Just dive in

It has been over 30 years since I bought my first home computer. I bought it from a company called Gateway, which had big dreams in 1989. Long before there were Apple Stores, Gateway had storefronts–they called them Farm Stores because they were based out of Iowa–that sold an array of computing products. In my case, the Intel 286 processor and 40-megabyte Seagate hard drive was a serious step up from the AT&T PC 6300 with an Olivetti 8086 processor that I had been using at the office in my capacity as a secretary. I installed DR-DOS instead of MS-DOS, and I am pretty sure that it was the first computer I ever ran Windows on (Reversi!). I spent about two month’s pay on that computer, much to the consternation of my new bride, who:

  1. Wondered how I didn’t know about the two-month salary rule for engagement rings when I clearly knew about them for computers.
  2. Couldn’t imagine what I was going to do with a computer in the house.

In honesty, I didn’t really know what I was going to do with it, either. I _did_ use it to type assignments for my Writing classes at the community college in a program called Ability Plus and one called Wordstar, but I also had this vague notion that somehow I was going to learn to write software with it.

To move this burgeoning fantasy toward reality, I bought Peter Norton’s Programmer’s Guide to the IBM PC, and I spent my nights after work sitting at my desk going through the exercises. After lengthy discourses on bits, bytes, binary thinking, ASCII, keyboards, text editing, file formats, and batch files, there was a discussion of the BASIC programming language. This led me to my very first program; a random non-player character (NPC) attribute generator based on the rules in a game called Dungeons & Dragons.

I remember being pretty happy with it. So happy, in fact, that I stopped taking writing classes at the community college to take a class on the ‘C’ programming language, instead. This new course required a book called The C Programming Language by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie. I learned about compilers, executables, pointers (the man with a knapsack), and structs… it was a happy, nerdy, time.

During this time, I worked for a company that sold electronic displays (think LED signs like the ones at light rail stops but used in office spaces to deliver inspirational messages like “Happy Birthday Mary-Ann,” or “Remember: TPS forms aren’t complete without a cover sheet.”). One loaded the messages into the signs using a custom-built console that was remarkably hard to use. Wanting us to sell more of the signs, I made my first ‘C’ program for sending data directly to a sign from a PC’s serial port instead of from those damnable consoles. Frankly, I was as surprised as anyone when it worked.

Trying to make my first bit of ‘C’ code more usable led me to write a rudimentary text editor that would allow a user to insert custom programming commands like ‘scroll left’, ‘roll-up’, ‘roll-down’, etc. This, in turn, led to creating a library of ASCII menus and panels to contain the emergent text editor and to organize the commands into logical menus. That eventually led to creating an API for the text editor to use when interfacing with the signs. Before I knew it, I was subscribing to publications like Dr. Dobb’s Programming Journal and learning about languages like C++ and Smalltalk. I scoured BBS’ (like CompuServe and America Online) for bits and pieces of code.

Wanting to talk to multiple signs at once led me to learn about networking and serial chaining. We had just purchased software that would require a Novell Netware server in our office connecting all of our computers on a token-ring. I installed network interface cards (NICs), and basic input/output service (BIOS) drivers. I learned about interrupt requests (IRQs), 8 and 16-bit buses on motherboards, and local area networks (LANs). To help justify the expense of the new server, I installed email and configured a multi-port serial card so I could allow multiple remote computers to connect to our network and send and receive messages.

It was an educational time for me. It led me to want to be a programmer, full-time, instead of a secretary who did all their programming in the evenings and on weekends. That desire started the first of many career reinventions. I watched the rise and fall of many technologies. Novell Netware, CompuServe, Palm Pilots, Apple Newtons, Lotus Notes, OS/2 (both Microsoft’s and IBM’s), Visual Basic, Microsoft .NET, Java, Applets, HTML, CSS, Javascript, Microsoft Bob, Sony Walkmans, minidisc players, pagers, flip phones like the Motorola StarTac, UNIX, Blackberries, Linux, open-source, integrated development environments (IDEs), Websphere, Websphere Portal Server, intranets, Android, Flutter, React, data science, business intelligence, artificial intelligence, anti-artificial intelligence, and now, just plain old anti-intelligence (thanks politics).

I went from being:

  • A french fry station trainee to a sandwich station initiate
  • A sandwich station initiate to grill station all-star
  • A grill station all-star to a crew chief
  • A crew chief to a United States Marine
  • A United States Marine to a secretary
  • A secretary to a help desk technician
  • A help desk technician to a cc:Mail administrator
  • A cc:Mail administrator to a Lotus Notes administrator
  • A Lotus Notes administrator to a Lotus Notes developer
  • A Lotus Notes developer to an author of four books on Lotus Notes
  • An author to a line of business leader at a consulting firm
  • A line of business leader at a consulting firm to a technical sales evangelist
  • A technical sales evangelist to a knowledge architect specializing in sales enablement
  • A knowledge architect to a business analyst
  • A business analyst to a consultant
  • A consultant to a Java developer
  • A Java developer to a business analyst
  • A business analyst to a project manager
  • A project manager to a marketing analyst
  • A marketing analyst to a digital marketing director
  • A digital marketing director to a director of operations
  • A director of operations to a digital marketing strategist

For three decades, I have been amassing experience. I have been provided sales training that was designed for some of the biggest companies in the world. I have attended events. I have spoken at events. I have been enrolled in executive institutes for leadership. I have attended seminars. I have given seminars. I have read books on psychology, programming, marketing, software development, project management, cognitive biases, decision making, artificial intelligence, design, art, alternative histories, human nature, druids, and wizards. I have written books. I have implemented organizational change methodologies. I have predicted many futures, and I have seen some of them come to pass.

And now? Well, if the 25 year-olds in HR and IT are to believed, I’m a Boomer without a personal Github repository who doesn’t Snapchat, Bumble, or Uber, and therefore doesn’t understand technology. But you can call me Bill.

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