Digital Odyssey

Press the shift key and the * key together. Then press the Space Bar once. Now type out the word BASIC. Press the Return key and then the break key”.

Those words were the milk on which I begun my nourishment in to the digital world.

The year was 1992. The Gulf war was on. The stock markets had crashed. I was in class VIII. And to escape the agony of the drawing class, and explore the new thing in India, the computer, I had got myself enrolled (paying exorbitant fees) into the computer class in lieu of the drawing class. I had no idea, neither did lakhs of people who tried to embrace this technology, how far this invention would advance. But there I was, listening ever so attentively to the instructor, as she dictated the steps we had to follow, in exactly those words. I never got the heads or tails of what I was doing, but following her instructions, I could display “Hello” or even my name as the output of the ‘program’. I was thrilled. I continued computers for rest of my school years, during which I learnt DBASE, WordStar and missed out on LOGO as I was ill during those classes. Then they taught PASCAL.

By now, I couldn’t understand what was going on. Where were we going to use DBASE, or WordStar, or why would we buy a costly piece of electronic equipment just to add two numbers? And what was this Pascal all about? But I always scored good in the computers exam since I was good at memorizing or learning “by heart” as we called it.

The real breakthrough in to understanding what programming was all about, came when I was in the junior college. As it happened, I opted for computer science since I was scared of dissecting cockroaches and rats in the lab. And as it turned out, I was scoring poorly in computer science as well. Then I joined extra coaching with a particular teacher from another junior college. And my God, that guy was amazing. He explained how exactly LOGIC was to be applied in to programming and then taught us the syntax(grammar) of PASCAL and later C. I started seeing computer programming in new light by then. 386 machines were just so common and the 486 machines were admired and envied. Windows 3.1, with its “colorful” desktop was just arriving. On the rarest of the rare occasions would we get a peek at a machine with such configuration.

But my heart was in to machines, those moving assemblies which we could see and predict and with very little guidance, I picked up Mechanical Engineering as a branch to make career in. I successfully pass through the course, within the minimum possible time for passing the examinations(no failures, straight success). Programming did taunt me from time to time during engineering studies, and I picked up FEM/CAD/CAM(Finite Elements Methods/Computer Aided Design/Computer Aided Manufacturing) as a vocational subject.

That was the time when it struck me that I had not learnt enough of the programming. The above vocational subject involved designing using C++ programming, and I had stopped short at C during my junior college days. I tried to apply the concepts of C while programming in C++ and I passed through, miserably though.

And by the time I completed my engineering, I got my first personal computer, with the latest configuration at that time. It did cost my dad a fortune, but with the Pentium III processor, 64 MB RAM, and windows 98 running on it, I was not complaining. The year was 2000. I did learn lot of things on it. I learned how to use windows, how to install OS and other software, how to play games, rip music, watch videos. I learned to use the internet using the dial up connection, which cost my dad a fortune on telephone bills each month. I learned to assemble a computer from scratch, troubleshoot the operating system, rectify the problems. I learned a lot.

The only thing I forgot to learn was any specific programming language. I had the brains to apply the Logic properly, but didn’t have the guts to change my field from hardcore mechanical engineering to software development. Few of my friends changed, and they did succeed. I, meanwhile, was comfortable with the machineries, since they were physical, real and visible to naked eyes.

Due to lack of any good job opportunity, I finally choose marine as my career path and then invested some six years of my life into it, with good returns in monetary terms. The world meanwhile moved on from Pentium IV to hyper-thread to dual core to Core 2 Duo. Microsoft dished out Windows ME, XP, and Vista. By the time I decided to leave marine, I was a proud owner of a Core2 Duo laptop with windows vista and 4 GB of RAM. Alas, I hadn’t known how soon it would turn obsolete. Core ix series and Windows 7 was just around the corner.

I was good at computers while onboard. With almost none of them having any knowledge of troubleshooting a PC, I was the doctor whenever any PC related problem crept onboard. On ship, I was the God of that small machine. Onshore, I was way behind. I missed out on many issues of Chip, the technology magazine on which I fed for information and by I used to swear. I missed out on lots of technological advances while onboard. But then I had submitted to my life and being a genius in computers was not an option.

Now I have left marine life since about 3 years. I work onshore and my work keeps me glued to computers for about 8 hours a day. I am sure that it has become an integral part of my life. And I am even more sure that I am not making the most of it. I could have been a genius computer programmer, had I chosen to be that at a certain point of time in my life. I could have been the one who wrote the blog editing programs instead of being a lame blogger who uses it. It would have been so much different. It would have been so great to see people surrounding me using my program for their daily use. Like I do now.

But then, I wouldn’t have got the time for my blog. I am sure I would have envied those bloggers, as the programmers envy me now. I would be just a faceless programmer, unknown to the outer, real world and not a blogger with friends in that circle. Life wouldn’t be like what it is now.

And you know what, I am happy with my life now. So, even if my 18 years of close contact with computers didn’t make me someone great in in that field, I don’t care. My Odyssey is still digital, but the destination is different.


Also I have some lessons from my experience which I would like to share with you.

  • It doesn’t matter what path you choose in your life. Stick to it and make it lead to your destination, and,
  • Technological turnaround cycle has become very short, so wait for the right moment before you buy your computer. And anyway, your machine will go obsolete in six months.

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