RT Cunningham


Computer Skills to Pay the Bills - I Have No Technical Training

TRS-80 People ask me from time to time when and where I acquired my computer skills as well as my programming skills. Most believe I went to one school or another, perhaps even a military school. Only those who know me well will believe me when I tell them I’m 100 percent self-taught.

Personal computers were in their infancy when I joined the Marine Corps in 1978. I didn’t see my first one, which really wasn’t a personal computer, until sometime between April 1979 and April 1981. The Wikipedia page on the IBM Series 1 Model 4110 portable computer is wrong, but I can’t remember dates well enough to correct it.

Computer Skills with the Model 4110

IBM green machineI know the Wikipedia page is wrong because I was stationed at the recruit depot in San Diego for two years and we had a “green machine” well before I was transferred away in 1981. Our unit diary clerks went from typing the reports to using a green machine around the time I moved from one section to another in 1980.

Although I wasn’t allowed to touch it, I learned as much about it as I could by watching the clerks using it. It was the first time I saw an 8-inch floppy disk. The smaller versions hadn’t been invented yet.

The Marine Corps was still using this computer when I was in Japan in 1987 and 1988. I probably learned more about that machine there than anywhere else. By then, it was a dinosaur compared to what you could buy in almost any department store.

Computer Skills Acquired through Osmosis

I absorbed some minor computer skills while I was at the air station in Yuma, Arizona in 1981 and 1982. I had to be the supply clerk as well as the administrative clerk for the automated services center for about a year.

We had IBM and Burroughs mainframes and more 8-inch disks as well as punch cards. I had to get the quarterly support contracts renewed. I also remember loading games on the TRS-80 sitting in the middle of the office. The other computers were in a cold room with a dehumidifier.

Computer Skills with Commodore Computers

When I was in Japan, another Marine let me play with his Commodore 64 computer. I played with it for about an hour. I never really got into the lame games they made for it. After I was stationed in North Carolina, I bought my first Commodore computer.

To shorten a long story, I taught myself BASIC on a Commodore 64 and then taught myself assembly language programming. By the time I was transferred in 1992, there wasn’t anything I didn’t know that I cared to know about Commodore computers.

1994 and Beyond

I had a PC in my office when I was stationed in Phoenix, Arizona. Unfortunately, I never had time to do anything with it other than my job.

I bought a Packard Bell piece of garbage in 1994 and replaced it as soon as I could afford to do so, sometime in 1996 I think. I worked with Windows 3.1 (and then 3.11) before moving on to Window 95 (and then the upgrade). Windows 98 was on my PC by the time I retired in 1998.

Sometime between 1994 and 1996, I got on the Internet for the first time. It was lame until Microsoft started supporting it with Windows. The Internet, I mean.

I was a voracious reader and I read everything I could about computers, regardless of make or model. I learned a lot about UNIX before Linux became a thing. One of my post-military retirement jobs was working with UNIX servers.

I taught myself PHP when the file extensions were still “.php3”. I stopped teaching myself when they started emphasizing object-oriented programming. If I need to know something now, I just look it up - no more memorization for me. To be honest, I’m too old to be memorizing anything anymore.

Photo Attributions: TRS-80 by Dave Jones (EEVblog) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons and IBM Series 1 Model 4110 at Cincinnatvs

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By RT Cunningham
January 16, 2017

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