What were your friends like in college?

To say I was a serious student might be a bit of an understatement.  From 1974 to 1977, my days were filled with school, a part-time job (and once two jobs), and a girlfriend, leaving no time to hang out and sometimes nowhere near enough time for a good sleep.  When my girlfriend and I broke up around the same time I started working full-time at Wright State, during what would become a 3-year-long final year, my social group expanded a little bit. 

I moved into a two-bedroom townhouse apartment in Kettering with John Sloan, finally leaving the only home I knew on Ashwood Avenue in Dayton.  John and I met at Wright State in his office after my assembler program crashed the university’s mainframe computer.  My previous assembler programs used an interpreter called ASSIST (Assembler System for Student Instruction and Systems Teaching) which shielded the system from a variety of errors like mine, but for this project, I was using the real IBM assembler and had failed to save and restore the return memory addresses properly.  John showed me how to fix that, but not after I told him it was the IBM operating system’s fault that it crashed, not mine.  Really, how could it not protect itself from a student’s silly mistake?  IBM would later fix their bug.

I started working part-time at the university as a student maintenance programmer, having built enough of a reputation in COBOL to get me noticed.  That skill began as a between-semester challenge when my CS300 program would not work properly and I convinced the professor it was an error in WATBOL, the COBOL interpreter from the University of Waterloo in Canada.  I proposed to convert my program from WATBOL to full COBOL, and had to figure out how to compile, link, and execute it, and convert all the required WATBOL input and output files to standard COBOL.  This was not at all a trivial exercise and it took a wild week of learning and trial-and-error before I could turn in a successful execution of my program.  

Working for the university had perks, a desk in an office inside the I.T. department, and the use of an IBM 3270 terminal, replacing the use of punch cards.  I had a place to drop off books, study in peace, and learn from the professionals.  But it did keep me away from other students most of the time, limiting the number of friends I would make.  But it did lead to meeting and becoming lifelong friends with Jim Nicholas, who was their systems programmer and would hire me in 1977 as his sidekick.  Jim left for the Mead Corporation a couple of years later, where I would reconnect with him in 1981 to continue our journey together.

The only real group of people I hung out with was a subset of my peer computer science students that were into dancing.  The group took advantage of Wright State’s liberal arts college to take two classes of ballroom dance, one class of disco dancing, and hit the occasional dance club on a weekend.  I like to refer to ballroom dance as the most fun you can have with your clothes on.  Why this bunch of computer science students, usually referred to as introverts with no social skills, gravitated to dancing is still a mystery, but I cherish those times and their memories.


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