Ascent 256 – Day of the Programmer

According to, today is Programmer’s day. It felt like a good first to acknowledge this day and reflect on my journey as a programmer.

Back in 1981, after I recovered from a motorcycle accident, an opportunity presented for me to shift from Computer Operations into the role of a Trainee Programmer. I had seen the mysterious things the programming team was causing to happen with the mainframe computer, and I was keen to learn how it was done.

binaryI was dispatched to a few courses in the primary technology in use at that shop. COBOL – the programming language, DOS/VSE JCL – the batch job control language, Shadow II – the online system control language and IDMS – the database. (To date, my all-time favorite database).

I began working on maintaining existing programs by applying fixes the analysts had defined, compiling & testing them and then moving them into the production region. I learned rapidly and discovered I had a penchant for this type of work.

I continued with the maintenance role and was then invited to participate in some new development. This is where it gets sexy – creating programs from scratch. The most critical element in programming is the design and it’s key you take some time to design the program before you actually start coding it.

I loved programming and would spend more and more time doing it.

After a while, I got burned out on the place I was at. It just wasn’t challenging for me and I felt a new adventure was in order. I saw an ad for consulting work in the United States, applied for it and was accepted.

I was assigned to a company in Buchanan MI – a small town in southwest Michigan. To date, the most amazing group of people I have worked with. I’m still connected with several of them today – 32 years later.

keyboardThey utilized the majority of the tools I was familiar with and introduced a new language to me – ADS/O, which I learned rapidly and became the team leader on. This entire project was new development and it was a wonderful opportunity to be a part of a huge creation. I was assigned responsibility for some of the financial portions of the application – especially the financial calculations. This was a surprise for me as I didn’t really feel that drawn to math and then found myself loving working with complex multi-faceted calculation routines. My mission was to boil complex concepts to the simplest possible terms and then program them.

There were a few evenings where I was up until the early hours figuring out how to make a calculation work. It was tedious and frustrating at times and when you solved it, there was this wonderful Eureka! Moment – like the part in Highlander where they win a fight and receive all the energy. And then it was gone, leading to the next opportunity.

I continued to enjoy many more projects and assignments in the programming world, learning new languages and new concepts such as Object-Oriented.

I had an epiphany about my role in 1991 after a corporate downsizing. I was the backroom programmer – I would be in my cubicle cranking out the code, oblivious to what all else was going on in the company. When the staff was reduced, I was required to help support the system and needed to get out on the floor with the folks that used the software. It was then that I realized that my job wasn’t about technology – it was about people. I support them with technology.

I could write what I feel is the most awesome piece of code in history yet, if it didn’t support them in doing their jobs, it wasn’t valuable to them. A new era began and my passion for the coding began to decline.

I became more interested in the role of Business Analyst, where I’m in the front lines with the Business people, collecting their requirements and collaborating on system solutions that are most beneficial to them. Someone else can take care of implementing it with amazing code.

I’m deeply grateful for my experiences in the programming realm and honestly don’t know where my journey would have taken me if I hadn’t stepped into that.


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