If you want to chart the course of computers and computer programming, just follow the career of Bob Brockish. He has witnessed major changes in computer development over the years—from vacuum tube machines and magnetic core storage to transistors to items becoming miniaturized and the invention of the chip. As Dean of the College of Computer and Information Sciences (CCIS) Dr. Shari Plantz-Masters says, “Bob’s a walking history book of the computing discipline.”
When Brockish finished high school, he didn’t know what he wanted to do. Having always admired his brother, Brockish followed his example by first joining the Marine Corps.
After a year on active duty, he then joined Regis. Within three weeks, Brockish received orders for infantry training. After nearly a year of combat in Korea, he returned to the United States and was commissioned an officer. Again, released from active duty, he re-enrolled in Regis. “I was much more of a man the second time I enrolled,” he says.
At that point, he decided to become a teacher. His initial focus was history, but after being inspired by an algebra class, he changed his major to math.
As a Marine Corps Reservist and a soon-to-be father, Brockish was serious about academics and focused on the future. He didn’t want to bother with what he thought were extraneous requirements and asked the dean to be excused from physical education. Dean Father Matione said, “We don’t want you to graduate here as a pin head.” The advice to learn more than just technical skills has stayed with Brockish to this day.
During his last year at Regis, he participated in a student teaching program for Denver Public Schools, which ended with a job offer. He was prepared to take it until a casual conversation with a fellow Marine turned into an interview at the Martin Company—the precursor to Lockheed Martin—and a job offer.
“The Martin offer was a $1,000 more a year than the public school’s offer, and it was for 12 months, so I didn’t have to search for a job during the summer,” he says. “That was important since I now had three children.” He started as an associate engineer in the Flight Analysis Department. At the time, there was no such job as a computer programmer.
He graduated from Regis on a Sunday in 1956 and reported to work the next day. His boss gave him an IBM 704 Data Processing Machine manual and told him to study it and figure out how to write programs. Within a week, he was writing simple ones.
During his 3.5 years at Martin, he progressed from associate engineer to engineer, senior engineer and then group engineer. He mainly worked on trajectory and tank pressurization programs for the Titan Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM).
A former team member convinced him to join Thiokol Chemical Corporation in Utah in late 1959. As a department manager, he oversaw two sections of programmers: engineering analysis and flight data reduction. The work supported the Minuteman ICBM—a smaller and mobile system designed to be difficult to target by the Soviet Union.
In 1966, Brockish returned to Colorado to join IBM working in software development and other jobs supporting the company’s main frame computers. His first assignment was to define the programming objectives for the OS/360 System Management Facilities for the recently released system.
The project involved inserting into the existing system the code to report the operational statistics needed for customers to understand their systems usage. “It was very difficult to retrofit into an existing system” he says, “I tried to explain to programming management that it was like finishing the inside of the house and then coming back to put in the electrical wiring.”
Other jobs included managing a computer lab, overseeing the systems management facilities office, developing the design and architecture of future storage systems and conceiving the system for document distribution throughout a telecommunications network.
Toward the end of his 21-year tenure at IBM, he worked on advanced function printing software, which integrates pictures, graphics, proportional text and different fonts—what we would consider normal printing today.
Brockish retired in 1987 and received an IBM Outstanding Contribution Award for the Document Interchange Architecture. But he didn’t stop there. He continued to work part-time for IBM, including serving as a large systems instructor on a corporate telecommunications education team.
During his career, Brockish helped start a Boulder-Denver chapter of the Association of Computing Machinery. “A highlight was hosting Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, computing pioneer and the person considered to be the mother of the COBOL programming language, as a speaker for the chapter,” he says. He served in the Marine Corps Reserves until 1974, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel and writing a draft history on the Marines’ use of automatic data processing.
Brockish is proud of his contributions and eager to see what’s next in the computer field. “We’re doing things way beyond what was anticipated, but we still haven’t figured out all that can be done,” he says.
His advice for those in computer programming today harks back to his Regis days. “Just like Father Matione said, ‘Don’t be a pinhead.’ You’ve got to know more than just being a technical guru. You have to deal with people and consider their point of view. Have a social conscience.”
Brockish is the embodiment of those values. Plantz-Masters says, “CCIS is proud of his legacy both as an alumnus and a pioneer in the field.”