Aird describes his career in mathematical software, focusing particularly on his involvement from 1972 to 1993 as a senior member of mathematical software library vendor IMSL. Aird entered Olivet College in 1958, and was first exposed to programming as an intern with Burroughs in Detroit. He went on to graduate school in mathematics at the University of Michigan, earning a masters degree. In 1965, he moved to Houston where he provided support to programmers working at the Manned Space Center, under a contract held first by Wolfe Research and Development and then by Lockheed Electronics. After two years, he returned to an academic environment, working as manager of User Services in Purdue University’s computer center while pursuing a PhD with John Rice in its computer science department. Aird also mentions the contributions of Carl deBoor and John Lynch. These early experiences gave Aird first hand exposure to the needs and behaviors of scientific computer users, and to early mathematical software libraries. In 1972, he was recruited by Ed Battiste to join IMSL, a small and young company dedicated to the sale of a packaged library of mathematical routines. Aird discusses the origin of IMSL and the roles of co-founder Charles Johnson and early employees Olin Johnson and Walt Gregory. Aird served as Director of Mathematics and was responsible for the development of numerical routines. As the firm grew he came to supervise a large team, and was responsible for the development of software tools to manage the source code base for portability to exploit the interactive capabilities of minicomputers. Aird contrasts the capabilities and design of the IMSL library with competitors including IBM’s SSP and NAG and discusses its relationship with public domain projects such as EISPACK and LINPACK. He also explains IMSL’s sales strategies and discusses its relationship with customers. During the 1980s, the IMSL library was rewritten in FORTRAN 77, which Aird considers a very important development, and adapted for various microcomputer and workstation platforms. The firm experimented with other projects, including John Rice’s PROTRAN, a high level preprocessor, a graphics library, and a C subset of the main library. Aird left IMSL in 1993 following a change in the senior management team after which the company deemphasized the mathematical library business, merged with Precision Visuals and aimed (without success) at an initial public offering. IMSL eventually became Visual Numerics. After leaving IMSL, Aird worked as a partner in Windward Technologies, a very small firm selling optimization software. He was active for many years as part of the IFIP 2.5 Working Group on mathematical software.
Software; Applied mathematics; Burroughs Corporation; Manned Space Center; IMSL (International Mathematics and Statistics Library)
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM) oral history collection