Tom Sawyer

When I was in the 7th grade, I knew I wanted to be an Architect. I loved design, space and the combination of Science and Engineering plus the influence of Fine Art and sculpture that Architecture offered. The more I learned about it, the more I loved it. While I had been programming computers since I was 14 it was easy to assume that I might be drawn to Computer Science. However, back when I was about to go to college, being a programmer meant studying Fortran and working at a Bank or an Oil Company. There was nothing about that career that seemed even remotely appealing. I needed to create, to draw, to build.

Architecture was my passion..... and thats what I was going to go to college for....

At my University, a Bachelors of Architecture was a professional degree resulting in 185 credit hours in the catalog (which translates into 5 years at 18 credit hours a semester. That’s enough credit hours for a Masters Degree anywhere in the country. At my school, the only six credit hour class on campus was Architectural Thesis. For over 25 years it has been rated at the single hardest class on campus. When I started in school we had 400 freshmen. With a 98% flunk-out, drop-out rate when I made it to Architectural Thesis, there were only 12 of us left. When I threw my hat in the air at graduation we were the loudest 12 people you have ever heard.

It was amazing....

I was the first hired in my graduating class. I was hired, on the gallery room floor by HKS of Dallas, Texas the day I presented my thesis.
Life was good.... I moved to Dallas and worked for HKS on GLORY architecture. The World HQ for JC Penny's, EDS's new World HQ, Brooke Army Medical Center. The work was amazing and I loved it, despite my $9.62 a hour salary. (WOW Times have changed). At HKS we had 400 Architects under one roof and at the time was one of the largest firms in the US. (HKS is the Architecture firm that designed the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium) In 1991, the economy went down the toilet and they laid 200 of us off at one time.

A modern day warrior
Mean, mean stride
Today's Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride...

And there I sat.... for eleven months looking for work. The Internet didn't exist yet, so there was no Monster, Dice or other site to help with a national search. I went broke paying for resumes and postage to fuel my search. What I found around every corner was that nobody wanted a 23 year old Architect when they could have a 45 year old Architect that will work for the same $24,000 a year job.

So.... much to my parents displeasure I sat.... and sat....

Fortunately for me... I get bored REAL quick and eventually had to start doing something before I went flipping nuts.

It was then, in 1992 that I started Puzzled Software. A company devoted to Computer Aided Drafting Work flow Automation software. I blew off the dust from my programming books and dived into SYBL. A language used by Cadvance to automate its CAD engine. SYBL would eventually be purchased by Microsoft and come to be known as Visual Basic. With the help of a friend who was a C++ guy we released T-Square in 1992 on CompuServe in the forums and on AOL. Soon after this, I found investors and my company went from the two of us to 25 employees with re-sellers in California, Australia, Canada and Italy. We wrote T-Square for six different CAD engines and moved from SYBL to a new development language called Delphi. At the time we thought that since C++ made me cuss like a sailor, it would be best if we could move to a compiled language as opposed to the quirks and interpreted nature of Visual Basic. So Delphi it was. We both started from scratch, and learned, created and released eight different products. First in 16-bit and then migrated them all to 32-bit applications. Shortly after this, my team and I wrote two books on Object Oriented Pascal and the Windows API, modeled after Charles Petzold's famous C++ Books (the guy was my hero... despite being a C++ guy... Just as an FYI C++ makes me cuss... like a sailor).

It was about this time when I decided I would go to Graduate School and get my masters in Computer Science. After all, I had now been coding for 13 years, written books and was the founder of a start-up (before the Internet existed and it was cool to be under 30 with a company). How hard could it be...???

No his mind is not for rent
To any god or government
Always hopeful, yet discontent
He knows changes aren't permanent
But change is...

A trip to Admissions, fill out the forms and these guys will be BEGGING me to go to school....


Yes... there are times when despite my best intentions I manage to act like an idiot.
And this was one of these times.

I went into Admissions explaining that I had a degree in Engineering (that’s nice... she said) and that I had been coding since I was a child (that’s nice... she said) and I had written books on software development (uh huh...)

"Well Mr. Bowden, you have a nice application, but without any Computer Science classes you will need to start at the beginning. You won’t have to take math etc., and will be a graduate student, but you will need to take some LEVELING classes."

Leveling classes...?

"Yes, we have a beginning Pascal class that you will be required to take."

Can you see it.... yeah, you reading the reader of this post. Can you see the look on my face...? no...?
Go look at my profile picture and add the color RED.... a DEEP DARK RED...

I was beyond PISSED OFF!!!

I hadn't built a company, sold software in five countries and taught myself two new languages (now coding in five) so I could put up with this crap! I wanted to take C++ (Mainly so I would quit cussing... it was embarrassing to hear me code with pointers and memory management) Naturally, I calmly protested despite the look I had on my face was one that would kill most people. As I began to sweat with anger, and my disposition was transitioning from PISSED off to contemplating how to ruin this person’s life when I heard, "Mr. Bowden, if you are half as smart as you say you are, this class will be easy. Just take the class."

A pause... Could this be an answer...


I was still upset.

I then began going down the test out of the class or CLEP (College Level Examination Program) where you take a standard test and if you pass you get credit for the class, but don't have to take it. NOW... I was thinking !!! I would take the test, pass and then pay for the class and not get any benefit towards my GPA...

HEY ! wait a second... that idea sucks!

It turns out, it didn't matter. They didn't let you test out of this class unless you had undergraduate programming work.
I was DOOMED to suffer through it.

Exit the warrior
Today's Tom Sawyer
He gets high on you
And the energy you trade
He gets right on to the friction of the day

I begrudgingly left the Admissions office to collect my book... on Pascal.
(sigh) How humiliating... it can't get worse than this.


First day of class. I show up and am surrounded by FRESHMEN. Now, don't get me wrong, I didn't have anything against 18 year olds but when we went around the room to introduce ourselves all of the "Kiddies" had the cutest stories about High School and what they did. I wanted to shoot myself right there on the spot.

It finally got to me....
In my most professional tone, I said I had my degree in engineering, books... blah...blah... space stuff... blah blah... and then decided to take this open forum to tell the class that I thought the schools policies on testing out of classes was stupid and that this class represented a COMPLETE AND UTTER waste of my time and money.

Calmly, my teacher looked at me and said, "Mr. Bowden, please hang around after class would you..?"
In hushed tones the kiddies Oooo'd..... (sigh)

and now it was my own fault. Me and my big mouth...(sigh)

After my monologue the teacher went on to say that he was a retired IBM fellow. He had helped create the Pascal Language for IBM on its 390 Main Frames (Waterloo Pascal) along with a list of WOW impressive other projects. The kiddies around the room were thinking about other things. I was looking at this old man in awe... and felt like a complete ass. After class, I went up front to his desk and he asked me to walk with him. We headed down the hall to his office. The Computer Science building felt like a hospital. It was clean and sterile. It smelled like floor polish. Nothing on the walls, and that hallway was the longest damn hallway I have ever walked down in my life. It was like being on death row.... a slow determined pace.

Certain of my pending doom, I slowly followed him in his office. I sat while he checked with his admin for messages. His office was lined with programming books. Floor to ceiling, the shelves were packed. Pictures of him standing next to old IBM BIG IRON were in the room. There was junk all over his desk, the place was an organized mess. This was the office of an engineer, a programmer. It looked all too familiar and I felt at home. When he came back, he told me his story of getting into IBM, some more of what he had done and I was CAPTIVATED. As mad as I was at this school, I loved this guy. He was brilliant and full of stories (humm... wonder where I get that from).

After the stories of his career, he told me that when he retired he wanted to teach. He wanted to take what he learned at IBM and share it with future engineers. He went on to explain that he felt the beginning classes were the most important for a foundation. If you learned these, the other languages would come easier. I knew where he was going and I agreed. He looked at me, took off his bifocals and said as calmly as he could. "David, I can tell from the course of our conversation that you have experience. I won't pretend to teach you Pascal, but I will teach you. Give me a chance?"

In all my years of school I have never had a teacher ask me for anything. I was totally taken back by his words, and thought to myself that leaving this class would be a mistake. So, I shook his hand, apologized and left his office.

The very next class we all pilled in the room. He started his lecture with a story. It was always about something that they invented at IBM or a problem they solved twenty years ago. And then, ever so eloquently his story would lead into the topic of the days class, followed by a programming assignment.

All of the homework assignments were the same. You had a problem, you would write code, execute the program and then print out the result of the run as well as the code that generated the result. At the end of the first homework assignment, I was the only person that had completed the assignment and got a correct answer. Yet, I found myself being "Taught" what I did wrong. Design, structure, variable declaration, commenting... the list went on and on. Each assignment, each week.

On the last day of class, our test was a program that we turned in. He went over them as he did in every class. When it was my turn, rather than a crit he simply smiled and said, "Mr. Bowden, would you please see me after class?" Again to the Ooo's of the kiddies, I nodded and hung around after class. Sitting in the back as the last student left the room, he collected the papers and stacked them neatly on his desk. He asked me to walk with him again to his office. As we went down the hall, he asked me what I thought of the class. I told him, that I owed him an apology. My pride and ignorance had it prevailed would have denied me one of the best educational experiences I had ever had.

With a smile, he removed his bifocals and wiped his forehead and collected himself to say, "It was never my aim to teach you the language you already knew. It was my goal to teach you HOW to code and why to do it a certain way." I smiled and shook his hand. He winked and said, "I wish you well in your future educational endeavors Mr. Bowden" and I left. It was after this class that I decided that my goal in life was to retire and teach. I wanted to be able to tell stories to the students about how we ended up where we are and how we built the things we did. I wanted to teach “the how” and “why” not the language or the process.

I wanted to be like him.

There are times in life when we have to learn lessons the hard way. This is one that I am very thankful for. We meet people for a reason, we interact and make an impression on some, perhaps more on others. Regardless of our time together in life, we can always learn something. I learned a very valuable lesson when I was young from him and to this very day, I code, design and structure my programs the way he taught me. Everything he taught me applied to every language I have ever learned. Every lesson applied to whatever I was doing, and they all had a story.

To this very day, I manage by stories. When we run into a problem I have a story. When it seems like we can’t solve it... a story of a similar challenge and how the team overcame the problem. With 20 years of building things that people take for granted to work and always be available you get a few of these stories.

And this story, is the story of where the stories I tell began.

Today's Tom Sawyer
Mean, mean pride.....

No more...
Humility, patience and listening go a lot farther.

God I wish I could remember his name.
He had no idea the impact he made on me....
On second thought, perhaps he did.

#r3altim3 #IBM #Computers #Programming #Engineerings #lessonslearned #lessonslearnedthehardway
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