When I was in middle school, by oldest brother was in college and had an account to use their PDP-11. He gave me the instruction set for a PDP-11 assembler and said he would run the program for me if I made one. I wrote a program for the determinate of a 3x3 matrix. It ran and gave the correct answer. I was hooked from that moment. I wanted to learn everything I could about computers.
I started checking out books from the library (in the late 1970’s, very few books on programming) on programming. I didn’t understand most of it, but I continued reading. Then I would check it out again a month later and I understood more. I repeated that until I could understand what it was teaching. It is amazing how the brain and learn by just repeated reading.
I designed my first computer when I was in 8th grade, I built it in 9th grade, wrote the operating system in 10th grade (a simple TIL base language), and blew it up in collage (I didn’t know the function of a voltage regulator back then. A power surge in the dorm room burned up my system!). During that time, I wrote programs simulating animal type intelligence with pure reflective actions, reflective action with memory, and simple generalizations. That taught me a lot about simple graphics.
Through all of that, I kept a journal of what I did and print outs of all the programs. I built a portfolio without realizing what I was doing. But, it really paid off.
While in collage, I worked for an Electrical Engineering firm as a draftsman and then with my brother designing custom database systems for clients. These jobs were during my summer break time.
When I graduated from college with an Electrical Engineering degree and many hours of programming, I was determined to get a job programming and digital design together. The first job as an Electrical Engineer was with Audio Animation. The owner said that my work I did outside of school was the deciding factor to hire me!
At Audio Animation, I helped to design circuit boards and wrote most of the low-level code. Audio Animation designed, programed, and built a 50+ DSP systolic array audio processor for mastering music. I learned a lot about signal noise and program debugging. I wrote the monitor code and the PC program for debugging the 50+ DSP chips in the system. I even learned the sequence of commands to cause the DSP chip to explode (by accident of course).
What I Learned
Since my grades in college wasn’t the best, the portfolio of work I did was what enabled me to get my different jobs. My advice to anyone in a technological based career, make and keep a portfolio up to date is better than anything you learn or do in college. Also, keep learning and never stop learning!