the specs would bulge with paper clips. He'd hand me the specs and ask me to go to the writer and clarify the questions. Some of the questions were quite simple and obvious, such as "period here?" and "comma there?" It didn't take long to realize that he was using the specs as a teaching tool. He could have easily inserted the punctuation correctly himself, but neither I nor the writer would have learned the correct way to write a specification.

Dick Marr was watching me type up specs on the old ATS terminals, which were connected to the University of Iowa IBM main frame computer. There were no monitor screens back then and you worked from your hard copy which had line numbers. In order for the line numbers in the hard copy to stay corresponding to the electronic file, you worked from back to front. As you inserted or deleted text the line numbers after that point would change, but not the numbers before. Dick watched for a long time and finally he exclaimed, "No wonder specs take so much time to prepare. You're working backwards!"

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