It was May 25, 1976 and it was another lifetime. My first “real” job after graduation was at a mining company working as a keypunch operator. A keypunch operator? Yes, a keypunch operator. They’re an extinct breed here in the twenty-first century, but we were a vital part of business back then.
Our work would come in to us in batches. A batch could either be a set of time cards bundled together in an elastic band, or a set of invoices paper clipped together. The time cards were always my favorite thing to do. They would be loaded into the keypunch machine and one by one they would feed into a window directly in front of where I sat. Employees would have written the number of hours they worked each day and I would key those numbers so that they would punch little holes in the appropriate place on the card.
When one of us finished keying a batch, the punched cards would be put back into our in-basket to be verified at a later time. Verifying was simply keying the same thing over again to identify any mis-punched holes which would require that a new card be created.
Keypunching was the kind of work that allowed one to shift their brain into auto-pilot. When one got good enough at keying there was little thought required because the fingers would automatically move to they keys based on the numbers that the eyes saw. There was a lot of deep thought that one could do during keypunching.
My best friend today was a keypunch operator in her past life as well. We both have said that keypunching was one of the best jobs we ever had.
Fast forward to 2009 and the time card employees at the company where I work key their own time into the computer. Keypunch operators have gone the way of the Edsel and the do-do bird.
I can’t help but wonder about some of the high tech jobs that young people are taking today. Which ones will go the way of the keypunch operator in the years to come?