A History of the Office Computer
Career Path : Computers and Technology
A modern office without computers is an unimaginable concept. The first computer in commercial use was in 1890, but needless to say, the definition of computer has evolved considerably, as the title once applied to non-electric computational machines, such as the Difference Engine, and a job title. Early computers were programmed via punch cards, literally rectangles of cardboard with a pattern of holes, like an old time self-playing piano. The first big job for punch card computers was the US census. Imagine trading in your IT technician training for a hole punch!
The next innovation was a switch to computers with vacuum tubes. Binary code, the now familiar stream of ones and zeros used by the modern computer, did not come into common use until 1936. At this period there were few computers and they were not widely distributed, existing purely for doing mathematical computations. At the same time, the closest thing to the internet was copper wire transported electric telegraph messages.
Code breaking on the Allied side of WWII gave computer research a boost. To crack Axis codes, mathematicians had to crunch large amounts of data to get the most likely translation for intercepted war communications. Government investment, as well as simultaneous technological breakthrough in other fields sped up discoveries and the computer went completely electric. By the 1950s, a computer was part of technological innovation, though none of the 3D modeling and design business programs was anywhere near to being invented, much less available. The integrated circuit chip took until 1958, and combined with refinements in transistor technology, that among many things, shrank the computer to increasingly more manageable size, computers began appearing in all sorts of companies around the world.
A personal computer you could actually put on a desk didnât come along until 1981, but from there things really began to speed up. Multiple companies competed with better and better designs. The internet began to make an impact in the nineties, and word-processing, multi-media presentation and other business programs went from curiosities to must have skills. The typewriter got phased out and workers learned to use big, usually taupe coloured personal computers with a boom in computer service jobs as well. Companies started needing at least one staff member with IT technician training to work full time keeping things running.
The internet and the easily portable computer are the two latest innovations. As an increasing amount of commerce, marketing and communications began to happen online, a new cadre of workers first learned to code web pages from scratch, and these days, to use a what-you-see-is-what-you-get web design program. Meanwhile, with pack-up-and-go notebook computers, all the things a worker needed for their office job began to fit into a space smaller than a standard briefcase. Now, more than ever, work is no longer geography dependent and much office work can be completed from the comfort of home.
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