How I got into computers

My grandfather on my dad’s side was an immigrant from Germany, between World War I and World War 2. His parents put him on a ship and sent him to the USA when he was sixteen years old. Although it sucked for him that he never saw his family again, in many ways his new future was that he lived the American Dream. One of the things he did was buy stocks. In the 1970’s (before there were VCRs) on Sunday nights, there was a television show on PBS named Wall $treet Week with Louis Rukeyser. So we’d visit, and on Sunday nights, Grandpa would tell us kids to settle down; he needed to watch this TV show.

One Sunday, Mr. Rukeyser had a guest on who was going to pitch IBM as a good stock buy. (In 1974-76 that was great advice. Today I wouldn’t touch them). So during the intro, Mr. Rukeyser says “In the movie The Graduate Mr. Maguire tells Benjamin (played by Dustin Hoffman): I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Plastics, young man: Plastics. If Mr. Maguire were talking to Benjamin today, he’d say Computers, young man: computers.”

And I thought to myself “I’m a young man….”

I did sign up for a computer programming class in High School. It was an IBM System 3 mini-mainframe, with 4 KB of RAM and punched cards. So I programmed my first computer in 1979. Dr. Larry Ray was our instructor, and one of the most insightful lessons he taught us was to calculate a loan payment schedule, with interest. Wow what an eye-opener the intrerest charges are on loans! But I digress.

My dad thought that getting in to computers was a good idea. I had one friend that got an Apple microcomputer, and my best friend got a Commodore 64. I saw a new computer being advertised that not only was the full hardware package, it came with software too: Obsorne 1. I had the later model one with the blue plastic case. But the kicker with this one was a sale that threw in the dBase II database program. It had everything, for the low low price of $2,200. My dad gave me half the money, and I ponied up the other half.

My last year of High School, I started working at Truline Corporation, a manufacturer of printed wiring boards. I started as a driller. But eventually I migrated up to programming the Numerical Control router (profiler) which cut the boards out of the sheet of fiberglass. This was the G-code programming language. Eventually, the factory needed some space, and moved me across the parking lot in with the president of the company. By this time, I was the “engineer” who measured the artwork, compared it against the blueprints, and created the work order the factory would work. I worked up a program in my Osborne to produce work orders on a printer instead of by hand. I showed it to the president, Jack Cederloff, and he told me that if I learned to program their computer, he’d hire me as their programmer. I was thrilled.

I went to night school to learn the language of their mini-mainframe. The computer was an IBM System/34. I learned RPG II. Eventually Truline moved to an IBM System/36, and I became a professional programmer, eight hours a day, five days a week, for two and a half years. I loved it.