2018-08-06

How I Got Here (part 2)

So that was my childhood. After graduating high school in 1982, I left Arkansas for Atlanta (where I had relatives to stay with) for college. I majored in Business Administration because my school didn't have a dedicated computer science program back then, and all the computer courses were taught by the College of Business. So be it, I thought. I'd just concentrate on the computer stuff, which I did, and if I got a few smudges of business on me, that was just the price I'd have to pay. I continued in much the same computer-focused vein I'd begun years before, but now I had much fancier computers to play with.

I wasn't there long before I got a part-time job as a terminal room consultant helping the programming noobies figure out which way was up, making sure the line printers had green bar paper in them, and using every free minute to WRITE MORE CODE. I got there right after they'd carted away the old punch card systems. The school had finally decided that there was something to this new Winchester drive technology, and so users were being allotted drive space for their class assignments. They were even replacing printing terminals with video terminals. VT-100, baby! ANSI escape sequences! I was so hooked. I remember talking to one of the senior terminal room guys about some code he was working on and was honestly dumbfounded when he said he was taking a break. I couldn't imagine spending free time away from the computer.

I didn't know it at the time, but I needed help. Working with people was good for me.  I learned to work with people and to genuinely help students. Not overnight, but I learned. We were also starting to get these new IBM PCs that ran something called DOS. They had 5-1/4 inch disk drives that would hold the whole world in 360K (or even 720K). It wasn't long before Pascal replaced BASIC as the language of choice, and Borland's Turbo Pascal was the new hotness. I wrote a scheduling program in Turbo Pascal for the terminal rooms, allowing students to have an allotted time at a terminal, and if all the terminals were occupied, they were put on a waiting list.

It wasn't long before I got a fulltime job programming at the computer center. This let me qualify for in-state tuition, which in turn, let me start paying my own tuition if I cut back to one class per quarter. I was already working as a programmer, so I didn't have a lot of motivation to graduate. But I stayed in school, of course. I still needed a degree, albeit a BBA.

I worked for maybe a year or so in customer support and then moved into the networking group. That was a huge education. Those were the dial-up days, generally at 56kbps. DSL existed in magazines, but it was still a few years from being common or affordable. The TCP/IP-based Internet that we have in our pockets today was in its early stages at best. We were setting up token ring LANs all over the computer center and connecting Novell Netware fileservers. Yep. One of my hats said "Netware Admin" right on the front.

Actually, I was the only non-network guy in the quickly growing networking group. I was their programmer. This meant they had to explain networking to me in very simple terms. Another fantastic education. Addresses. Ports. Services. Sockets. Packet structure. SIDR arithmetic. Routing protocols. Fun, fun, fun. It was a good run, but things change, and changes add up. They eventually just ran out of things for a programmer to do. More and more, I was using AutoCAD to lay out networks for new labs. While this taught me the LISP programming language for automating things in AutoCAD, it wasn't the kind of work I really enjoyed. I think I still have the record for longest notice ever. I let my boss know I was looking elsewhere, and it was about a year later that I took a consulting job out in the "real world."

I've rambled enough for now, and I'm a little amazed if anyone is still reading. :-)

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