Before I go any further, I just want to thank everyone I’ve had the chance to interact with since starting these posts. Since starting this, I’ve spoken to many people of various walks. I have spoken to people who are in the same position as me, who tell me they are reading my blog; I have spoken to people who are no longer in this position, but they told me that they can relate to everything that I have said, which I’m finding very cool; and, I’ve spoken to various HR personnel who have not only encourage me in many ways, but are also telling me to check out their company’s sites. To everyone who is reading this in someway or another, all I can say is thank you! I appreciate all of you more than you realize. Most of all, I appreciate the support of my children as well as my beautiful wife, Nichole. All of you are the wind beneath my wings! However, there’s one person I purposefully left out, which is the reason for my blog post.
This post has been inspired by one of the interviews that I recently had. The hiring manager asked me a question which started triggering a chain reaction inside of me making me realize why I develop software in the first place. In other words: what made me. It has reshaped the story I am now telling interviewers and I owe it all to this one question that he asked me: “What is it about this job that excites you?” Admittedly at the time I offered a pretty shallow answer. I only answered in context of what I did to become a full stack developer. However, the real answer was brewing deep inside overnight, only to burst out in the morning.
What Made Me
College was where it all started. Part of our electronics engineering technology study was CPU theory. Within this part of our studies we learned how to input machine language into a CPU and have it execute it. I thought it was the nearest thing on earth, not only was I communicating with the CPU in its own language and on its own terms, but it was executing something precisely to my design. It had me to the point where I was both excited and fascinated that I bought a computer, a modem and a macro assembler and learned its machine language. My frustration with the terminal program that came with the computer gave birth to new possibilities. I wanted to use any terminal program with this modem, so I learned how it communicated with the modem by disassembling the terminal program and I then learned how drivers are made on that computer. It wasn’t long before I developed a set of modem drivers for that modem. I say a set because Hayes Smartmodems were all the rage back then. So, I added Hayes command emulation to the driver, allowing any program to believe it was talking to a Hayes modem. So, not only was I talking to my computer. I was talking to the devices connected to my computer. Even more so, I was talking to other computers through my computer. After releasing the drivers into the world someone reached out to me, and wound up collaborating on writing a cutting edge bulletin board system. Now we were inviting other computers to talk to us. It was also my first experience with “database technology” as we had to figure out ways to efficiently store and retrieve messages.
My desire to communicate with more devices in order to extract their data grew when MIDI came out. Again the possibilities arose from a need: I didn’t want to lose my synth patches should they have gotten reset. Writing programs to talk to my synthesizers and drum units, I downloaded all of the patches and saved them to disk. In time I managed to figure out how to edit the patches in real time on the computer and audition them on the synthesizer. From there came a primitive sequencer that I could use to record the drums and synths on my reel-to-reel multi-track on a couple of tracks while I recorded my guitar on another. I was talking to all sorts of devices and getting data in all sorts of way. This was way more than fun!
Then, the Internet went public with the World Wide Web. The big question that lingered in my mind was, “what can we do with this?“ That question drove me to write an e-commerce system. All of a sudden, I was talking to computers all over the world and taking money on behalf of the clients I wrote e-commerce apps for. Many years, languages and technologies later, everything that I have written boils down to a single point: I dared to dream.
Change in Story
Realizing all of the above. I stopped telling interviewers my accomplishments in a shopping list sort of way. Now, I’m telling them how I started talking to computers and how it grew from a peripheral to the internet. I’m telling them in terms of my desire to create a dialogue with a computer and the devices they are connected to by giving it code and have it provide me with data in exchange. I tell them that envisioning the possibilities is what dared me to dream.
This has become a big deal to me because until this morning, I’ve been thinking too small. I have only been thinking in terms of what’s been on the screen in front of me. Well that’s important and someways, it’s just one small part. I have a larger obsession with data… all kinds of data. I love to get data and figure out how to make it meaningful to us humans.
The Bigger Picture
One of the jobs that I applied for employs robots. What are robots? They are specialized computers performing specialized tasks. They have an operating system. That means they have data. Before, I only thought of things in terms of getting some input and displaying it on a screen. Now, I’m looking it at as using a computer to talk to these devices in various ways and to grab all sorts of data. Not only can we display this data, but perhaps figure out what the data now means and how it can be used to make more intelligent decisions. I believe before that question was posed to me, I probably would have hard a harder time understanding why this job appeals to me so much. Now, everything is far more clear. I don’t just see devices. I see a bunch of possibilities now. It has dared me to dream once again and it’s setting fire to the rest of my life and music.
Now, I couldn’t be more certain that things had to happen this way. Having been afraid to dream, due to the huge rollover in my life over the past four years, I was dragging my feet and not thinking so big. It’s no surprise that everything was suffering. Now everything has changed and I owe a huge debt of gratitude to the hiring manager who sparked the question that lit the fire inside.