With the merger of the merger of the Data Processing Technician rating (DP) into the Radioman rating (RM) in 1998 and the redesignation of Radioman as Information Systems Technician a year later, the already obscure origins of the DP rating began to fade from history at an even more rapid pace. This is unfortunate, because Sailors who served in the DP rating could proudly point to the history of their profession as bright points not only in the Navy’s technological achievements, but also as an example of how the service embraced the dedicated efforts of both men and women in the pursuit of excellence.

It wasn’t until 1967 that the DP rating was officially created, and even then its birth was merely semantic, a response to the rapidly evolving world of digital computers. From 1948 until that time, the Sailors who were now known as Data Processing Technicians had labored as Machine Accountants, a rating that itself had been established in 1948 by combining two Specialist service ratings: Punched Card Accounting Operators and Key Punch Operators and Supervisors. The Specialist rating was an ad hoc response to the immediate need for personnel whose skills became particularly necessary with the outbreak of war in 1941, but which didn’t fit into the fairly rigid Navy rating structure that existed at that point in time.

Interestingly, these two Specialist ratings were actually derived from an even more unique Specialist rating: International Business Machine Operator, probably the only time a Naval rating has been named after a private corporation. The name was born out of the fact that the Navy had leased a computer built by IBM and donated to Harvard University, and it was programmed via the insertion of rectangular cards featuring punched-out holes that were a primitive version of computer code: Much like a player piano, the punched-out holes served as instructions for the calculations the machine would perform.

Eventually, the rating names associated with work on the computer were changed to the generic ones that eventually were eliminated with their merger into the Machine Accountant rating in 1948. And while punch cards continued to be used with computer into the 1960s—several sitcoms of the era prominently featured punch-card-based computers—the development of transistors and the creation of computer language such as COBOL in the 1950s sounded the death knell for the clacking, noisy punch-card machines. As the technology changed, so did the jobs of Data Processing Technicians. As their work moved more and more into the realm of information and communications rather than simply processing data for computer manipulation, the need for a rating more reflective of their jobs and of the state of technology they would eventually be using civilian jobs grew more pressing. And the same forces that led to the merging of the DP and RM ratings also led to its eventual subsidence into the IT rating.


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