Once it became obvious that my teachers were of inferior intellect, I became an autodidact with a mentor who lacked experience.
THE END OF HIGH SCHOOL
In 1982, my senior year had just begun in high school. The impetus for me to put forth anything resembling effort was almost non-existent.
But there was ONE thing that got me truly excited about being at school.
My school was K-12 in one building, serving the needs of about 1,150 kids. We had one small room that served as the library.
In that library was a computer! Just one computer, for the entire school. The thing I noticed about it was that nobody was using it.
One of the kids in my class had told me about it. He knew that I was interested in computers and gadgets.
He was also from a relatively wealthy family, which means that he had his own computer.
He offered to teach me some basic programming commands. He wrote a bunch of things down and gave me a floppy disk! It was the greatest gift that I would receive that year.
Every day at lunch, I would go to the library. If nobody was there, then I would sit down and start working on my programming assignments that my friend had given me.
I would do the same at the end of the day, staying late to use the computer.
As I did this, I remained mindful of the idea that somebody else would want to use the computer. However, it turned out that this computer was the best kept secret in school. Nobody ever asked.
Eventually, the librarian did ask me what I was doing. I excitedly showed her the programming notes I had and what I was doing.
This was when the librarian informed me that, “the computer is for educational software only.” I had looked at the educational software, and determined that it was below my educational level.
The librarian was not finished with this dressing down. She was actually upset that I was doing my own thing on the computer.
“You are banned from the library for the year.”
This meant that I could not even go into the library to find or check out books. Way to support education!
Harsh treatment at school was nothing new for me. This was 1982, and it would be another 35 years before I would be tested and formally diagnosed with High-Functioning Autism.
So I put the floppy in the folder with the notes and stowed it away in my room, just in case I was able to get my own computer soon.
That never happened, at least not soon enough.
THE BEGINNING OF COLLEGE
When I started my first year of college, I became thrilled to learn that there was a computer lab on campus.
I went one night to check it out. There were about 30 computers in the room. I had gone in the middle of the night so that I’d not get in the way of anyone who wanted to use them during the day.
The night I started using one of the computers, I shared the room with two other people. This meant that 27 computers were not in use.
A security guard came over and asked to see my student ID. He then asked me, “What is your major, sir?”
I replied, “Percussion Arts. Music, sir.”
He shook his head. “The computer lab is for Math and Science majors only. I’m sorry, but you are going to have to leave. Please do not come back.”
And just like that, I was banned from the Computer Lab in college. Le sigh.
WHAT THIS MEANT
Oddly enough, it meant that I was prohibited from using computers during my formal education. The institutional educators ACTIVELY prohibited me from using computers, and in one case, a library.
I still do not understand how this was helpful to anyone.
A FUTURE WITH COMPUTERS
I left college in the spring of 1985 and moved to sunny Southern California in early 1986.
By 1987, I was working at a computer rental firm. There, I delivered systems.
Over time, I learned how to configure systems, and spent a decent portion of my day building computers. I learned how to format and defrag hard drives. I learned how to back up systems, print reports, and other computer related activities.
In 1989, I went to Manpower, a temporary agency, looking for typing related work.
I got fidgety, and the lady who was interviewing me had a Rubik’s cube on her desk. She stepped away for 30 seconds, which gave me enough time to solve it. Back then, I could solve any cube in about 23 seconds.
She saw this and was impressed. “You appear to be a problem solver. I’ve got the perfect job for you.”
This job involved me being a software teacher for Manpower. In conjunction with IBM, I would go to businesses and teach entire groups on how to use DisplayWrite/36.
I would be their first-ever Skillware Administrator.
The software program took about on week to teach to a class. It took the average person four hours to go through the program alone.
I spent 90 minutes with the software the night before my first class.
My students — end users and Admins — enjoyed my presentation and learned quickly.
How strange that I got this job by implementing a seemingly useless talent [solving a Rubik’s cube]. This means that I got more out of high school study hall than I got out of the rest of the experience.
I would end up teaching other software classes through the 90s and beyond, while working as an Administrative Assistant. Titles included Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect 4.2, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, MS Access, and custom software.
As I write this, I have taught several software classes, and have yet to actually TAKE one myself.
I spent a few years working as a Quality Assurance Engineer in the Tech industry before getting hired at MySpace.
I was at MySpace from mid-2005 to mid-2008, which is the time when MySpace was at its peak.
I would continue to work in Tech until mid-2016, when the industry decided to abandon people like me, in favor of automation, contractors, H-1B workers, and energetic young workers who are easily manipulated.
I have not found any substantial work in the past five years. It is more complicated than it may seem, and involves taking some time off from everything for a while after my little sister died and some other family issues surfaced that required my attention.
While I sit at home in the middle of a pandemic, I spend some of my time maintaining and using a Commodore 64 from 1984. I recently had to redo the thermal grease on the chips, as well as clean the keyboard. Next year, I will “recap” or replace all of the capacitors on the motherboard.
And I do NOT have my formal education to thank for any of this.
IN THE END
Ideally, I’d love to go to school and learn programming. I know enough to get into some trouble. However, it would cost a good deal of money, and I know for a fact that nobody will hire me in the industry because of my age.
Maybe I can learn enough to create something on my own. Who knows.
Sometimes I wonder how far along I could have gotten, had my formal education not gotten in the way.
Computers and technology provide me with a great deal of curiosity, education, and entertainment.
I am typing this on an AlphaSmart 3000 word processor that I bought for $8 and restored. It works great!
My formal education may have failed me miserably, like it does many others in America, but I consider myself fortunate to be able to teach myself and learn quickly.