It has been over 30 years since I bought my first home computer. It was 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 286 processor and 40-megabyte hard drive in my new Gateway 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 was the first computer I ever ran Windows on (Reversi!). I spent about a month’s pay on that computer, much to the consternation of my new bride, who could not understand what I was going to do with such a thing.
If I’m being honest, 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 vague notion into 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 Mr. Norton had devised for his aspiring readers. 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. I used BASIC for my very first program; a random non-player character (NPC) 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 Novell 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.
I went from being a Secretary to a Help Desk Technician, from a Help Desk Technician to a Developer, from a Developer to an Author (four books on Lotus Notes), from an Author to a Line of Business Leader, from a Line of Business Leader to a Technical Sales Evangelist, from a Technical Sales Evangelist to a Knowledge Architect, from a Knowledge Architect to a Consultant, from a Consultant to a Business Analyst, from a Business Analyst to a Java Support Technician, from a Java Support Technician to a Marketing Analyst, from a Marketing Analyst to a Project Management Office Manager, from a Project Management Office Manager to a Digital Marketing Manager, and from a Digital Marketing Manager 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.