Afterthought Software engineer solves an Enigma at Bletchley Park

Published 05 July 2012 under news

Afterthought Software’s Byron Bradley created his own version of the famous Enigma machine during a visit to the legendary WWII code-cracking centre Bletchley Park.

Byron was attending Software Craftsmanship 2012, an annual fundraising event organised in aid of the Bletchley Park Trust.170 experienced software engineers were on hand to examine an original Enigma machine from World War Two, and then use modern software techniques to create their own ‘virtual Enigma.’

“Handling an actual Enigma machine was like handing a piece of history,” Byron explains. “It made the task or re-creating one in software really come alive.“We split up in groups of two or three and got to work. Everyone brought their own experience to the problem, which is why it was such a valuable exercise. There was no obvious solution, and several possible ways to begin. Seeing how other programmers approached the problem was really interesting.”Byron’s group decided to build software models of the Enigma rotors, the heart of the code-making machine, and then design a programme to drive them. After two-and-a-half hours they were able to decypher the test code set for them: ‘Enigma revealed.’

“It may have been a purely theoretical problem, but it was a great chance to hone my programming skills,” Bradley says. “And we did well to finish as early as we did. Some of the other groups were still trying to get their models to work after we’d all headed to the bar.”

During a break for lunch, Byron was able to inspect the nearly completed recreation of Colossus, the world’s first electronic, digital, programmable computer, which is housed at Bletchley Park’s National Museum of Computing.

“It is a very impressive rebuild of the original, which was destroyed for security reasons at the close of the war. Practicing my programming skills at the place where computer programming was invented made the day very special.”


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