When I graduated from High School in 1979, I was expected to go to college. There was no questioning that, and I thank my parents for standing firm on that rule. However, I had no career plan. I had not considered seriously what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My friends and I had never really discussed the future beyond the upcoming weekend party. I do remember a career fare in 9th grade with an airline booth and I decided wanted to be an airline pilot, but that idea faded. So, when it came time to choose a degree plan for college, I chose teaching instead of Undecided. I had a couple of teachers during my Senior year of high school that really impressed upon me how cool teachers could be and still be a teacher. Coach Farley, who taught Pre-Calculus and Mrs. Wheeler who taught English were two of my favorite teachers who made their class, and learning, fun. Yes, even Pre-Calculus can be fun when taught by the right person. They treated their students as adult human beings and really cared about you and your success. They could take a joke and dish it out as well. I wanted to be like them.
In the fall of 1979, as a Freshman, I attended the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree plan of Athletic Administration. Yes, Athletic Administration is (or was) a degree plan back then. It was a teaching degree but with a focus on being a coach and maybe later an Athletic Director. At least that’s what I thought it was. In today’s vernacular it is more likely called Sports Management and has nothing to do with teaching. I had not chosen my minor which would’ve been what I would teach when I wasn’t coaching. Most coaches I knew taught health or physical education as their “other” gig. Coach Farley was that one very rare exception who apparently minored in mathematics and enjoyed teaching Pre-Calculus. That degree plan lasted one Freshman semester and I changed to Computer Science.
What changed? My brother John introduced me to a whole other world I had no idea existed. John, or Johnny when we were younger, is one and a half years younger than me and was still in high school when I came home to Texas for the Thanksgiving break that Freshman semester. He was always enrolled in classes at school that were fun and introduced basic skills that could be used upon graduation. He was in a photography class and club that taught him how to use a 35mm film camera. With his knowledge and camera, he documented my life in my post-high school band Second Chance (that is another story). Years later when his interest in photography waned, I stole his 35mm film camera. I wish I still had that camera, a Yashica MG-1, it was sold in a garage sale.
Brother John was taking a “computer” course in school that semester. I put that in quotes because what we think of as a computer today is far from what this was. He brought home a portable teletype machine that hooked up to the house phone via a Modem. A modem is a MOdulator DEModulator device that looked like a cradle for your house phone. You would call the number to a local computer science “lab”, in this case the local junior college (the high school was allowed to access), and when you heard the other end answer with a tone, you slotted the house phone receiver into the Modem. The modem would then issue weird tones and beeps that the remote computer would respond to with its tones and beeps until the teletype machine and the remote computer completed a “handshake” connection and you were “online”. If you’ve ever heard a fax machine its the same principle only a fax machine has the modem built into it. Once online, you could ask the computer to do simple things like add two numbers, or any complex math equation for that matter, and it would respond with the answer. You typed your request and waited for the teletype to type out the answer. My brother brought the “computer” home that week to play a “game” that was on the college computer.
The teletype machine was nothing more than a smart typewriter. There was no Graphical User Interface (GUI) and monitor, there was no “mouse”. A game on this machine was played with words and it was usually a treasure hunt type game similar to Dungeons and Dragons. Games were usually called Quest or Adventure. This was the pre-cursor to graphical games like The Legend of Zelda. In the game you would tell your character to walk, open doors, pick up objects and fight monsters and dragons via the words you would type. I can remember typing “pick up potion” and the teletype responding with “you add potion to your pack”. I learned that the game was a “program” that had been created by a college student. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and I wanted in on this.
So, I told my parents I wanted to come home from Mississippi and attend the local junior college. They agreed and I came home to Texas and enrolled in the Central Texas College and changed my major to Computer Science. There were other reasons for wanting to come home, but computer science was in the top four. Top four reasons to return to Texas –
1. I was extremely homesick
2. During the Thanksgiving break I hooked up with the red headed girl that lived across the cul-de-sac from us on Fort Hood. She is now my wife.
3. My friends from high school had not gone off to college and were starting a band (Second Chance) and they wanted me to play in it.
4. I wanted to get into computer science
I received an associate degree in computer science and eventually made it back to the University of Southern Mississippi and completed a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science with a minor in Electrical Engineering.
And the rest is a whole other phase of life.