Did you work while you were in college?
I had at least one job the entire time I was in college, paid for all my own tuition and books, and took out only $1,200 in student loans. I lived at home and my parents furnished me with room and board and paid for my car insurance. Everything else, like a date pizza or a movie, was on me. Between school and work, I had little time for anything else.
I began college still working at the Sherer’s Ice Cream store on North Main street, which matched the busier summer ice cream season with having that time off from school, allowing me to work a lot of hours and bank money to help out during the school year. It also allowed me to really focus on school since I had been at Sherer’s for a couple of years and everything was routine.
About a year into college my friend John Sloan made me aware of a weekend, third-shift computer operator job in the Third National Bank data center where he worked. It was really appealing to get a job in my field of computer science, and while leaving Sherer’s was sad, I knew it was the right choice. Their IBM mainframe ran the DOS/VS operating system instead of Wright State’s MFT, and the exposure to a different system was valuable. There’s not much to do on Saturday and Sunday nights, so I could do some homework or toss a frisbee with the guard. I did get to run the check sorter and I was amazed how fast the machine could read the MICR codes and the mainframe process them.
I picked up a second part-time job at Wright State’s administrative computer center as a maintenance programmer and for one quarter I worked both jobs, which along with a full course load, a girlfriend, and almost no sleep between Sunday afternoon and Monday night, was more than I could take. I decided I had to quit the Fifth National Bank job, but before I could I was fired. It's a long story, but it taught me how serious banks are, which later in life would seem obvious.
The student programmer job came with an office and a terminal, two valuable resources. I could leave my books in my office and take only what I needed to class. Instead of using the IBM 029 card punch machines, I would type my programs directly into the computer, a huge time saver that was also more accurate, run them ahead of normal student’s jobs and view the output online.
I spent a year or so fixing existing programs before getting the assignment of writing their first online student admission system. I developed four 10,000+ line COBOL programs using the IMS DB/DC database and data communication framework, debugged it, and rolled it out. This was a real-world project, I did it as a student, and it really gave me a lot of confidence. But my career interests were leaning in a more highly technical direction where “the real action” was happening.
As a student programmer, I met Jim Nicholas, their Senior Systems Programmer. Jim hired me as his assistant and I learned from the best. I did have to cut back my senior year classes to two per quarter, but it was worth extending my degree to get this type of opportunity. Jim and I worked together at Wright State for a couple of years before he accepted a systems programming job at The Mead Corporation. I then became the senior guy at the ripe young age of 24. I hired Steve Silver as my assistance and completed the in-process IBM/SVS to IBM/MVS operating system upgrade.
I left my Wright State job in June of 1980, just two months shy of completing my undergrad, for a systems programming job at Hobart Corporation in Troy, Ohio, for more money and to leave the political world of academia for the business world. But I would only be at Hobart for eight months before Jim made me aware of an opening at Mead, which I applied for and accepted, reuniting Jim and me for another twenty-five-year stretch and a lifelong friendship.