How I Became a Programmer

An Ironic High School Aptitude Test

Student taking an aptitude test. Later the results show he can become a good Microsoft Access Programmer 

In my junior year of high school we all took one of those boring aptitude tests so we could let a software program tell us what professions we would be good at.  

The results of my test told me I would be good at mechanical engineering or good at programming. I had interest mechanical engineering except I didn't want to face the challenge of learning the advanced levels of math needed. I had NO INTEREST in programming because I had taken a typing class the year before and hated typing.  Up till then the all the computers I, or any of my friends, had seen had only keyboards but no mouse. We didn't even know what a mouse was since hadn't become commercially available yet. And the screens were all boring green or amber dots - nothing graphical.  All I knew about programming was that you'd have to type all day and I had no interest in that.  If I had taken that test 5 years later then my interest in programming would have gone in a completely different direction.  Eventually I did get interested, as you can tell.    

BASIC Foundations (1984)

I first wrote a program while in school in San Diego California.  Out of simple curiosity I took a computer course in 1984 and as an assignment I wrote my first program using an Apple computer written in a language called "BASIC".  It was a flat file database.  You couldn't use a mouse while coding - only a keyboard.  It had a floppy disk slot and green dots on the screen.  

We learned to first use a 6 foot long scroll of paper to diagram the program workflow BEFORE writing any code - instruction that is priceless to me today.  Once our instructor saw what I had drawn she said I would never finish by the end of the semester and warned me I might fail the course since the completed program was the final grade. To her surprise I ended up finishing 3 weeks early!  

I did not know it at the time, but what I had sketched out in that workflow was some of the simple logic that our modern navigation systems use today. 

When the user opened the program he or she is first asked to choose one of 3 popular destinations in San Diego; Coronado Island, La Jolla Shores beach or Sea World.  Then the program would present a series of choices to the user of how to drive to that location from our campus parking lot. It would ask the user to choose left, right or straight at each intersection along the way until arriving at the final destination.  

I used paper maps to calculate several routes for each destination - some longer and some shorter.  I added up all the segments in each route to come up with the total miles for each possible choice the user might make.  As the user made choices to get to the destination the segments were added up.  When the user eventually arrived at the destination their total miles were compared against the shortest possible route and a message appeared telling them their percent of accuracy.  If they choose the shortest route they'd get 100%.     

Before Access

Paradox Databases

Screenshot of Paradox 

I worked for a medical firm from 1991 to 1996 in their accounting department.  During that time I purchased a 600 page book and taught myself Paradox 4.   It was a true relational database.  You still couldn't use a mouse while coding - only a keyboard.  It was a popular relational database system at that time.  Microsoft Access did not exist yet but Paradox gave me a solid foundation to build upon. 

I studied late at night and was coding what I was studying.  When I got to a point that I didn't understand or couldn't code right,  I'd close the book the and start over from page 1.  I repeated that process till I progressed all the way through the book and could code everything.  Eventually I was able to code several complete Paradox databases. 

Q&A Databases

Q&A database screenshot

Paradox helped me get another job in 1996 working for State Farm Insurance in their Texas regional data processing center.  Originally I was hired on to build a Q&A database and maintain it for them.  I built that database and a few others while I was there until I was introduced to Microsoft Access.  

 

Microsoft Access

While working for State Farm I met a coworker who was dragging and dropping buttons on his screen!  Something I had never seen before.  He said it was "Microsoft Access" - the first time I had heard about it.  Turns out Access was first launched by Microsoft in the fall of 1992 (see the video). 

I immediately started studying Access and building sample databases for myself.  I would build a sample database, and learn from my mistakes.  Then I would delete it and then build it all over again but this time better.  I continued the build-learn-delete process over and over again each time learning more until I had mastered it.  

I started building databases for management and coworkers at State Farm.  I was getting pretty popular being "the Access guy" who was converting their spreadsheets into custom Access database applications.  I was being pulled in separate directions by two departments were needing my time almost every day, so eventually they had to draw up a contract to split my hours up between them.  That's when I really realized how valuable Access can be to a business.  I built more than a dozen databases for State Farm.  

I later worked for 2 other consulting firms as their Access Programmer before going independent in 1999 and launching my own freelance business

Launching JustGetProductive.com

In 1999 I was working from home for an IT company in Austin Texas.  I was getting fewer and fewer jobs from them so I decided to start my own website.  Using online research I taught myself how to build it and learned how to market it.  www.JustGetProductive.com was launched on 13 December 1999.  My first client was in Austin.  As time went on I built databases for companies from nearly every state in the USA plus some businesses in Canada, Israel, Kenya and Ireland.  I have now served more than 500 clients. 

What's Next?

17 years of refinement

Since 1999 I have been working primarily alone as a Microsoft Access freelance programmer.  During all these years I have refined my process to the point that now my work can be exponentially expanded while keeping the quality high. 

Moving Forward

Starting in 2017 I began hiring programming experts with advanced skills.  I give them specific features to code for my projects. They are truly specialists I can trust to produce the features my clients need.  I quality check all their work myself.  Over the next year I plan to build a large "Productivity Team" of experts who can do almost anything my clients can imagine.  Over time I will be expanding Just Get Productive to offer mobile apps and web apps.  Sign up for my newsletter to keep up to date with the progress.