Engineering is with sales and manufacturing the most important components of an Information Technology company. The structure of Engineering organization has evolved essentially with the history of mergers, while the local culture of the engineering labs went often essentially unchanged in spite of those mergers.

General organization

It was basically impossible to establish a central entity for Engineering while the legal and financial structure of the group was not unified. For instance, the Italian Engineering did not report to a central engineering entity before 1989.

At General Electric times, there had been an attempt, by Dick Bloch in 1970, to establish a centralized structure to control the APL developments from Stanford, CT.
Within Honeywell, a central coordination office (NPL technical Office) was handle the specifications and planning of the new product line. However, the on-going projects were controlled locally.
In 1974, for some time, Phoenix and Boston operation were merged, as some key personal moved or returned to Phoenix. But, with the development of Level 6, the Boston organization took back its autonomy in 1975.

With the CII-HB merger, the Engineering shops started to be divided into Large Systems (ex-CII), Medium Systems (ex-HB), Small Systems and Peripherals. When it was decided to migrate Siris systems towards GCOS7, a single multi-sites organization was established for mainframes.  GTI (Groupement Technique et Industriel) covered Engineering of and Manufacturing included a Minicomputer ("Frenchization" of Level 6) operation, the Small Computer and terminals operation and the Angers-Joué les Tours manufacturing operation. Peripherals had a larger autonomy (Engineering and Manufacturing operating as a single entity).

Eventually, in 1989, all the worldwide engineering labs were made reporting to a single structure under Christian Joly, then Lucio Pinto and Xavier Stefani. The intent was to mobilize enough resources to take a dominant stake of the UNIX market, while retreating smoothly from the mainframe business. That policy was successful in developing a SMP Escala UNIX system in common with IBM, and in becoming more independent of NEC in GCOS8 systems.

In 1994,this trend towards a centralized approach to engineering faded out while priority was shifted from long term projects to immediate profitability, and engineering became again oriented towards product lines immediate goals.

The following description of engineering skills apply to central processors and to peripheral hardware that have been designed internally. The use of externally acquired off-the-shelf processors that began to phase in during the 1980s may eventually make those skills redundant.

Many techniques contribute to hardware engineering:

Originally, in the 1950s, a computer lab had to design a computer starting from elementary electronic parts, like diodes, relays and tubes. The electronic lab was responsible for the measurements of those parts, the fact that they fit together, the manufacturing tolerances etc..
From 1965, the acquisition of integrated circuits (initially SSI, MSI medium scale integration soon) made the above responsibility essentially on the side of the vendor.
With custom  VLSI, the manufacturing was on the vendor side and the interface of the computer manufacturer was a set of rules enforced by CAD. The Bull technologists had essentially a responsibility of dialog with vendors and of vendor selection. They had also to deal with packaging of circuits on the board, selection of connectors taking in account that boards manufacturing stayed with Bull manufacturing.
Liquid cooling was a peculiar technology issue that was used only in Phoenix. Other labs were using air cooling only.

Originally, the role of implanters was to prepare manufacturing drawings for the wire interconnected components and boards.
When the speed of computer started to be distance limited (around 1965 too), a specific task was to position components on printed circuits boards and boards in card-cages. Initially, that was made manually. The systems of that period was often designed in worst case and were speeded up after the first batch of machines when time was available for measurements and computations.
With CAD tools, the task of implanters disappeared, their work being taken up by computers.

Logic designers
That function is usually considered as the more noble in hardware engineering. It includes ideas creation to translate an architecture in a system design, evaluation of the gross design and attention to the detailed design. Progressively, when CAD tools became sophisticated, logic designers became almost the only human involved in hardware design.

As the majority of Bull computers were microprogrammed, logic designers were not actually address the software visible architecture but another machine. Architecture actual implementation laid under the responsibility of specialized programmers. The talents required from them were similar to process control programmers, they could not trade performances against productivity and their responsibility for bugs was very high, when microprograms were in ROM.

Tests and Diagnostics programmers
Initially, field engineers understood the details of the circuitry and were able to diagnose a failed component by the drawings. Progressively, that became impossible because the complexity of the system and engineering was demanded by Filed Engineering to have the system to say what part was to change. Service processors were introduced in the mid-1970s and they had to be programmed. In 1980, non-functional testing became the rule and logic design had to be made with the part diagnosis in view. It ended by using that feature to be used in the initialization of the system as well.
With the generalization of single chip processor around 1990 the amount of T&D work decrease. Not only parts were more reliable, but the replaceable unit became as big as a function easily identified by the customer him(her)self.

CAD programmers
CAD tools were introduced initially in Phoenix for Level 66 and Bull developed its CAD factory on GCOS8 until the 1980s. VLSI design was done interactively on different types of graphic workstations, main frames being used as back-end servers for CAD.

A limited number of individuals had been the so-called architects, defining the instruction set of the system and its evolutions, receiving software people suggestions and logic designers complaints, taking in account measurements by performance measuring people.
Architecture design  is a huge work when a new product line is introduced or when the emulation of one architecture on another is asked for by marketing.
Architects too have to watch the competition, sometimes benchmarking some of its products and helping Marketing to react.

A specific functions requiring relatively important expenses is the checking and the control to the conformity to standards. Manufacturing to the worldwide market means that your product must pass specifications: from air flow in Lhasa to noise in Stockholm and earthquakes in Japan. The work depends on technology, but the early 1980's technology caused issues in EM emission and sensitivity, as well as noise.

Basic Software

Software Architects
Software architects are dealing with carving software into pieces to allow the development to be shared, defining the right interfaces between components, insuring a coherent user interface through an operating system and between different OS. They deal frequently with their hardware counterpart, specially in  performance issues.

Software designers and programmers
Within Bull, in USA and in Europe, the task of designing and programming had been generally assigned to the same group of individuals. The alpha testing of components was also the responsibility of developers.

After component integration, the "software release" is transmitted to an internal independent organization within engineering that perform "preliminary beta" testing. In early computers (from Gamma 60 to GE-600) software was delivered far too early to soon unhappy customers, so it become necessary to perform non regression and new functionality testing by a Quality Assurance testing unit for several months before FCS (first customer shipment).
QA organization included some people coming from support and some ex-developers preferring a less stressing, if not so glamorous, work.

A separate page summarizes the reaction of Bull engineers to computer technology innovations, whatever they contribute, participate or resist them.

NB: the software developed inside Bull group companies as application or hardware independent software product id described here

Engineering Laboratories


Revision : 29 juin 2001