1) When did I turn into my Dad and start calling electronic implements rude names?
2) When did I become technologically impaired?
These questions, ok mainly question 2, actually kept me up that night. You see, not that long ago, I was well above average on the techno-saavy scale, but that night I came to the painful conclusion that I am now sitting on the ‘average’ mark of said scale. I am a ham-fisted, knuckle-dragging user. I even asked a developer in work if a complicated piece of software that was designed in-house, could come in any colour other than orange? Thank the universe he is one of the nicest people on the planet or I may be currently recovering from a slight case of keyboard-lodged-in-my-head-itis. I lay awake for hours thinking of where it might have all gone wrong.
I used to be able to program. My “Hello World” programs in Java, C++ and Pascal were the finest ever written :). I built computers for a living. I studied them in University AND College, for a while anyway, and somewhere between then and today, I became someone who has to type this blog in the easy text version as the HTML (which I covered in College) version is now too daunting. I retraced my steps and they looked something like this.
Step 1: The call to programming is heard and badly answered.
I was a small, weedy teenager in school. I didn’t get my first growth spurt until the summer after my Junior Cert. Being the small, weedy (might as well add clumsy, socially inept and geeky) teen that I was, I created my own world and lived there for quite a while. I spent my afternoons after school in the computer room programming an interactive program in gwbasic, that would talk back to me and ask how my day went and so on! I spent months and months on it and it was literally filled with thousands upon thousands of “if/then/else” statements and it would only work if you responded with one of the words that were pre-programmed into the code. As I said, my own little world. That program was abandoned for some reason, to be honest I have no idea why, it was 20 years ago.
It may have had something to do with the introduction of our first home computer. An IBM PS/1 386. The specs included 2MB of Ram, an 85MB hard drive and Windows 3.1 (Dos based) with a VGA video card. Not even Super VGA. I only threw that machine away last summer and it was still working! Transferring files was a bit tricky as it only had a 3.5 floppy drive in it, no USB ports in sight, and of course the files weren’t really compatible with anything. This “beast” of a machine was used mainly to play Doom, Wolfenstein (not the 3D version 🙂 ) and Xenon. It was also the first machine I opened and poked around with. It was replaced with a Gateway machine a few years later. Ah that cow packaging, how glorious it was. Since everything was so much bigger back then, the delivery took up the entire front porch. It was like seeing a herd of box shaped cattle grazing on the welcome mat when I came home from school.
Step 2: Thank you Department of Education.
My first clue as to where things possibly went wrong* was secondary school. Two decisions I made during my acne-ridden teenage years could turn out to be two of the most important turning points in this story. The first was a decision to continue learning German, rather than French for the rest of my scholastic career. The importance of this decision would not be made clear until I reached University.
The other decision was very clear upon making it. Being a geek I wanted to do Physics with Applied Mathematics for my Leaving Cert.** along with History. It was here I ran into my first major problem. The school I attended (privately educated no less, sniff) would not allow students to take Physics unless they took Chemistry as well. Ah, Chemistry. I was one of those kids who, accidentally (no really), set fire to everything! To put it in a more accurate light, no matter what experiment I did, it usually ended in flames. I even managed to set a Bunsen burner on fire at one point! Armed with that knowledge, I knew taking Chemistry for my Leaving would be suicidal, so I had to give up the dream of Physics and take Economics with History. I did my Leaving in ’96. That same school changed that Physics/Chemistry rule for the ’98 Leaving, by the way!!! (sick)
Now that I think about it, “Computing” wasn’t even a subject option for our Leaving. Does anyone know if it is now?
Step 3: Et Tu, Uni?
So, I managed to pass my leaving with enough points to enter Computer Science in U.C.C., where I ran into my first “Whoops” moment straight away. We had to take a European language as part of the course. I was fine with that, as I wasn’t too bad at the ole Deutsch. As I went to enroll in my German class I was greeted with the following three subject choices: 1) French, 2) Italian or 3) Spanish. I turned the single page over and over again looking for the German option. Nichts! Doh! I think I attended one, maybe two, Spanish classes that first year! Along with my partner in crime, we spent most of our days back in my place drinking Cappuccino from a sachet and watching Muppets Tonight. Such levels of sophistication! I don’t think either of us passed first year the first time around. Apologies sir if you did. Back then we were “learning” to program in Pascal. Java was new on the scene and was only being taught to 4th years at the time. Of all the languages I have tried to learn, I have a distinct memory of not liking Pascal.
After another disastrous year in U.C.C., I changed third level venues and attended C.I.T. (R.T.C. for those of an older disposition) and changed courses as well. I had a “Whoops” moment in there too as this new course had a Physics module!! Gaaaaah!!!!!!! I enjoyed my time in the Computer Department in C.I.T. I was always more successful with projects and practical work, than I was at exams. I suck at taking exams, but give me the paper as a project and I will probably ace it. (“would have” might be more currently accurate than “will”). I was learning Java and C++ there and my “Hotel Database” program, with shiney buttons and beautiful UI was a great success with one *coughcoughtinycough* bug. If the user put in a space after an apostrophe while booking a guest in, the program would crash, reception would catch fire and the swimming pool would suddenly be infested by sharks who would swim around, wondering how they got there, and if the speedos they just ate would be stuck in their digestive system for 7 years. I only caught the apostrophe bug after submitting it and of course it was an easy fix.
For some reason that escapes me now, I changed courses again and completed my Business and Marketing Degree first time round! Ah, I think I know why I changed.
Step 4: Working 39+ hours a week + College-ing 35 hours a week = disaster!
I worked through College and Uni. After all I could hardly expect my parents to sponsor me for 7 years (course and college changes take time ok!!). While I was only working part time at the beginning, I soon took on a Management role which pretty much took over my life, and sadly, my education took the hit. Stupid I know. I liked having cash and, apparently, suffered a myopic outlook on life.
I tried to marry work and college prior to this. I was building computers for a year after U.C.C. and pre C.I.T. and to me that was like working with techno-lego. It helped motivate me to go back to College but it also gave me a taste of what a salary was like and that was a hard taste to pass up. Essentially I Scrooge-d myself out of an education and maybe that’s where things went wrong.
Now I am caught in that weird place. To my parents and family, I am Neo. I am one with the Matrix, I can fix any computer problem ever conceived (i.e., I can google) and can instantly work any machine put in my hand! This happened over Christmas when my Dad bought something I had never used before, handed me the still sealed box and said “Right, how do I work it?” I blame the fact that I could program our first VCR (and remained the only one who could for years) after quietly observing my Dad and the tech dude while they installed it. I was 7 I think.
For the past three years, here in work, I have been surrounded by some of the most intelligent people I have ever met, and I feel like a Neanderthal. This feeling, combined with the revelational argument with the heating system, has really motivated me to consider taking a few courses. I have been asked, coughtwice, to learn Php and SQL so I should really start there. Anyone have any suggestions where I should go after that? Graphics and Multimedia have always grabbed my interest. At 33 is it too late to try again? Bear in mind, it would only be part time/night courses. I have a few commitments that require funding.
Morals of the Story:
The decisions you make in school are important. Take care when making them and if what you want is not available, do look elsewhere. It’s your life, make it happen!
When in College, only work part time if you must and if you must, pick a dead end job that requires little or no thought! Concentrating on College/Uni is more important then having a few bob in your back pocket. You might actually get to enjoy College life and make life long friends as well, instead of trying to get a reference from a company that goes bankrupt ten years later.
If you are good at something and enjoy it, pursue it. Who knows where it may lead to.
Shrimp go play wid mouse now. It make purddy arrow dance on screen. Screen taste like cupcake. Om nom!
*I am not blaming anything for turning out this way, it’s down to me. Just wondering, if things were different would I have continued on a different destiny.
** The Irish exam that determines your third level education possibilities.