The roots of the matchit Matching Engine go as far back as the first stored-program computer, which successfully ran the world's first software program on 21st June 1948. The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM), nicknamed Baby, was the first computer that you could program for different tasks without rewiring or physical reconfiguration. The first program it ran was a routine to determine the highest proper factor of any number. Of course, because nobody had written one before, the word "program" wasn't used to describe it and "software" was a term that nobody had coined. The SSEM was designed by Tom Kilburn and Geoff Tootill (our founder Steve's father) under the leadership of Frederic C. Williams. In 2013, it was great to see the 65th anniversary of the first program marked by a post and specially commissioned video on Google's official blog, complete with an interview with Geoff Tootill.
Steve heard first-hand his father's stories about being keen to work winter overtime as it was during post-war coal rationing and the SSEM generated so much heat that it was much the coziest place to be! Before going to work on the Manchester machine, Geoff worked on wartime development and commissioning of radar, which he says was the most responsible job he ever had (at the age of just 21), despite his work at Manchester and (in the 60's) as Head of Operations at the European Space Research Organisation. After the Baby's first operation in June 1948, Geoff instructed Alan Turing on use of the Manchester Baby (Turing had moved to Manchester so he could use the Baby for a project). Geoff debugged a program Turing had written before he moved to Manchester – Geoff told Steve that he was amazed that there was only one bug in a complex routine developed by Turing for the Baby, sight unseen.
Although he was primarily an engineer, a hardware man, Geoff graduated in Mathematics from Cambridge University and had all the attributes to make an excellent programmer. Steve likes to think that his interest in and aptitude for software stemmed from Geoff in both nature and nurture - although aptitude for hardware and electronics didn't seem to rub off on Steve. Geoff was extremely interested in the software that Steve initially wrote for fuzzy matching of names and addresses as it appealed to him both as a computer scientist and as a linguist. In fact, Geoff designed the uniquely effective phonetic algorithm, soundIT, which is central to the fuzzy matching in the matchit software today.
The Manchester computing pioneers have not had enough recognition previously, so we were delighted that Google paid tribute to Geoff Tootill and his colleagues for their contribution to the modern software era - and to be able to acknowledge Geoff’s place in the evolution of our company.
Additional Links about the Manchester computing pioneers:
- https://sounds.bl.uk/Oral-history/Science/021M-C1379X0002XX-0004V0 (go to 71 minutes)