It is 30 years today that I first started a small IT company in West Auckland.
The Commodore Vic 20 had been out a few years and the Commodore 64 was just entering the New Zealand market.
As an amateur I had visited the few computer shops in Auckland and thought to myself that I think I know more about these computers than the so called experts. So I gave up my full time job and started down the road of self-employment.
Back in time
But I have got to go back a few years to where the story really starts. I’m living in Copenhagen, Denmark and commuting to work every day. My commute took me past a shop front that featured this home computer which was called a “Vic 20”.
The next pay day came and that afternoon I was walking out of the shop with a home computer and a tape storage drive. The manual was less than 100 pages, but it explained what basic programming was and that is how I started considering software development as my no1 hobby.
I visited the same shop some months later and they enquired on what I have done with my computer. I explained that I had written this program to store and recall the name, address and phone numbers of all my friends. Their reaction to my amazement was they would like to purchase the software off me. They wanted to resell the software to their customers.
I was quite taken back, but a deal was struck and I had sold my software application. I had not realised it at the time but I had designed a database application. I went on to improve the software and store the data on a floppy disk drive. This made version 2 even more impressive.
The retail experience
So back to west Auckland and the newly opened Computer Shop. I was retailing the Commodore Home and Business Machines.
A year later I also had the IBM Personal Computer on the shelves using an operating system called DOS. You put a floppy 5¼” disk into the disk drive and booted up the computer. There were no hard drives in those days.
Business was good, but I was not cut out for retailing. I preferred to be in the back room cutting code and writing applications. Someone would occasionally open the door to my office and throw in pizza.
After a few years I sold the shop and moved up to Whangaparaoa and started working from home. I had a small handful of well-established customers by then and I set each customer up with a dial up modem and remote control software, so that I could respond immediately to their requests when needed. I have now been working out of my home office in Whangaparaoa for nearly 26 years.
The Development tools over the years have constantly changed, largely dictated by the operating systems. At the time there were many operating systems to choose between for the PC (IBM compatible), namely MS-DOS, PC DOS and DR-DOS. The later was my favourite because you could run application concurrently!
IBM OS/2 was also a favoured operating system. It was competing with MS Windows. If you had asked me at the time who would have come out the winner, I would have picked IBM, but alas that was not to be.
My first windows experience was Windows 95. I was comfortable with that decision as the previous versions of Windows did not get good feedback from the press, but this time Microsoft had got it right.
There are some very good development tools that should also get a mention.
The Commodore 64 that I mentioned earlier had a development tool called Superbase 64. This application really put the Computer Craft on the map, because at the time many small companies where purchasing the C64 as a home computer, but wanting to use the computer in business also. Using Superbase we could produce some pretty sophisticated software within a short time period.
Ashton-Tate dBase was a big player back then. It was called the first truly relational database system for the PC. To this day we still have customers using applications with dBase as their backend storage system.
For many years Nantucket Corporation Clipper product was our development tool of choose. We could compile our dBase code and then it executed so much faster. Computer Craft developed an awful lot of applications using the Clipper toolset.
With the maturing of the windows operating system, there came the need for the graphical user interface (GUI). This was something Clipper could not provide. As luck would have it Clipper was now owned by Computer Associates and wanting to bring their DOS product into the Windows environment, they produced a product called Visual Objects.
With Visual Objects came GUI, object-orientation, typed variables, COM, ODBC and ADO. So much to learn, but it was all good stuff.
While using all these development tools, you do at times look over your shoulder and check out what the other in your profession are using to develop software? Borland Delphi was becoming quite popular and a variety of C++ and Pascal tools were also being used in earnest. Microsoft had their Foxpro product and Visual Basic development tool. None of these however enticed me away from Visual Objects, even though there were indicators that VO was not going to sustain the constant market change.
Then one day Microsoft announced the .Net Framework and this new programming language called C#. I spent a weekend evaluating this product and came away thinking that this time Microsoft have finally got it right (again)! The C# syntax was very similar to VO and Object Orientation was called component-orientation instead and it was not otherwise a lot of difference. To put this new found model to the test, I decided to design, develop and publish the company web site. I used Notepad as the editor of choice and compiled my work from the DOS prompt. A week later we had an internet presence on the World Wide Web.
The learning curve
On reflection of the 30 years past I have to grin at the percentage of that time that has gone into learning something new. Every occupation has a learning curve. In most occupations the exponential growth in a person’s learning curve when charted against experience curves out to what could be described as a smooth curve. The more experience you have the less learning is required. EXCEPT for the IT industry!!!
In our industry experience does not diminish the learning curve. Literally every day there is a something new to learn. Take today for example – Windows Azure has announced the general availability of AMQP 1.0 How many of us know about AMQP? The answer is not many. However we cannot simply ignore this announcement. At some time today I will need to research this new technology and have some understanding to what it does? It may be knowledge that I can use at a later date. It may be knowledge that I find out I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. Whatever conclusions I draw, it been an important part of my day to learn and understand (to some level) what this technology does and how I may be able to use it in the future.
I’m pretty sure that in the past 30 years, I have spent 10 years of that time learning something new.
Well if you have got this far in reading this short essay, thank-you for reading about my experiences. I love the industry I am in, and every day is a good day.
Computer Craft moving forward is dedicated to continue learning new technologies and using that knowledge in providing Business Analytical, Project Management and Software Development skills to its customer.