It was a Sunday morning in June 1995. David’s head was pounding from too many drinks. He’d attended a few college graduation parties the day before. Copious amounts of booze were consumed this time of year, and a twenty-one-year-old like David still had much to learn about self-control. He was a year away from earning a degree in Accounting from a local state university. David maintained a C average, which was good enough to receive a diploma, but not good enough to receive any decent job offers in his field of study after graduation. The Accounting field was extremely competitive for newly minted graduates. To make matters worse, David had no desire to pursue a career as an accountant, but on paper, it was his best path toward a meaningful career. Over the past year, it had become quite clear — clearer every day, in fact — that he had no interest in his college major as an occupation. He was discouraged about his future.
David also agonized over the fact that he had highly likely wasted thousands of dollars of his adoring parents’ money on a college education that bored him to tears. David’s parents had sacrificed everything to send him to college. He was the first in his family to attend college. His parents were immensely proud of him. He felt guilty for selecting a major that he absolutely detested. David constantly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. College was anything but an enjoyable experience for him.
The phone rang.
“Dude, Jarot’s graduation party was bad ass last night. Damn, I am so hungover right now, but it was worth it,” said Brent, a fellow classmate who was both study partner and drinking buddy — emphasis on the latter.
Before David could respond, Brent continued, “A few of us are taking a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) preparation exam course this summer? Are you interested in taking this course with us?”
“How much is it?” David asked.
“$5,000.00. I know it’s a ton of money, but you and I don’t have the best grades. If we become CPAs right after graduation, we may improve our chances of getting an actual job, man,” Brent added.
“Brent, I appreciate you thinking of me, but I can’t swing $5,000.00 right now.”
“No worries, bro. Think about it. If anything changes, let me know.”
They hung up.
David felt more depressed and more dejected, if that was even possible. The thought of spending $5,000 in addition to the money his parents already spent on his education sounded like a complete waste of money.
David went for a walk to clear his confused mind.
He lived in an apartment complex occupied mostly by other college students. David ran into his friend, Jarot, an international student from Indonesia who’d just graduated with a degree in computer science. Jarot’s family was very wealthy. He spent more time at strip clubs than studying. Luckily for Jarot, he was very intelligent. Despite his lack of focus on his education, he graduated with all A’s. David often saw different women at Jarot’s apartment. The women were always stunning and never carried any textbooks. According to a mutual friend, Jarot had a monthly budget earmarked for lady friends.
“Hey, Jarot. Great party last night. You always throw the best parties. What are you up to this morning, man?” David asked.
“Cleaning my apartment. I’m moving back to Indonesia in a few days. I am going to miss this place, especially the ladies,” Jarot responded with a sullen look on his face.
“Damn, we’re all going to miss you, Jarot. What’s in the box?” David said, pointing to the large cardboard box that Jarot uncomfortably held in his arms.
“Just a bunch of trash. I’m taking this crap to the dumpster.”
Pointing at a rather thick — even intimidating — book lying on the top of the pile of trash, David asked, “What’s that book?”
“This book? Some lame Visual Basic for DOS book,” Jarot said, leaning back to read the cover of the book.
“What’s Visual Basic?” David asked, knowing a little about DOS (Disk Operating System) from a computer class he’d completed last semester.
“It’s a software programming language, but it’s lame.”
“What’s a software programming language?” David asked.
Jarot had no patience to provide any specifics about software programming, especially after a long night of partying, but offered, “You know that humans are responsible for instructing computers what to do, right?”
“Sure, of course,” David responded, not having a damn clue what Jarot meant.
“People need to learn a software language to communicate with computers. Computers cannot do anything without instructions from people,” Jarot lectured.
“Well, if you are throwing the book away, can I have it?” David responded, still not comprehending anything that Jarot said about computers.
“You want this book? Sure, you can have it, but there’s no money or future in writing software for computers. It’s a waste of time, but if you want the book, it’s yours,” Jarot said, handing the bulky book to David.
Jarot followed, “I only studied computer science because my father said he wouldn’t pay for my education otherwise. I don’t have any interest in writing software at all. It’s boring as fuck.”
“Thank you for the book, Jarot. I really appreciate this,” David said, holding the six-hundred-page book with both hands.
“David, listen, man. The book is completely useless unless you have the software program it’s referencing,” Jarot said, shaking his head.
Jarot looked down into his box. He grabbed a shrink-wrapped box titled “Visual Basic 1.0 for DOS”, and handed the box to David.
“David, I really like you, but I think you are wasting your time learning this shit,” Jarot said, walking off toward the dumpster.
David trusted Jarot. They were good friends. If Jarot said it was a waste of time, then it must be true. But a voice within David’s head asked, “What do you have to lose by learning something new?”
David had absolutely no software programming experience except for the one time in high school that he copied — verbatim — a classmate’s hangman software homework assignment.
David had a casual understanding of computers, at best. He’d recently finished a beginning level Information Technology class. He’d dabbled with WordPerfect for word processing, Quattro Pro for spreadsheets and Paradox for database management. David had enjoyed the class — a fact which surprised even him. It was because of this entry level Information Technology class that he’d recognized “DOS” on the cover of the book that Jarot was about to throw away and asked about it without thinking.
David went back to his little apartment. He opened the six-hundred-page book, spent four seconds leafing through the pages, and quickly pushed the book to the side. It was like reading a foreign language, not a single word made any sense.
Then, he tore open the shrink-wrapped white box that contained the Visual Basic 1.0 for DOS software language. He reached into the box and pulled out two big books and eight floppy disks.
David didn’t own a computer. He packed the books and disks into his backpack and rode his bike to the university’s computer lab.
Nobody was in the computer lab except the lab instructor.
“I would like to use a computer,” David said.
“You’re in luck. You have thirty to choose from,” the lab instructor responded without looking at David.
He walked to the last row of computers in the room, and plopped himself down in front of the computer that was furthest away from the instructor.
He thumbed through the books that were packaged with the software. One of the books had a section called “Start Here.” David thought that was a safe place to start from.
He read the “Start Here” section from beginning to end, several times. He then installed the software on the computer, following each and every instruction to the letter. Nothing made any sense, but he didn’t question it. He just kept going.
He began writing his first program, the infamous “Hello World” program, still not understanding anything he was typing. The Visual Basic software language was just a bunch of gibberish, he thought.
“How can anyone learn this crap?” David thought. “I’m such a loser,” he said aloud.
But, after four hours of mistakes and endless corrections. David wrote his first program!
He never felt more alive, more accomplished! At that moment, David knew he was meant to be a software programmer.
Nothing was ever as clear as that precise moment. The world suddenly made sense. He wanted to learn more about software programming — a lot more. He read more pages. He wrote more programs.
During that summer, David spent fourteen hours a day in the computer lab at school.
Software programming was like a drug to him, he couldn’t get enough. The more he learned, the more he wanted to know.
Writing software programs was playing a video game without boundaries for David. He decided the boundaries. He was in absolute control of the computer in front of him. He walked around feeling that he had a superpower. He could control a machine that none of his friends knew how to operate or what it could do. A new person was born in David, a person he never knew existed within him. He wanted to let the world about his new passion but creating software programs wasn’t his field of study. Everyone would think he’d gone insane. For the entire summer, he kept writing software programs in Visual Basic. He bought more programming books at Barnes and Noble. Soon, he bought up all the Visual Basic books from the local Barnes and Noble.
His parents called one day, “Everything okay, David? We haven’t heard from you in a while.”
“I’m fine Mom. I’m more than fine. I’m learning something new at school that I enjoy. I really think I can make a future out of it. I’m very happy. To be honest, Mom, it’s a subject I never knew I would like, but I’m loving it,” David confessed.
They hung up.
“How’s David?” his dad asked.
“I think he’s drunk. He said ‘I’m really enjoying school right now,’” his mom responded.
“Isn’t it summer right now? I didn’t know he was taking any summer classes. Yeah, he must have been drinking,” David’s dad summarized.
Curiously, David had stopped drinking. He didn’t even think about drinking. All he thought about was software programming.
Summer came to end, and David registered for his fall classes. He noticed he had an upper-level, non-Accounting class elective requirement. One of the options was an upper-division programming course offered by the Information Technology department. The programming language of focus was Visual Basic.
“Of all software languages,” he thought as he read about the elective.
He enrolled in the class, but learned the class was only available to upper-level IT majors unless the professor provided a waiver to non-IT majors.
He attended the upper-division programming class on the first day of the fall semester. When the professor asked the class to raise their hands if they had taken lower-level programming classes at the university, David was the only student who kept his hand down. He immediately started to second-guess himself.
“What am I doing here? Who am I kidding, I don’t belong here,” David thought to himself.
The professor noticed David didn’t raise his hand and asked, “Young man, you haven’t taken any programming classes at the university previously?”
“No, sir.” David responded. All eyes turned toward him. The classmates were curious to see the fool who thought an upper-level programming class was doable without any programming experience whatsoever. He was so embarrassed. He wanted to run out of the classroom.
“This course may be too advanced for you, young man,” the professor added.
“See me after class.”
David saw the professor after class.
“What’s your name, young man?” the professor asked gently.
“David, I don’t think you are a good fit for this course. This is an advanced programming class for upper-level IT majors. What is your major, David?”
“David, I have been a professor at this university for a very long time. I haven’t had a single Accounting major try to take this course. I’m worried this this class will be too advanced for you,” the professor continued.
David was devastated. More than anything else, he was humiliated. Other students were listening to the conversation. He wanted to die.
After a deep breath, David asked, “Sir, if it’s okay with you, can I show you an application that I created over the summer?”
“Sure, David,” the professor responded with a hint of pity in his voice.
David inserted the disk that contained his program in the computer.
He demonstrated the software to the professor. Other classmates were still listening.
The professor sat back in his chair and after five-second pause, said, “David, you are too advanced for this class. We wouldn’t be able to challenge you. Would you consider being my teacher’s assistant for the class? You would still receive credits toward your degree.”
“Yes, sir! I would love that!” David responded.
David continued to pour every second into learning more about software programming during his senior year. His grades suffered, but he didn’t care.
He received two paid internships in programming during the spring semester. David made the most of the internships. He arrived early at the offices, worked hard, and always maintained a friendly disposition.
When his graduation came around, David had a job offer for $80,000 a year, while top accounting students received offers for substantially less money.
Software programming changed David’s life, and maybe it can change yours, too.