Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My Journey Into Software

I don't do New Years resolutions. If there's something worth doing, I generally do it when I think of it. But having just published a children's Christmas story eBook and paperback, and as I'm wrapping up the marketing for it, I was thinking, what would I like to do next?

Then I ran into an old web archive of Ken North's ODBC Hall of Fame and the inspiration hit me!

I'd blog about some of the more interesting and sometimes amazing experiences I had in my journey as a software developer!  Here is the first post...

At the time that I got into software, most universities and the few colleges that had a computer department really only trained you for academic work. The types of things most businesses were trying to do with computers simply weren't being taught in most colleges.  You actually got better business programmers out of the technical schools like BCIT than the Universities.

So, I was able to get in through the back door.  And what got me in?  Typing...

When I was in grade 10, I had room for an extra class.  A couple of my friends suggested typing, and I thought that would be cool.  Not to mention that the class had a lot of girls in it. At 15 years old, that was a bit of an attraction, as well, but I think I just liked the idea of being able to type. I always liked machines.

So I took typing. I don't think there was even one boy who could out-type the slowest girl, but we all did pass.

Roll forward several years, and I'm looking for work.  My brother Tony (Antoon) and his friend Gary had started a software company and by combining the first two letters of their names, they came up with Toga Computer Services. Toga had a job programming for the City of St. Albert in Alberta, over a 300 baud datapack modem from Burnaby.  You got 300 baud on a good day.  When the line was bad, it metered down to 110 baud (not sure why the odd number, but that's what it was!)

You took an old style dial phone, and put the receiver into the modem, and it squealed your data into it over a carrier signal.  This was called an acoustic coupler.  You could pick up the phone from the modem and if you hissed the right pitch into it, it would get confused and hang up.  I could out-type the modem at 300 baud, and 110 baud was annoyingly slow, but I was getting paid, and more than minimum wage, so I was quite happy!

Image result for picture of acoustic coupler
Acoustic Coupler

For a chuckle, here's an old clip of someone using an acoustic coupler. You can see how slow it is, and at the end of the clip you can hear the carrier signal.

My brother would mark up program listings that he had printed off, and he would have me type the changes in, then compile them for him.  I'd gone with him the odd evening when I was attending BCIT for Mining Engineering Technology, and helped out a bit, but this was the first time he actually paid me.  It let him work on the next set of listings while I was typing over that annoyingly slow modem.

So that was my first software job. I had no idea how the software worked at first, but was intrigued, and started trying to learn.

At that time, Antoon decided to do some overnight training classes for me and some of his friends who were interested, and that, coupled with some books that we were told to read, began our journey into software.

Although I did not have formal college training in computers, I got to work with some truly brilliant people over the years, some of which I'll refer to in future blog posts.

At this point, I was employed part time temporarily, and didn't get paid for the training, but I really enjoyed what I was learning, and it was better pay than unemployment insurance!

Next post will be about rescuing a local customer.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting, Robert. I'd love it if the font was!