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Brian Ford, with Steve Hague and Sven Hammarling

Oral History (pdf)
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Interviewer Thomas Haigh

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 a M.Sc. and Ph.D. from Nottingham University. Ford worked with the university’s KDF-9 computer center, building a user advice service and numerical software library. In 1970, Ford took part in the launch of a collaborative effort with other universities to create a mathematical library for the ICL 1906A. 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. In 1976 NAG was chartered as a not-for-profit company. 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.

Ford was an active member of the international mathematical software community. He discusses relationships with many of his colleagues in the mathematical software community. 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. NAG also distributed GENSTAT, a statistics library, and a range of FORTRAN programming tools and compilers. This included the first successful FORTRAN 90 compiler, which Ford credits with saving the language standard from oblivion.  Ford retired as director of NAG in July 2004.

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.

Key words: mathematical software libraries, NAG (Numerical Algorithms Group), IMSL, IFIP Working Group 2.5, SHARE, EISPACK, LAPACK, BLAS, GENSTAT, TOOLPACK, Axiom

Time frame: 1970's, 1980's, 1990's

People: James Wilkinson, George Hall, Leslie Fox, Linda Hayes, Michael Powell, Shirley Lill, Roger Fletcher, Joan Walsh, William Kahan, John Rice, Phyllis Fox, Christian Reinsch, Jim Pool, Bo Einarsson, Tom Hull, Hans Stetter, W.J. Cody, John Nelder, Jack Dongarra

Location: Imperial College, London, Loughborough University, Nottingham University, National Physics Laboratory, Argonne national Laboratory, Oxford University, Rothamsted Experimental Station

Citation: Brian Ford, Steve Hague and Sven Hammarling oral history interview by Thomas Haigh, 29 and 30 June, 2004, Oxford, U.K. Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, Philadelphia, PA


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