God and IBM

In the beginning, there was chaos and the Universe was without form and void. The Lord looked upon His domain and decided to declare His presence. “I be” he said, then to correct his grammar added “am.” If the Lord had decided to work on irregular verb conjugation first, this wouldn’t have happened. God would later curse the English language for its part, but in that moment IBM came into being. The Lord looked out upon the IBM He had created and said “This is good.” That’s what He said, but He shook his head, wondered what the boys at the User Group would say, split the light from the dark and went to bed. Thus passed the Beginning and the end of the first day.

On the second day, the Lord summoned IBM unto His presence. “There is chaos out there, and the Universe is without form and void. I must correct this and I can use your help. Is there anything you can do for me?”

“I can take care of form,” IBM replied. “Put me in charge of computers and I will take care of form for you.”

The Lord thought that this was good and said “Let there be computers. Let IBM have my powers of creation that pertain to computers and form.” Thus saying, the Lord went off to His second day’s work while IBM created the 1401.

On the third day, while the Lord was out, IBM decided to subdivide the assgined task. “Let there be systems that make the computer work and let them be called Operating Systems. Let there also be systems that make use of the computer and let them be called Application Systems.” Thus, there came into being both Operating Systems and Application Systems, but there were no programmers.

The next morning IBM had to give the Lord a status report.

“What did you do yesterday?” the Lord asked.

“I invented the operating system” IBM replied.

“You did?” the Lord shuddered. “Oh dear.”

“Yes I did,” IBM confirmed, “but I find I need something you alone can provide.”

“And what is that?”

“I need programmers to use my computers, to operate my operating system and to apply my applications.”

“That can’t be done now,” said the Lord. “This is only the fourth day and there won’t be people until the sixth day.”

“I need programmers and I need them now. If they can’t be people they can’t be people, but we have to work this out today.”

“Give me some specifications and I’ll see what I can do.” IBM hastily worked up specs for programmers (are specs ever anything other than hasty) and the Lord reviewed them. The Lord knew the specs weren’t sufficient but followed them anyway. He also made some programmers that did just what programmers were supposed to do, just to spite IBM. The programmers and IBM spent the rest of the day creating the Assembler and FORTRAN. On the morning of the fifth day, IBM reported to the Lord once again.

“The programmers you created for me have a problem. They want a programming language that is easy to use and similar to English. I told them you had cursed English, though I still don’t know why. They wanted me to ask your indulgence on this.”

The Lord had cursed English for good reason, but didn’t want to explain this to IBM. He said “let there be COBOL” and that was that.

On the status report of the next day IBM announced that computers had gone forth and multiplied. Unfortunately, the computers still weren’t big enough or fast enough to do what the programmers wanted. The Lord liked the idea of going forth multiplying, and used the line Himself later on that day. This sixth day being particularly busy, He declared “Let there be MVS” and there was MVS.

On the seventh day God had finished creation and computers had COBOL and MVS. The Lord and IBM took the day off to go fishing. IBM hung a sign on the door to help programmers in his absence.





On the start of the second week the programmers went over IBM’s cathode ray tube directly to God. “We have a horrible problem,” they complained. “Our users want systems that perform according to their expectations.”

“USERS!” the Lord bellowed. “Who said that you should have users! Users are the difference between good and bad applications, a function I have reserved unto myself! Who authorized you to have users?”

“Well, IBM…”

“IBM!! You!! You did this to my programmers! You gave them the knowledge of good and evil. For that you shall suffer through eternity! Let there be competition. Let it be called Anacom, and Burroughs, and CDC.” The Lord went through the alphabet several times. “With all this competition you shall still suffer the pain of antitrust legislation all the days of your existence.”

This was the start of the second week, and it seems an appropriate place to conclude our report. In case you missed something, a summary of key points follows.

  • Users and their needs are and always have been a subject of dispute.
  • Nobody can learn English because it is cursed by God. IBM manuals are doubly cursed and therefore twice as hard to understand.
  • Of the programming languages, only COBOL can claim divine origin.
  • People are people, but programmers are something else.
  • Computers may be a gift from heaven, but there’s no divine help in getting them to work.
  • Because of IBM’s initial assignment, there are more forms than anyone knows what to do with.
  • Finally, chaos was part of the original state of the Universe and not a product of the data processing industry.