I am a member of a gradually shrinking group of practicing engineers who wrote computer programs that were stored on punched cards and loaded into a mainframe using a card reader. I took an introductory class in Fortran computer programming offered by my suburban Columbus, Ohio high school where the programs were stored on punched cards. The year was 1977 or 1978.
In the summer of 1978, I sent my life savings to a little California company selling a microcomputer made by another then-little California company called Apple Computer. I was 15 years old. The microcomputer was the Apple II, which then used a cassette tape to store a program. If you hit the PLAY button on the cassette tape player, you could ‘listen’ to the computer program stored on the tape. Those were the days!
I immediately began learning how to program the Apple II using the BASIC and Motorola 6502 Assembly languages. I’ve been programming Apple computers ever since, mostly as an avocation and occasionally as a vocation. A day spent developing software has always been a day well spent, in my opinion.
I picked up a BSEE from Iowa State University in 1985 (Communications) and a MSEE from Purdue University in 1986 (Robotics, Artificial Intelligence). Most of the skills and experience I needed to perform jobs in industry were acquired on the job. If earning a degree is mostly an indication of project management, personal management, social, and critical thinking skills, then perhaps we should teach these skills directly in addition to preparing students for a particular vocation through higher education.
From 1987 through 2006 I worked in a variety of jobs for a variety of organizations in a variety of states and countries. The most fun I had during my professional career was the two years I spent working at the European Telecommunications Standards Institute in Sophia Antipolis, France and the year I spent working in Copenhagen, Denmark.
From 2007 to the present I have divided my time between artificial intelligence R&D and agriculture. I’m part of a long tradition of independent investigators that includes my favorite American, Benjamin Franklin.