Monday, November 27, 2017

So, how did YOU get into IT?

A month or so ago, another "Friend I haven't met yet" posted about an art professor she'd had in college who she believes was the catalyst that made her the artist she is.  Then she'd questioned whether her readers also had a mentor that had coaxed results out of them that they hadn't believed themselves capable of producing.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, an "Old Friend I recently met", OldNFO asked me "How on earth did you get into IT?".

Finally earlier this week, still another "Friend I haven't met yet", PrairieAdventure posted about "Night Peoples".

Three apparently unrelated topics, but, always dangerous, they got me to thinking...

The answer to Mentors is "Yes, I have".  In fact, more than a few.  One, in particular, was Ed Rasimus whom I've posted stories on a few times.  He made me the fighter pilot I became, and fortunately, I got to thank him for that before he passed.

There were a few others I had in the Military, and perhaps I'll post on them also.  What is that acronym you use Sarge? POCIR?

However, I also had one when I was in college and he was completely unrelated to the military.

His name was Dr. Dale Flowers.  While he's evidently at Case Western now, at the time, he taught in the Business Department at Texas Technical Cow College in Lubbock.  He had started a new curriculum which would grant a BBA in Management Information Systems.
Dr Flowers

One of the early requirements (this was in '73), for a BBA was to take a computer programming course.  This was in the days of IBM 370s, Punch Cards and Fortran or Cobol.  

If you don't recognize those terms, "Get off my Lawn, Youngster".
Punch Card-No backspace key.  Typo? Throw it away and start over. (But, on the plus side, no autocorrect either.)

I found that within certain frustrations, I enjoyed the course and was reasonably proficient.  So I changed the focus of my BBA to MIS.  (With the approval of the AFROTC Detachment of course).  I don't exactly recall how many folks did the same, but since this was the first year it was offered, it could probably have been counted on one hand, certainly on two.

That change meant that,in addition to the usual Finance, Accounting, Marketing and Management Theory classes required for a BBA in Management, I took Job Control Language, COBOL, Fortran, Statistics, and more than a few Computer Simulation Language courses.  The only language I had an issue with was Assembler.  Programming in 0's and 1's was a bit beyond my ken. (Still is.)

It's now around spring break of my Senior Year.  Graduation and Commissioning are so close I can smell them.  I've got my orders to Lovely Laughlin AFB by the sea, but will not report until March of the following year.
Laughlin AFB

So, shortly after getting my orders, I'm visiting with Dr. Flowers, a usual occurrence as he was my degree advisor.  He asks me about my plans for the interim.  He had created an Intern program with Texas Instruments who had a large assembly plant just outside of town.  I told him I thought I'd apply for that.  

He shot that down quite quickly.  First, it didn't pay anything.  Second, I would have an 8 year commitment after pilot training, so anything I learned or anybody I'd met would be of little use in getting a job if I got out.  

Somewhat deflated, I asked him what he thought I should do.  

"You should get a Masters Degree in Management Information Systems."

"Do we have one of those?"

"We will if you sign up."

"Why should I do that?"

"Right now, you're used to studying.  If you go work as an intern, you'll party and work and get out of the study habit.  If you stay in school, you'll be ready for the academic portion of pilot training."

"I've only got 10 months before I go to pilot training, how can I complete a Master's in that time"

"I didn't say it would be easy."

So...May of '77, I'm commissioned.  My report date to Laughlin was 3 Mar '78.  The summer of '77, I took and completed 12 hours of Grad work.  That Fall, I took 18 hours. January and February I took the remaining 6 hours of course work, completed my thesis project and took my oral and written comprehensives.

My thesis was a simulation that tested scheduling rules for a machining shop.  The program was so big, I had to split it into two parts and run the first part, then hand feed the results to the second part to complete the simulation.  It was too big for Tech's computer. 

I'm pretty sure, it would have run on my FitBit today.

 I trimmed and optimized but couldn't get it to run on the computer.  February 28,1977 1978 (oops), I take the results to that professor and show him the work and explain the problem.  

He pronounces it complete.

March 1, I take my Orals.  March 2nd, I take my writtens.  Each of these is graded by 4 professors and graded as Unsatisfactory, Pass or High Pass.  Of the 8 grades, I received 7 High Pass and 1 Pass.

That evening I depart for Del Rio.


Where does the tie to PrairieAdventure's "Night People" post lie?

I had to pay for the Masters, so I had to have a job.  I worked the 11PM to 7AM shift at AvTech Aviation at the airport.  There wasn't usually much traffic that late, but Management wanted us to be open to handle any that might drop in.  It was quiet, I could study.  (I learned that the most effective computer programming tool is a #2 pencil, eraser and paper).  

We did have one regular customer, he flew in every night for fuel around 3 AM as he ferried checks between Banks in an Aerostar.  Once I fueled him and got him on his way, I could usually nap for a couple of hours. Get off at 7, nap again and then head to school.


So, Shaun, I feel your pain about the transition to "Night People".  

After that 10 months, UPT was comparatively easy for me.  I mean, I actually was expected to sleep  8 hours per night!

Oh, by the way, the sole "Pass" in the passel of "High Pass's"? Dr Flowers with a note "You can't BS an old BS'er".

But THAT was how I came to be in IT.  In fact, YouTube recently did a documentary on what I do in IT for the school district.  

I'm the guy in the Red Tie.

Just because, here's the sequel


  1. The mystery solved. Idle hands get an MS in MIS.

    I have an MS in MIS.

    Small world.

  2. I admire people like you. I peaked out at the punch card level.

    1. I don't know, there was a certain simplicity about punch cards that enforce programming discipline. Simpler Times.

  3. My first class was in 1964.
    To this day I don’t understand how I passed, let alone got a B+.
    I can “operate” a computer without breaking it, even show others, but beyond the basic “knob twisting,” I am venturing into uncharted territory.

    1. So you passed your punch cards to the High Priest/Priestess, then waited for the output, hoping that the printout was more than three sheets long (first and last delineated the job, middle had the error message). That was still the methodology when I got my undergrad degree. I was the first user to actually operate a computer at TTU. The Business School got a "mini" computer and I got to use it. It was bigger than my desk at work, slow, with a minimal sized screen and little memory or processing capability. But...I was operating it.

  4. Memories... I went into IT (called Computer Science back then) at CCSU in Corpus on my final shore duty tour. As an aviation electronics tech I really wanted to go EE but alas, no courses closer than Kingsville. One of my first classes was IBM 370 Assembler language. The prof required us to memorize ALL the instructions before starting on any programming. That one exercise stood me in good stead the rest of my career. How well I remember the shoeboxes full of Hollerith cards, turning them in to the Priestess, and hoping for no never-ending loops. Good times.

    1. Glad to hear SOMEBODY got Assembler, because it certainly wasn't me. I had to go see the PAS in the AFROTC detachment to get permission to drop the course. (I was on scholarship). He asked me why I wanted to drop it. I told him that if I didn't drop it, I'd flunk it. That part of programming never clicked with me.

    2. Funny you should say that. My daughter started out in IT at Baylor until her first Assembly Language class. Changed her major after that. Daddy was somewhat disappointed.

    3. Tsk. Assembler is easy. It's just tedious, that's all.


    4. Ah well...Hopefully the new major worked out for the best.

    5. I could never keep it straight in my head. I don't remember the professor as being all that helpful, although that could be my thick skull keeping his instruction from taking root.

    6. My first programming was also using punch cards, a bit prior to you and a bit east (SMU grad '73&75). We had a CDC mainframe, as in Control Data Corp, not the disease control folks. Used Fortran mostly since I was a science geek, then took a job where they had DEC PDP 11's and continued with them. Booted them up with punched paper or Mylar tape. One of them had 64K of core memory and a 5 MB drum ( not disc) for storage. Second your comment about having to program efficiently! Dabbled in assembly language programming, took a course where our project was to write a higher level compiler using assembly. Then applied it to controlling a manufacturing plant - needed assembly since higher level code ran too slow to control things in the time frame required. Definitely tedious, though.

    7. I remember saying "Who would EVER need more that 64K for a program". Last summer, we installed a server with a Petabyte of storage on it. I figure it'll be full by next summer. Teachers and their "Cutes" doncha know?

  5. I do field service for a shipping company: customer automation, re-imaging, LAN, WAN, etc.... My dad told me learn to type, he was a state level competitor in just about everything in high school. He mentioned that being able to type was important at his Nike-Ajax battery in 56-58, got him out of guard duty.... So I did.... My geometry teacher in high school taught us about the "new" personal computer that Radio Shack had:TRS-80... He said if we weren't well versed, we'd be functional illiterates in 20 years.... And he was right. Those two and my natural curiosity got me/kept me involved...

    At this job, I got an MCSE in NT4.0, and some other certs, too. Broadcast engineering, RF, and being a farm hand all helped me get where I am today....

    Dang, a Masters in a year at Double T high skool, a commission..... I didn't realize Avtech hired such intelligent people..... ;)

  6. Since 2000, a web site I make a point of visiting is a British site called "The Register -- Biting the Hand That Feeds IT". Lots of interesting commentary, from a typical Brit viewpoint.

    Two regular features I enjoy, and you might, are Friday's "On Call" (tales from Support Land), and the "BOFH" (Bastard Operator From Hell).

    Of course, i's entirely possible that you're already familiar with the place.

  7. I bow in your direction sir... But I have to tell you, you got the UPGRADED IMB 1190 punch card programmer... In 1969, they didn't print out the characters on the cards... sigh... Well done, and no wonder you have been as successful as you have. :-D


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