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Surprise, surprise, I work with computers.

My first experience was while still at school, in '77, when a surplus (IIRC) Honeywell machine arrived, and a fellow pupil attempted to teach the rest of us how to use ALGOL 68. It's probably this that caused me to swear off computers for life - but I still have, somewhere, a paper tape of the program that played 'music' on the beast.

The following year, I took a temporary position as a research assistant in the Physics Dept. of the University of Dundee. One thing they didn't tell me was that I'd have to write a teensy little program for handling that data I was typing in. Thus, I had to learn some FORTRAN on their DEC 1080. This was not perhaps the best language for string handling, but what did I know?

Basic seemed simple after that.

The Engineering Dept. at the University of Cambridge seemed to want me to know some FORTRAN too, not to mention some 6800 assembler, which we had to hand assemble our programs and then enter the hex codes using a hex keypad.

Come early '83, and I managed to get a job at Acornsoft, the software arm of Acorn Computer in Cambridge. This was somewhat more like it. Admittedly, I wasn't programming yet, I was more - ah, how shall I say it - involved with QA. OK, so I was responsible for program testing, but I like to think that the quality of Acornsoft programs was immeasurably improved by my efforts - when management actually listened. At least, I did get to Elite before anyone else.

Of course, being somewhat of a general dogs-body at Acronsfot, I ended up with all those little tasks that no-one else was responsible for, like backing up the network servers and installing new network nodes. Backing up the network involved copying 4 floppy disks - yep, those were the days when a nationally famous software company had no hard disc - and putting a new network node meant wandering along the Econet cable with wire cutters and a speculative eye.

Eventually, in '85, Acorn ran into financial trouble and was taken over by Olivetti. By the time the dust settled, Acronsfot was cut from 50 to 15, and yours truly was on the scrap heap, with only a reasonable knowledge of BBC Basic and a smattering of Comal, Forth and some other languages to show for it.

Well, time to go free-lance. In the following 3 years, I ended up doing a variety of jobs.

Acorn itself ended up paying me for about 9 months on the translation into Italian of all the system software for a strange little machine called the Acorn Communicator. No, I don't speak Italian, I just had to adjust the software to account for the textual messages getting longer.

Philips Industrial Systems paid me for 18 months to write control software for a Derbyshire lead smelter, which made me possibly the world expert in ISCOS 100 code (the entire program multitasked in a total of 8K of EPROM).

Finally, in '88, I did some contract work for my current employers, episys, when it was just starting out. They liked my work, offered me a permanent position, and I became employee number 1.

Supposedly since then, I'm meant to be purely a programmer. But in a three man company, everyone messes in, and I did customer training, customer support, hardware and software maintenance and, when we got round to getting a NetWare server, I seemed to be the one to create new users and do the backups. I now have to do a lot less of this (I'm still one of the holders of the root passwords, though), but I hope that knowing how our customers think helps me build programs that won't confuse them.

Email: alan@lspace.org
Updated at 12:43 on Monday 15th September 1997