As I got to know Garry (who worked with me at IBM and also as a co-developer of a software package), the knowledge that he had been an Eagle Scout quickly clued me in that he was a high achiever. (Only 4 percent of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.) The capacity to work on tough projects and see them through as an adult is a predictable consequence of setting high goals for yourself when youre young.
Garry is the programmer I have in mind when I encourage people without a college education to go into this field. He became a top programmer even though he had only five months of formal education beyond high school. (Garry got into programming at the dawn of the IT age. I acknowledge that it may be tougher, in the new millennium , to start out in programming without a degree. Still, it can be done. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3 out of 5 programmers had a bachelors degree or higher in 2,000but 12 percent had only a high-school education or less, and another 17 percent had, like Garry, some college, no degree.)
It was those classic precursors of successnative talent, ambition , the willingness to work hard, and opportunitythat shot Garry to the top and kept him there.
Two years before he graduated from high school, Garry worked three nights a week at a retail outlet packing Christmas toys. My boss liked me, he says. He asked if I wanted to be a regular part-time worker. ˜Weve got two job openings, he said. ˜Ones in accounting, ones in data processing. I gave him a dumb look. I didnt know anything about either one. So he took me to the accounting department. There were maybe 500 people in there with white shirts and ties. Nobodys communicating. It was like walking into a room with 500 corpses; they just looked up and followed us with their eyes. I said, ˜This looks boring as hell to me.
Next thing I know, we go into this room where you need to have a pass code. The door opens and on the left side theres a glass wall in front of all these computers. A guy comes out with a suit on and my boss says, ˜This is our head programmer. The guy in the suit turns to me and says, ˜When are you going to come work with us and be a programmer like me? You get to wear a suit all the time and act like a jerk. The other guys in the department say to me, ˜We need some young blood. Come work with us. The whole personality of everybody in there was different. I said, ˜This is where I want to work. Right here.
When Garry graduated from high school, the company wouldnt let him do shift work after 11 p.m.; he was, they said, too young. So, while working part time, he went to a school in Philadelphia that taught programming.
I got into a class with five people and a wonderful teacher who actually programmed for a living, he says. I was the kid in the class. I attended school for five monthsduring which I got two months of training on the tabulating machine [this is the machine that had been invented by Hermann Hollerith for the 1890 census]. School was very hard. While I was taking these classes I started working as a computer operator at a company that made bridal gowns.
I was the worst computer operator ever. I had started writing programs to make my operator job easier. Finally they told me they were either going to fire me or make me a programmer trainee. Thats how I went from operator to programmer.
The way up required massive doses of new information, and Garry taught himself because he knew what he wanted. To program the new IBM System/360, he had to learn RPG. By reading a book, he learned the original RPG. Then, just by reading more books, he taught himself IBMs Assembler language, than RPG II and PL/I.
Programming also involved learning different operating systems, communication systems, and how they interact. I dealt with IBMs DOS for the System/360, OS, MVS, MTCS, and CICS, among others, all of which I learned on the job.
I worked like a dog seven days a weektill four in the morning and on Saturdays and Sundays. I didnt care. It was important to learn my trade. The job interested me, I liked it, and I wanted to get good at it.