The Early Years
had an interest in electricity and electronics for as long as I can
remember. I was fortunate to have an electronics technician for a
father that ran a home based TV repair shop on the side. I would spend
hours in the shop playing with the various test equipment and spare
parts building simple blinky light boxes and noise makers. For
Christmas, instead of the Evel Knievel toys that all the other kids asked for, I asked for electronics build and experimenter kits from Radio Shack and Erector set
accessories to add to my growing collection. By the age of 12 I
was building simple remote controlled Erector vehicles. The
neighborhood kids often laughed at them, because they were not nearly
as fast or shiny as their store bought versions, but that didn't
matter, I built mine! I got my first taste of computing at the age of
12 in December of 1979 when my father brought home a TRS-80 Model I
home computer. It was a friend's computer and we could only keep it for
a few weeks but it made a lasting impression on me. There were a couple
of cassette tapes included that had a few BASIC games but what really
caught my attention was a commercial game on one of the cassettes
called Pyramid 2000.
It was a text based game that put you outside of a pyramid and your
task was to get into the pyramid, find your way around, avoid death
traps, gather the treasures and get out alive. I was hooked not only
with the game but the notion that this box sitting in front of me was
creating this world I'm navigating. I wanted to know how this was done
and could I do this as well?
About 6 months after my intial contact with the computing world my father brought home a brand new 16K TRS-80 Model III home computer. For some reason it came with a complimentary copy of Business Programs for TRS-80 Model I/III.
This was probably some of the most dry, boring reading and programming
you could do at the age of 13 but it didn't matter, I wanted
desparately to learn how to program a computer. I would spend hours
typing in the example financial programs using the hunt and peck method
of typing. After all the typing (and debugging all my typing mistakes)
I would start modifying the code to see the end results. I would then
figure out what different commands did through trial and error and
watching the screen for changes. This went on for about a month until I
was confident enough to write my own program, "Computer Interview". The
computer would ask the user a series of questions and based off the
answers rate the user as to what type of person it thought you were.
When my mother ran it for the first time she looked at me and said
there was no way I wrote this. I must have copied it from a book.
That's when I knew I had a knack for programming and my passion grew
As my friends starting getting home computers over the next few years one of them got a Texas Instruments TI99/4A.
This thing could do sound and color graphics! I spent many a weekend at
his house reading through the manual with him until we finally made our
first game, BattleZone.
My poor TRS-80 Model III was getting less and less love from me until
my father purchased a 300 baud modem and my friend's dad did the same
for him. We started learning how to program modem commands to connect
our computers remotely using a phone line! Good times! In 1982 my
father purchased a TRS-80 Color Computer
with 32K of RAM and one 5¼" floppy diskette drive. I now had color and
sound at my disposal (sound of evil laughter heard in the background)!
During the summers I would also help my grandfather on the farm bailing
hay and straw and working the dirt with the Oliver Super 77. At the end of the season he would always hand me a nice reward, which this year I used to purchase a TRS-80 Pocket Computer II.
I could now take my programming with me! I promptly got it taken from
me by my junior high principal because, as she put it, "This is the
ultimate cheating device!". I tried to explain to her that the only way
the information could be in the computer is if I programmed it in to
begin with, and therefore, if I took the time to do that I wouldn't
need it because I would have it memorized. No, no, this was some sort
of magical box in the palm of her hands that needed to be stopped right
now. My, oh my, how end users haven't changed. LOL.
My programming really flourished with the Color Computer. My father was also a HAM radio operator and was experimenting with using HAM radio equipment as a modem to connect computers via the airwaves. I wrote a HAM radio BBS
program that gew so large in scope that we had to purchase 4 5¼"
diskette drives for the computer (the maximum allowed) just to hold the
program and all the files people would share using the BBS. This
communication method was known as CW and Packet RTTY
and allowed HAM radio operators to "bounce" messages around the world
by relaying the messages from HAM BBS to HAM BBS until they reached
their final destination. It was an early precursor to today's Internet
built entirely by hobbyists. Through my pogramming and my father's
electronics know-how the BBS was able to switch between the 2 meter and 440 bands,
allowing for very long range communication when needed. We did this by
clicking the cassette relay built into the color computer that an
electronics board would read and change to the appropriate radio
needed. Fun times! We also played with Moon Bounce and Slowscan video.
Over the next few years until my 18th birthday I had programming experience on most TRS-80 computers, Commodore 64s, TI99/4As and the ZX Spectrum in various BASIC dialects, Z80 and 6809e Assembler. The IBM world was still a few years off for me.
The Marine Years
after my 18th birthday I shipped out for the United States Marine Corps
on a 6 year enlisted contract. You see, I didn't do well in school being
the rather rebellious type, so college was probably not in my future.
However, I scored extremely well on the military ASVAB
test and was offered any job I desired. At that time all government
computer related jobs were handled by civilian entities, so I chose a
career that I had some experience in already, electronics. The first two years of my service were spent training,
first in boot camp, then electronics school in NAS Millington TN and
finally to my aircraft training in NAS Oceana VA. My final destination
was for Cherry Point NC to join a Grumman A6E squadron. During this two
year process I had pretty much left computers in my past, but I could
never get over the feeling that I needed one again. It wasn't until
1989 that I again purchased a computer system, a 128K TRS-80 Color
Computer III with dual 5¼" floppy diskette drives. It wasn't long
before I began connecting with others on the base who were into computers, but
they were all raving about their Intel 8086 this and 286 that and 386
whatevers. Well, it didn't take a rocket scientist to know that the IBM
platform was a winner once I used it. But IBM computers, even the
clones, in these early days were expensive especially to someone on a
Corporal's pay grade. So I hit the pawn shops and found a Tandy 1000EX
IBMjr compatible system that fit within my budget. It had 256K of RAM,
a 5¼" floppy diskette drive and enhanced IBMjr CGA graphics that ran
Tandy DOS 2.1. It wasn't long before I had upgraded the RAM to 640K, added a plus modem board and swapped the Intel 8088 CPU with an NEC V20 CPU. I soon discovered GWBasic and was back to programming!
Having worked with assembler in the past on the Z80 and 6809e I
enrolled in a college course on base to learn 80x86 assembler. The
college professor introduced me to Turbo Pascal and needless to say
GWBasic was put on the back burner for a while while I went full steam
ahead with Assembler and Pascal. Over the next few years of my service
I eventually upgraded through the Intel ranks to a 386SX16 with 1MB of
RAM and Herculese graphics (I had to settle for Herculese for a few
months because VGA monitors were insanely expensive at that point).
The Later Years
Upon leaving active military service in 1992 I landed a job as a database programmer using a language called Clarion.
I was tasked with updating the city's databases from an old mainframe
system to PC compatibility. I also did some technician work for the
company which mainly consisted of new PC installs, upgrades, repairs
and network installations. Well, unbeknownst to me the company I was
working for had issues that are too long to list here and I left 3
months after I started. A computer store owner in the area heard that I
had left and contacted me. He and a friend had worked for the same
company 6 months prior to my arrival, knew why I had left and offered
me a job as their lead PC technician. While working there I had the
opportunity to work inside many of the local area factories upgrading,
maintaining and installing computers and networks for them. I learned
how to interface PC networks to HP mini mainframes and cut my teeth on Novell Netware network operating systems. I worked closely with engineers who taught me how to burn my own PROMs and program Programmable Logic Controllers on automated machinery. I also taught DOS classes in the evenings to the public which was my first experience as an instructor.
During this time a friend and I also ran a local public BBS running Wildcat BBS
software. This was an invaluable experience that helped ready me for
the Internet rage that was soon to hit. When the Internet did come to
town my friend decided to get out of the BBS business but another local
BBS had plans to start an ISP which I was very interested in. I would help them as much as possible gaining experience on how to interface a T1 phone line with 28.8K modem
banks they had purchased. I was gaining a circle of friends in the IT
community that eventually led to my next job. A friend of one of the
ISP owners was leaving his system administrator job for a company called Intuit.
He was the company's system administrator and custom software
author having written their purchase order, inventory and financial
tracking software (now you see why Intuit wanted him). He asked if I
would come in and interview, which I did and got the job. I was now a
system administrator and computer programmer. My duties there over the
next four years increased wildly. When the company's electronics
technician left I was tasked with programming the programmable logic
controllers and maintenance on the company's phone system. The company
owner wanted to delve into the world of CNC milling so I agreed to take
a course in MasterCAM. The owner purchased a large tabletop CNC
mill and we started milling plastic parts that I would design in
MasterCAM. I was also a 3D graphics animation hobbyist at the time
using a program called TrueSpace.
The company owner approached me one day and asked if I could show
another company how their product would look redesigned with our parts
using 3D software. I took on the task and we won the contract. I was
now able to do some 3D CAD work for the company when needed.
my time as a system administartor I helped a friend open a computer
store and worked after hours as his lead PC technician training other
techs along the way. Over a three year period I got to see what it was
like to operate and maintain such a business. When I left my position
as a system administrator I was hired as lead technician at another
computer store tasked with bringing it back to life. Over the next two
years the store flourished and I was ready to move on again, although I
had no idea the local school system was looking into me at the time. I
received a phone call from a computer science instructor asking if I
would be interested in teaching CompTIA A+, Network+ and CCNA
curriculum to high school students. At first I declined the offer
feeling that I couldn't possibly do something like this. However, that
darn computer science instructor kept calling, week after week, asking
me to just tour the school and see what it was that they do. I finally
agreed to have a look and was amazed at what I saw. This was no
ordinary high school, but instead a technical high school set up for
the sole purpose of technical studies to include CAD, CAM, Information Technology and Robotics.
Furthermore, the atmosphere of the school was more like a college where
students could come and go as they pleased and they even attended
college classes a few days out of the week. This type of school would
have been a dream come true for me in my high school years!
was told they were looking for someone with a broad background in
Information Technologies, a jack of all trades if you will, and my name
kept coming up through inquiries. I didn't have any type of degree so I
was told I would need to attend college after hours and during the
summer over a two year period to gain a teaching certificate. I knew
this would be a lot of work but accepted the position any way and have
been a computer science instructor ever since 2000 ... and love it!