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January 29, 2010

Three Things That Got Me Here

I have been tagged by Josef Richberg (@SQLRunner on Twitter) to blog on a meme covered by several SQL Server and .NET professionals since the concept got started around the beginning of January.  Apparently being tagged means I *must* continue the meme, so… in three movements… here we go.


As a kid, my parents bought me a few bits and pieces of Lego.  The first 10 minutes of any session spent with a new Lego kit would be spent following the assembly instructions to create the train, car, castle, etc; then the next 2 hours reassembling the pieces in as many ways as possible – along with the other Lego pieces in my collection.  I created aircraft, houses, road trains, castles, bunkers, spacecraft… whatever my imagination and the supply of pieces could conjure up. 

As I got older, my folks started to realize that I’d get a lot out of the Technic sets, and my Lego projects started to take on a far more mechanical focus.  I started assembling more complex mechanisms and towards the point where I put my Lego days behind me, I was building piston-driven engines, rack-and-pinion steering assemblies, cranes, gearing systems and so on.  Lego gave me a great leg up on abstract spatial thinking, and also helped me to acquire systemic design skills. 

Without these, my interest in data, design, architecture, IT and engineering in general would never have got to the point they are today, and I’d probably have ended up as either a musician or an economist.  Instead, I studied Mechanical Engineering at University, which I dropped out of in order to make a move into the IT industry.

The Piano

From the age of around 5, my parents kept a piano in the house.  By the time I was 6, I’d taught myself how to play simple versions of a number of nursery rhymes and Christmas carols.  This piano was replaced by the one they still own today when I was around 8 or 9, and in fifth grade I started piano lessons with a septegenarian nun named Sister Tarsissius. Sister T got me working on scales, triads and basic two handed piano playing.  I got a start with music notation, and ended up being bored out of my skull.  She retired a couple years later, and I started taking lessons from Mrs McMillian, the wife of one of the teachers at the school where dad worked as a Deputy. 

Mrs McMillian adapted quickly to the fact that Mozart studies were going to turn me off playing piano permanently, and instead started teaching me some basic jazz and blues.  I took to this like a duck to water, and 30 years after starting to play piano I still jam with bands, compose tunes, tinker with arrangements and so on.

More importantly, music helped me further develop abstract spatial thinking, pattern matching, and in the context of group performance, learning valuable skills that translated to enhanced social skills.

The System-80

At the age of about 12, a couple of my friends bought computers.  Once of them had a Vic-20, and the other a Commodore-64, and both systems supported an early version of the BASIC language.  After a while, I started to pester my parents to get a computer.  After about a year, they finally caved in and bought one of the first ever personal computer clones - a TRS-80 clone from Dick Smith Electronics called the System-80.  It sported 16KB of RAM, a built in data-set (tape drive capable of reading normal audio tapes) and a green-screen monitor capable of 3x8 pixel blog graphics, and ran a BASIC interpreter.

Within weeks, dad had subscribed to an X-80 computer magazine that packaged programs on tapes every issue or two.  My brother and I both played games on the machine, but I also took up an interest in writing my own programs.  A year later, I was writing PEEK and POKE commands to read keyboard input and write graphics to screen, writing simple shooter games, and writing my own choose-your-own-adventure games.

This experience drove my interest in software development, which persists to this day and has informed the choice I made to make a career for myself in IT.

The meme for the “Three Things” blog post demands that I now tag three other bloggers.  I’m feeling vaguely contrary right now, so I’m going to simply tag any reader who hasn’t already responded to this theme.  Next post?  The third and final post on my series on table metadata.


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