Jean Plymale worked at Virginia Tech from 1977 to 2015. She held various roles within information technology at the university, starting out as a keypunch operator, and then moving on to roles in user support, systems programming, and outreach. Jean met with us for an interview in June of 2021 to share her memories.
Starting out as a Keypunch Operator
Jean came to Virginia Tech right after high school — but not to attend as a student. Learn why she started working for Virginia Tech in the late 1970s, and how changing technology meant changing her roles.
The Computing Center Fire in Burruss Hall
Jean tells the semi-harrowing tale of escaping from a fire in the hallway outside the Computing Center in Burruss Hall in the early 1980s.
Earning degrees as a Virginia Tech employee
As an employee, Jean took advantage of her tuition reimbursement benefit, earning her bachelor's and master's degrees over several years. Her story might sound familiar to many Virginia Tech faculty and staff who later became alumnae!
Prepping for Y2K
Jean was working as a Systems Programmer when the new millenium, or "Y2K", ushered in. During the several years before, there was much uncertainty about what impact the change in year from "19xx" to "20xx" would have on computing systems, many of which were programmed only using the last two digits of the year when recognizing dates. Spoiler alert: pretty much everything turned out fine.
eCorridors: leveraging technology to revitalize local economies
After 2000, Jean was ready to switch up her career path — and she was just in time for a new community outreach initiative called "eCorridors." This program focused on generating public support for investment in technological infrastructure in rural areas of Virginia along the U.S. Highway 58 corridor.
She recalls trips to towns throughout southwest Virginia, which usually involved vans full of laptops — and a little work to demystify computers.
On one outreach trip to Danville, Jean moderated a live satellite broadcast from Alaska. This event demonstrated the latest high-speed internet of the day, which was 1000 times faster than dial-up.
Changing a password for I.J. Good
Changing passwords, which were encrypted even back in the day, was a run-of-the-mill task for Jean while working in user services. One day, she found herself unknowingly explaining encryption to someone who was quite familiar with the concept — I.J. Good, who worked in Bletchley Park to help decrypt the Engima machine during WW II before becoming a Statistics professor at Virginia Tech. (He was very nice about it, Jean says).