Keypunch! by
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“Over-educated and under qualified”. That’s what the folks at SofTech said to me when I was desperate for a job in August of 1974. I had graduated the previous May from Brandeis University, magna cum lauda with a BA in Theatre Arts with honors and a Massachusetts teaching certificate in Secondary Speech and English. Married a month later, I looked for, but did not find a teaching job, so answered random help-wanted ads in the paper. My new husband was to start full-time graduate school in September while continuing part-time work at SofTech, a software company which mostly built software for the military. The people were nice enough and Dan had worked there since graduating from Brandeis a year before I did, so I knew them all (it was a company of about 60 people by this point). So at a party in August, I said, “If you want to do him a favor, hire me”. Lelah, who shared an office with Dan, called me in for an interview the next Tuesday.

The series of interviews were bizarre, but I was offered the job of Program Librarian for $7,000/year. It was something. I knew NOTHING about computers or software, but my job was primarily data input. I spent much of my day inputting data by typing cards on a KEYPUNCH machine…clattering away. I was bored out of my gourd! The noise was deafening. In the “computer room” (as the company grew, they acquired a PDP 8, another long-gone relic, a Digital Equipment Corp computer. They were once a huge Massachusetts company, but founder Ken Olsen refused to believe that anyone would ever want to do computing at home!) I pulled the door shut and sang Gilbert & Sullivan at the top of my lungs. I didn’t realize how loud I was until the president of the company poked his head in one day and commented on how nice my voice was…oops.

When my children came along I had to take them to the Computer Museum to show them what a keypunch was and that Mom had worked on one at her first job.

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Tags: keypunch, 1974, DEC equipment
Characterizations: been there, funny, well written


  1. Susan says:

    When punch cards became obsolete, there was a brief period where enterprising women made crafts out of them…remember the punchcard wreath?

  2. John Zussman says:

    Does this bring back memories! To do statistical analysis when I was in college and grad school, I would have to key in my program on punch cards and take them to the computer center. A couple of hours later the output would be ready—but invariably it would indicate a compiler error because I had mistyped a command or omitted a semicolon. It could take days to debug a deck. It’s a miracle we got anything done.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Fixing little errors like missing semicolons became my speciality. I saved a lot of programmers a lot of time because I got very good at spotting their little errors. But part of my job was taking those card decks off-site and picking up the compiler runs. I got very friendly with the guys at the computer center!

  3. Yikes! My last high school job involved entering ancient weather statistics (records began in 1876) onto computer cards at MIT. A grad student named Wes would key in the cards to a 12-foot long, 5-foot high IBM we called Moby Dick. When Wes hit ‘go,’ the monster roared like a combination wind tunnel, hay baler and jackhammer. The lights would dim! And today, all that could be done from a laptop or a cellphone or a watch.

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