The profiles in this book trace the routes that ordinary people (some of them quite unlikely candidates) followed to become successful corporate programmers. Some of them took their first programming jobs out of desperation; some got ahead by simply having the courage to take action.
As a young IBM systems engineer, I was helping a company convert from an IBM 1440 computer to the newly announced IBM System/360 mainframe. The company still had both computers in the conversion process, as the programming languages and the data formats of the two computers were different. I was teaching the DP manager and chief programmer, Gene Fluehr, the new programming languages we would be using ”IBM Assembler language and a new, hot programming language called RPG (Report Program Generator). He would need to learn these to replace his IBM 1440 Autocoder programming language skills.
One day Gene and I heard a knock on the computer room door. It was Sid Manas, who was a cutter in the cutting room, where stacks of fabric were cut into the patterns of parts of clothing with electric saws. Sid had been a cutter for sixteen years , even though he was afraid of cutting off his fingers with the saw. He timidly asked us a question: Is programming hard? Gene and I both answered no, we thought not. Sid then asked the key question: Will you teach me to program at night? Gene and I looked at each other and said yes, since we were working nights anyway.
We taught Sid the hot RPG programming language, and without a single day of formal programming education ”or a college education ”Sid soon got a corporate programming job at another company, with the help of our references.
Sid took over programming responsibility for an incentive payroll application where tens of thousands of incentive payroll coupons were processed against operation rate masters to compute the sewing machine operators pay. The payroll was run every Wednesday, to be paid on Friday, and it took about seven computer hours for processing on the very expensive corporate computer. That left little time for problems or recovery, or processing other key corporate applications. Sid looked at the key long-running program and quickly found a way to rewrite it so that it ran in twelve minutes instead of seven hours.
Sid had looked at the payroll programs with a new and creative perspective that none of the programmers who preceded him in developing and supporting that key application had employed. The company CFO who was in charge of IT gave Sid a raise on the spot, because he had solved a critical scheduling and recovery-time problem.
Sid became a successful programmer because he could draw on the particular qualities that are essential for high achievement in this field ”the courage to try something new, the willingness to drive hard toward a goal, the kind of intelligence that spots a solution that no one else has spotted, the refusal to say it s not my job.
And he still has all of his fingers. If he can do it, so can you.
To be worth more to your company, you ve got to grow in your job. Unfortunately, the savvy that s most crucial to programming advancement is just the kind of savvy that many programmers are clueless about. What you must have to succeed as a programmer is a comprehensive overview of your company s business processes ”meaning a thorough understanding of how your company s employees do each job, from purchasing to accounts payable to accounts receivable to all the various manufacturing (or other) processes to the final step in the system, whether it s customer checkout or an ATM receipt or the company s warehouse distribution system. Without this knowledge, you won t go far, not matter how brilliantly you code.