College Computer Classes in The Early Days

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I loved my time at Nashville State Technical Institute in the mid 80's.  I learned more in that 3 years than I believe I've learned in my life.

I was working full time in the computer room of a hospital at night and going to classes in the day and evening.  I couldn't get enough.

My teachers were people who had real computer jobs in Nashville, TN by day and taught at night to help those of us who wanted to learn.

When I first began, they were still using punched cards.  The computer lab consisted of punch card machines where the students punched the cards, then took them across the hall to a window (looked like a drive up window), stood in line (especially towards the end of the quarter), handed the cards to the computer operator who would input them into the mainframe, run their program, and hand them the greenbar printout with their results.

If they had a bug in their code, they had to repeat that long process.  Punch the cards, get them to the operator, get the results.

Since my first quarter was more about learning the basics of computers instead of actual programming, I only watched this process.

By the time I started writing code, the computer lab had upgraded to PC's and 8" floppy disks.  I got to write my code on the PC, save it to the floppy, take the floppy to the operator so that they could print it out and hand me the greenbar printout with results.

In some classes, such as basic, we could run the whole process from the PC, but that was a couple of years into my education.

I often think back to how I first learned the basics and wonder how they teach those things today.  Do they still have to teach those things now that most kids are born cable ready and have computers in many rooms of the house?

Sometimes, when I'm teaching my students, I wish they had started the way I started because knowing the underlying foundational stuff about computers has helped me more than anything else.

Yes, most kids grow up knowing more than most of us adults when it comes to computers and technology, but they often just know how to USE them, not what really makes them work.

As a programmer, knowing the basics and how things work under the hood has helped me more than anything else.

Later, I got a scholarship to finish my Bachelor's degree at Austin Peay State University.  This was a totally different experience than I had at the tech school.

It was a lot more theory from some very smart people.  I learned a lot about computers, programming and math.

Our computer lab consisted of a lot of dumb terminals connected to a mainframe.  It was much quicker than having to wait for computer printouts.

Again, we learned a lot of the basics.  We studied several different languages, built compilers, built computers, learned data structures and algorithms, and did some of the same things over and over and over again so that they were embedded in our brains.

Repetition was key for me back then.  Remember, this was before the World Wide Web and the internet as we know it today.  We had to code from memory without looking everything up online as we can and do today.

We used text books to find the answers.  I spent a small fortune in computer books over the years. I had a pretty large collection of books on several bookshelves.

Thank goodness for the internet!  Hauling all those books around in an RV would be impossible.

I am grateful for my time at both schools.  I am still in contact with some of my professors even though it's been over 30 years ago.

I can only imagine how college life has changed in the computer science programs.  Both of my sons have since gone to college and graduated with some sort of computer degree.  College life for them was much different.

I am amazed at both the things they've learned and the things that didn't during their college careers.  It's just impossible to put everything in four years of school.

That's one reason I love computers so much.  It changes daily and there is always more to learn that will be possible in one life time.

I want to share what I've learned for those who are interested in watching the computer industry grow up.  It's been an amazing journey.

In my next article, I want to start with the basics in a rather non technical way.  I find that many courses want to get so deep into the technology that they fail to make it relatable enough for most people to understand.  And for that reason, many people see the technical stuff as difficult or hard to understand.

I know it comes easy for me, because I am so passionate about it, but, I would like for everyone in the world to understand because it's so fascinating to me.

I get that it won't be fascinating for everyone, but for those of us who can't get enough, maybe it will give you some insight which may bring a little more understanding.

I hope you join me on the journey.  If there's something that you don't understand, please point that out.  I want to make this easy.

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