In 1980, I attended a 3-month course at the Center for Computer Education in Lynnfield and was taught “Structured COBOL programming”. I then worked for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Welfare for 4 years, using COBOL as my first programming language. I had no real mentors here but did make a number of long-term friends. The lack of a mentor made it hard for me to progress as much as I did later in my career, where I had the advantage of working with some really smart people, so it is good that I learned to love computers early on at this job. I was pretty self-directed. Towards the end of my time at this job, I was able to work with some PL/I consultants who showed me what a “real” programming language was like. With this new knowledge, I was able to change jobs, and to double my salary first at MGH, and then at SEI corporation.
Around this time, I attended a course in PASCAL at UMASS Boston, and a PL/I course at Boston University. These jobs had people who were able to teach me some new tricks, but I also was able to return the favor to them. This lack of mentorship in my early years I look back on as a benefit. I was really “thrown into the deep end” in many places, which really helped me to keep learning as much as I could on my own. If I hadn’t continued to love computing, I would have certainly left my career in its early years.
I really didn’t get “Mentored” until I became a consultant, taught myself C and the Windows 3.1 SDK, and went to work at MIT. Through my consulting years, I worked at 10 to 15 companies, doing Windows UI development and SQL database work. These positions were both enterprise-level and desktop-level. There were about a half dozen people I considered mentors at these assignments, and I also sometimes acted in a mentor role to more junior employees.
I think it was fortunate that I was able to work at so many diverse organizations, because I became familiar with many new programming languages and software products, as well as obtaining a broad view of many diverse industries.
So, starting with COBOL, which I look back on and realize was a terrible language, I entered a journey which would continue to get more and more interesting as time went on. I have programmed in C, C++, C#.NET, PL/I, SQL, and a few others, but didn’t really feel I had found “The Language” for me until I started developing with Java which allowed me to convert to mobile Android development.