Memories of my First Computer
My first computer-related job was as an administrator for the computer at the math department of the local community college.
I say “the” computer because it was the only one… a huge collection of metal cabinets, tape drives, blinking lights, knobs, and switches. I kept the beast running and helped students with their programming assignments.
I got the job due to the influence of two technically-minded but eccentric friends, who put me in touch with my boss, the head of the math department.
When I started, the computer was dying around three times a day, until I started idly rummaging around in file cabinets and found a collection of documents from the manufacturer outlining various patches to the operating system to make it more reliable.
Nobody had the slightest clue how you did that, so I taught myself, and in the process figured out a few patches of my own. After about a month I had it running nonstop for weeks at a time.
My boss took me aside and confessed that he actually had a low opinion of my off-beat friends, and wondered if I was “like them,” but had decided to give me a chance. I had apparently exceeded his expectations, since he then apologized for misjudging me.
It was probably one of the happiest periods of my life, mesmerized and absorbed as I was in mastering this new technology.
My boss turned out to be the greatest guy, and I quite admired him. We had only one minor dustup when I foolishly programmed the login message on the system to exhort students to vote a certain way in an upcoming election.
He patiently explained to me why that wasn’t a good idea. I agreed, and immediately changed the message back.
I had to quit when I went away to college, but I came back occasionally and did freelance work for my boss while I was in town.
Just before I left I asked my boss if I could take the source listings to the operating system with me, and he promised to ask the powers that be if that was okay.
A week later he walked into the room where I was making notes from those very same listings and told me solemnly, “I have absolutely no idea where those listings are. I guess I must have misplaced them somehow.”
“Got it,” I said, and packed them away to take home.
I must have thrown out those listings at some point over the years. I still have one of the keys that turned the computer on, as a souvenir, however.
I’ve always wished I could have that computer at home to play with, but it’d cost a fortune to buy, a fortune to run, and a fortune to repair my house after the weight of it collapsed my flooring.
But now I have a simulation of it, complete with accurately blinking lights on a panel with switches, running on a little $45 Raspberry Pi. Just for fun I’m re-learning assembler programming on it again.
I find I’m a bit rusty after 45 years, but I’m having fun.