A fun incident from my first day on a new programming job in the early 1980's
Send You A What?
Early in the 1980’s, just a few short years after my wife and high school sweetheart Linda had passed away, I started a new job as programmer analyst at an insurance company.
The first day on the job, about mid-morning, a member of my workgroup was showing me the ins and outs of the software package I would be using to do my program changes, when a member of another group came up to us and asked my coworker for some information on one aspect of a project the two groups appeared to be working on together.
My coworker replied, “Send me a WIZZ this afternoon to remind me and I’ll get that for you.”
Being the new kid on the block, and not knowing what was meant, in their context, by that term, I immediately saw dozens of medical specimen bottles flying all over the room with little notes stuffed inside them, and miraculously dropping into the hands of their intended recipients. Naturally, that was obviously not the reality of my coworker’s statement, but then what was that reality? They had me curious now.
I found out that afternoon, after lunch when my coworker began to teach me another aspect of the job – internal communication. Remember – this is before the internet.
“Okay, Jim. Sign on to the production system with the ID and password Sam gave you this morning.” Once I’d done that, she continued. “Now, type the transaction ID ‘WIZZ’ at the top of that blank screen and press ‘enter’.”
When I typed that word, I obviously remembered hearing it that morning. When I hit enter, a list of choices appeared on the screen.
“Notice each choice is numbered,” she said. “Type a ‘1’ for ‘New Message’ and hit enter. When I did, the image that appeared on the screen was that of an internal memo, with “From” and “To” lines at the top, a date and time line in the upper right hand corner, and a page filled with lines made with strings of the underscore (_) character, that were obviously the lines on which each of us would type our messages to each other. So much for my image of those specimen bottles flying through the air.
At my cohort’s suggestion, I typed my first message, sending it to her. As I typed, the underscores were replaced with the characters I typed for the message. When it was completed, she told me to click on the “send” button at the bottom of the screen. When I did, the message disappeared, and a new blank message screen appeared. “All the messages you send have a copy saved in your ‘saved messages’ folder. That was at the bottom of your choice list, remember?”
“Right,” I said. “Number 7”.
“Right,” she said. She then walked me through each of the other options, which included reading new mail that had been sent to me, reading old mail, similar to a history file, to look up older mail I’d received to review details or timelines, etc, and of course checking that “sent mail” for the copy of the one I’d just sent to my coworker.
Where did they get the name “WIZZ” for initiating the mail system transaction and referring to it in conversation? The software package that provides the mail system is called “WIZZARD MAIL”, and those two words appeared at the top of every screen in the mail system. And, the part of the computer’s operating system that was used to support that mail system required that each transaction be started with a four-character ID; no more, no less. So, for the mail, they obviously chose something that would be self-descriptive and easy to remember: “WIZZ”.
Interestingly enough, within a few months, I would become the programmer analyst responsible for maintaining the programs and screen images for that mail system and retain that responsibility, along with others, for the duration of my time with the company.
A footnote for the computer savvy among you: the Wizzard Mail system was CICS-based, as you may have guessed from the 4-character transaction ID size limit.