May 35th. Why I do what I do.

By James at June 04, 2009 15:35
Filed Under: Life in General, Technology in General

Not many people know, but I didn’t start out thinking I would be a programmer. When I graduated from High School in 1979, computers were things of Sci Fi movies and such. I spent my young adult life working to become a Veterinarian, and when that didn’t work out quite right, I spent 12 years working in veterinary hospitals.

Tired of being bit, peed, shat upon and minimum wage, I decided to move on, and took a job at Chaffey College working in the Life Sciences Department. This was when “Personal Computers” started to become known, and a 286 processor with 1 megabyte of RAM was the hot machine. The department got a few of these monster machines and I started fooling around with them; teaching myself DOS commands, formatting 5 1/4 floppy disks, thinking to myself “I’ll never run out of room with this 10 MB hard drive!”

One day I received an invitation (think WAY before email) from IBM to come and see their new technology called “Ultimedia”. I made arrangements to go to see what this was all about. The presentation consisted of a computer attached to a laser disc player displaying on a very large monitor. The presenter started in about how he could access different parts of the laser disc in a random fashion to make a presentation and teach. I was interested in what he was demonstrating – the beginnings of technolust – and I started thinking about how this could be used in the classroom, I was working at a college by the way.

The laser disc contained various pieces of information about Tennyson’s epic poem, Ulysses. The entire poem was available, with dissertations and explanations by literature professors and experts. Different Shakespearian actors would recite the poem in various tones and intonations. All the while, I kept thinking how cool this was.

The presenter began to end the presentation by saying, “that’s not all, look what I can do with this information.”

The screen went black, and a “thump, thump, thump” started with images of current affairs displaying on the screen, clips of the actors reciting the poem, key words flying on and off screen, building, Building, BUILDING. Goosebumps grew goosebumps, which got even more goosebumps as the presentation continued.

The theme behind Ulysses is that of a sailor, who has spent more time at sea, than at home. And when he finally returns home for good, he finds the life he thought he knew to have changed – drastically. But all the while, his mantra, his personal creed, how he had chosen to live his life by not to giving up, no matter what the obstacle is, to be true to oneself, to state his case, and not back down… “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

My heart was pounding, my jaw slack. As the music was playing, the video and photos are flying in and out, and with the fascination of the technology I had just seen enveloping me, this last image displayed on the screen just as the deep baritone stated “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield”.

After that I knew this was what I needed to do. To use technology to bring information to people. To help them learn. To help them reach beyond what they thought was possible. To take a stand and talk about what needs to be changed. To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I asked the presenter – I wish I remembered his name – how I could do the things I had just seen. He asked for my mailing address. A few days later, waiting for me in my office was a big box from IBM. Inside was a 386 computer, a copy of Arts and Letters, a copy of ToolBook and a note…”See what you can do. Change the world.”

The rest is history.

Time to reflect.


Comments (3) -

6/6/2009 6:02:57 AM #

Daniel Egan


    What an inspirational story!!...  Do you think IBM will send you another new one?  ;)


Daniel Egan | Reply

5/30/2012 3:40:26 AM #

Wim Haanstra

Awesome story and I know the feeling exactly, it's nice to read this kind of thing.

Just came across your site because of the post on Scott Hanselman's website.

Wim Haanstra Netherlands | Reply

4/10/2013 2:24:48 PM #


Great story!

Deekay United States | Reply

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About the author

James James is a five time and current Microsoft MVP in Client App Development, a Telerik Insider, a past Director on the INETA North America Board, a husband and dad, and has been developing software since the early days of Laser Discs and HyperCard stacks. As the Founder and President of the Inland Empire .NET User's Group, he has fondly watched it grow from a twice-a-month, early Saturday morning group of five in 2003, to a robust and rambunctious gathering of all types and sizes of .NET developers.

James loves to dig deep into the latest cutting edge technologies - sometimes with spectacular disasters - and spread the word about the latest and greatest bits, getting people excited about developing web sites and applications on the .NET platform, and using the best tools for the job. He tries to blog as often as he can, but usually gets distracted by EF, LINQ, MVC, ASP, SQL, XML, and most other types of acronyms. To keep calm James plays a mean Djembe and tries to practice his violin. You can follow him on twitter at @latringo.

And as usual, the comments, suggestions, writings and rants are my own, and really shouldn't reflect the opinions of my employer. That is, unless it really does.

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