Saturday, September 20, 2008

My First Program

Do you remember your first program? I don't mean the first programming assignment in school, I mean the first application you ever wrote that accomplished some real goal. I am not an IT guy who started out as a geek in high school working in the school's computer lab. To be fair, I may have been a geek (I'd like to think not, but there were an awful lot of girls that would have nothing to do with me), but at the time I was in high school we, um, er, well.. didn't have a computer lab. Those came later; after electricity.

No, in those days I was already working as a magician, looking forward to fame and fortune. Since I am not metabolically built to handle the whole starving artist thing, I did go to college and get a job running retail stores. After a while I noticed that the computer printouts we received from the home office were, at best, a month old. There had to be a better way, so in 1978 I found myself a Radio Shack TRS-80 Micro-computer and began learning TRS-DOS and Basic.

What I needed was a summary of sales results by employee compared with their quota; who was over, under, and on target. I needed to see this for the week, the month, and the quarter. And, without even knowing what was possible, I established the requirement that all the information had to fit on one screen, graphically. I only had three obstacles:
  • I didn't know what an operating system was
  • I didn't know Basic, or programming, or logic
  • TRS-80 Micro-computers didn't do graphics

Other than that, I was good to go! A few months later I did have a sales management system, complete with character-based bar charts which used asterisks (*) for the chart symbols. Any story that would suggest this first effort was the model of object oriented programming, well documented, loosely coupled, and developed using a structured methodology would have to start with "Once upon a time." The most and only positive attribute of the code was that it more or less worked. Mostly less. I used it for two more years, during which time I went back to school for Computer Science.

To this day, I still view every IT request through the eyes of a business person trying to accomplish some business goal; with an emphasis on the usability of the solution. I still favor graphic displays of information rather than data laden reports, only now I am somewhat neurotic about encapsulation, abstraction, inheritance, and loose coupling. Call me an OO bigot if you must, a purest, old school, or just experienced.

What about you? Do you remember your first? What elements of the first application do you still carry with you today? Where have you grown? What still bugs you?

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