DBAid for IMS
© 2013 Stan Yack

Chuck Lewis coined the name DBAid for IMS for a software product that we created in 1979 based on tools that I had previously built to improve the productivity of software developers at a Toronto bank, CIBC. Chuck was my friend and boss, the director of the Reston, Virginia office of CACI, which in those days was already known for the software product Simscript. I met Chuck in the mid-1970s, when I was a systems programmer and toolsmith, and he was the technical support representative for a software product I was using. A marketing pro, Chuck sold our newly minted DBAid for IMS software product to his client, the Virginia National Bank in Norfolk.

Both DBAid and the productivity tools that I'd built at CIBC were implemented as extensions to a revolutionary IBM software product that was originally called SPF, the Structured Programming Facility. IBM kept the acronym when it renamed the product the System Productivity Facility, but later lengthened that name to ISPF when it settled on calling it the Interactive System Productivity Facility. In the 1970s SPF was used in major projects at IBM's pioneering Palo Alto centre, which was experimenting with advanced approaches to software development, including the at the time radical idea of putting an interactive computer terminal on every programmer's desk.

I first encountered SPF in 1974 at Simpsons-Sears, where we IT radicals were placing increasing emphasis on programmer productivity. The computer price/performance ratio was starting its precipitous plunge and programmers' wages were becoming a more and more significant proportion of system life cycle cost. Ever higher capacity and cheaper computers meant that larger and more complex computer applications were easier for us to contemplate ... but they were no more easy to build. That difficulty made the "software crisis" a popular topic among software engineers; anything that could improve the productivity of an organization's programmers would be of great value. The revolutionary methodology of Structured Programming was one of those things; so was SPF, a tool that provided a full-screen program editor and interactive program compilation, trading off computer processing for higher programmer productivity. Initially, Simpsons-Sears was not as radical as IBM at their Palo Alto lab, and we shared each computer terminal among four programmers.

After a few more years of programmer wage increases and computer hardware price decreases, I was working at CIBC, where the Database Administration group convinced upper management that it would be cost-effective to provide a computer terminal for every programmer. As the DBA project's toolsmith, it was my job to improve the productivity of programmers developing applications for CIBC's first applications using the IMS Database Mangagement System. I did that by implementing SPF extensions consisting of interactive dialogs that allowed programmers to perform their database development tasks more quickly.

In the summer of 1978 Chuck Lewis invited me to his home in Reston, Virginia, to sweet-talk me into moving there to work for him, and to enjoy the music of James Taylor. We spent a mellow, sunny day at the Merriweather Post Pavillion in Columba, Maryland. To close the deal Chuck introduced me to his friend Carmen, who went with us to the concert and afterwards returned to Chuck's place, where I had planned to be sleeping in guest quarters. So it was that in the spring and summer of 1979 I was working in Reston, dating Carmen, and recreating for CACI the tools that I'd built at CIBC. Chuck and I planned our strategy for marketing DBAid for IMS, and in the late summer of 1979 I took that almost-completed software product to Norfolk, where I spent a month tailoring it for its first customer, the Virginia National Bank. (The summer of 1979 was also when I took up the sport of hang gliding. My brief liberation from the bonds of earth ended when I "dropped out"; but that's another story.)

Several years and several jobs later, I helped extend DBAid for IMS for its use in Toronto to improve the productivity of a CACI-managed team building the Province of Ontario's new Vehicle Registration System (a system you can blame for allowing the first "vanity plates" on Ontario cars). I later extended it once more, to support operational and administrative users at another CACI client, Ontario's Queens Park Computer Branch. On both of those projects I worked with Mike, who had been my manager at CIBC when I developed DBAid's ancestral tools. After only a year in Virginia, I was homesick and I went back to Toronto to help start up that office ... with Mike as its manager.

We softsmiths regard our craft as having many of the same creative elements of designing buildings, of writing stories, of composing music. But human works are many, and their individual survival is unlikely; that's especially true for a software creation, whose less than concrete existence is embedded in a world of rapidly changing technology. But DBAid for IMS has survived. Twenty-five years after Chuck and I created it, its descendant is being marketed by StandardWare, who have renamed and folded it into their COPE family of software products.

I am an instructional designer and computer softsmith, B Math (University of Waterloo). I have implemented application and system software on several computing platforms including IBM mainframes, MS Windows, MacOS, and UNIX. In recent years I have been teaching and developing online courses.

Stan Yack
Instructional Designer and Softsmith