Sink or swim…or walk on water?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…okay it was just Boston, but when I left Seattle to go to college the farthest east I had ever been was the Grand Canyon in Arizona. I was a college student who needed a summer job, badly, something decent that could both pay the rent and allow me to save something toward the next year’s expenses, and, as a bonus, would be a good stepping stone to life in the real world.

A friend helped me with my resume and its distribution. She called the shots about what got put down, I am an insecure nerd and felt like, after two years of engineering school, I knew nothing (studying engineering can have that affect on you, even if you get good grades).

So I got a job in a summer internship program with the government. I was thrilled and a little nervous until I got to work that first day…then I was absolutely terrified.

I was to work writing computer programs in Pascal. I took a class in Pascal my first semester in college and got an A-. So why the fear? The minus was because I had never successfully run a program on a computer. I was, probably more so thirty plus years ago, good at logic and got every point possible in that class where no computer skills were needed. I totally understood the theory…and totally could not control a computer.

On paper I looked qualified, actually more qualified than the others since they had learned other programming languages (FORTRAN was the heavy hitter in those days for engineering disciplines). I needed the job desperately, so with a combination of shear desperation and a little luck I taught myself how to control a computer in about three days.

Fortunately the schools from which the other members of the intern team were coming, MIT and Tufts, were a little later getting out than mine (Boston U) and I was able to get the manuals for the Apple III and had sole access to the computer we were to share for a few days. Between that and the project taking shape a little slowly I was able to get up to a speed where no one ever knew. They even thought I was pretty sharp!

While I managed to learn to control a computer and the experience left me with a rather stubborn attitude that I can and will make computers do what I want them to. I never did actually get to liking, or completely trusting, computers.

The problem I had with that first, and only, programming class was that the delimiter on my account was set to a semi-colon. In Pascal all commands are separated by semi-colons, nothing can work if there are no semi-colons. I would type in a program, it was letter perfect and copied from the text book and the computer would remove all of the semi-colons! The problem baffled many people and was eventually figured out by an upper-classman who really needed me to get done so he could use the computer (this was before the PC and long before it was ubiquitous for college students to have computers…we were expected to have typewriters).

So I swam, but it felt an awful lot like I was walking on water, even though I worked pretty hard to get the result. I gained a lot of self-confidence in my ability to figure things out, with a lot of hard work. I am also a lot less shy about asking for help. I wonder if I could have gotten an A + in that class if I took it today.
Sink or Swim


4 thoughts on “Sink or swim…or walk on water?”

      1. Oh, I believe it! Typical college student…besides, there wasn’t anything in Chestnut Hill but BC. 🙂


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