Artifact Details


Ford, Brian SIAM oral history, with Steve Hague and Sven Hammarling

Catalog Number





2004-06-29; 2004-06-30


Ford, Brian, Interviewee
Hague, Steve, Interviewee
Haigh, Thomas, Interviewer
Hammarling, Sven, Interviewee


SIAM and U.S. Department of Energy

Place of Publication

Oxford, United Kingdom, United States


84 p.



Copyright Holder

Computer History Museum


Brian Ford discusses his entire career. Born in Nottingham in 1940, Ford studied mathematics at Imperial College, London. He worked as a school teacher for several years before earning an MSc and PhD from Nottingham University. His work on a QR algorithm brought him into contact with Jim Wilkinson and Leslie Fox. Ford worked with the university’s KDF-9 computer center, building a user advice service and numerical software library. In 1970, as the university planned for the arrival of an ICL 1906A, Ford took part in the launch of a collaborative effort with other universities to create a mathematical library for the new machine. This became NAG, initially the Nottingham Algorithms Group but later the Numerical Algorithms Group. Facing lack of institutional support at Nottingham, NAG moved to Oxford in 1973. NAG and the American IMSL were the main vendors of commercial numerical libraries from the mid-1970s on. The library was initially offered in both FORTRAN and Algol versions. In 1976 it was chartered as a not-for-profit company, led by Ford, and it has been financially self sustaining since 1980. Ford discusses the changing institutional form of NAG, the organization and development of its library, its products and marketing, the tools it created to automate aspects of its work, the sources of its code and relationship to its contributors, and its relationship to its customer base. NAG also took part in many collaborative research projects as part of the European Union’s ESPRIT and Framework programs. At the time of the interview NAG employed around sixty people, down significantly from a peak during the technology boom years of the late 1990s. Ford retired as director of NAG in July 2004.

Ford was an active member of the international mathematical software community, visiting research groups at IBM and in the National Laboratories and participating in the IFIP 2.5 Working Group and the ACM SIGNUM group. He discusses relationships with many of his colleagues in the mathematical software community, including William Kahan, Lloyd Fosdick, Brian Smith, Shirley Lill, Phyllis Fox, Lee Osterweil, Françoise Chaitin-Chatelin, Christopher Strachey, Bo Einarsson, W.J. Cody, Christian Reinsch, Malcolm Cohen, and Jim Pool.

For part of the interview Ford is joined by Steve Hague, his longtime deputy. They discuss NAG’s business strategy and the development of its product line over time. In the 1980s NAG added visualization products through its Graphics Library and acquisition of IRIS Explorer from Silicon Graphics. NAG also distributed GENSTAT, a statistics library, and a range of FORTRAN programming tools and compilers under the NAGWare label. This included the first successful FORTRAN 90 compiler, which Ford credits with saving the language standard from oblivion. NAG also acquired from IBM and marketed for some years a symbolic mathematics packaged called Axiom (based on the well-known Scratchpad system created by Dick Jenks). NAG also collaborates with Maplesoft to integrate its library with Maple.

The transcript also includes a short interview with Sven Hammarling, a longtime NAG employee. Hammarling discusses his own career, his work at NAG, and his involvement with the LAPACK project and the design of the Level 2 and Level 3 BLAS.




Software library; Numerical Algorithms Group (NAG); IMSL (International Mathematics and Statistics Library); IFIP Working Group 2.5; SHARE; EISPACK; LAPACK; Basic Linear Algebra Subprograms (BLAS); GENSTAT; TOOLPACK; Axiom

Collection Title

Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) oral history collection


Gift of SIAM and the US Department of Energy

Lot Number