A life in computers | News, Sports, Jobs

Growing up, I was always fascinated by computers. The first computer we had at home was a Tandy that Mom bought used from a colleague at Fisher Controls. I used some of the early Apple computers in school, but it was more for scripted play and keyboard practice. When I was on my own, trying to figure out how to load games from a tape deck, it made me realize that I needed to know more about these mysterious wonders.

Shortly after a bit of luck with the Tandy, my parents knew that my brother and I were very interested in having a PC. Christmas was coming up, and they made up the worst excuse one weekend because they were planning to go to Cedar Rapids and then Des Moines on the same day. They said they were looking for a special cheese.

We still laugh at this one, because they are not fanciful like that! In fact, they were looking for a new Compaq Prolina PC for us. Not every retailer had the best model at the time, but they managed to get a 25 MHz Intel SX model with 4MB of RAM and a 60MB hard drive. The difference in models was significant, but we didn’t care! We were thrilled to have a new Compaq! It was 1995, and it was $2,000. It was a lot of money!

The operating system was DOS. It was more accessible to me because I knew a few rudimentary commands, but still didn’t know much. I could load and play games and it was fun. But I always wanted to do more, like program something or make it talk to other computers.

This was before the Internet, and my parents didn’t know anything about computers. Frankly, I couldn’t find any books to help me in my quest. Our family friend, Dana Bresler, knew more than I did – he insists to this day that he knew little more than I did. Alas, he was my greatest resource and he helped me learn just enough to take it to the next level.

My next best source was on the shelves of Drug Town – the PC build magazines. I spent my mowing money on those. I read them cover to cover every month. These 2-inch-thick magazines sparked my first real passion for computing – upgrading and building computers.

I would buy components by mail order. When all the parts arrived for an upgrade project, it was time to put everything together and hope they worked! Again, this is before the Internet. Motherboards, cards, processors and RAM come with little to no instructions!

You were lucky enough to have a DIP switch panel legend that was decipherable, especially by someone with little knowledge of electronics at the time. I literally spent hours every day for a week trying every combination of settings and going through my magazine issues looking for missing clues. I didn’t realize it, but I was learning to troubleshoot and the scientific method and learning perseverance. When everything fell into place and the hardware worked, I repeated the process on the software, and when everything worked, I was very proud.

I got pretty good at building reasonably priced, good quality computers, so I developed a reputation. So family, friends and neighbors would order computer builds and I would support their computers and networks.

I learned a lot of lessons about money and business, but it was fun. I was recruited to join a new group at MHS called Computer Consultants, led by Judy Lindholm. We performed IT deployments and general support work. It was a great experience, which gave me confidence and I learned a lot of good things.

After graduating, it was time to go to the University of Iowa. I was undecided, but I had chosen to pursue studies in actuarial science. Many people I respect had encouraged me to take a path closer to my passion, such as computing, but I didn’t listen.

I didn’t think I wanted to write software. Well, a semester and a week into my freshman year, I walked out of a computer science course (required for actuaries) knowing in my soul that I was in the wrong major. I went to my advisor, switched to IT and never looked back.

Twenty years later, I’m very lucky to be able to exercise my passion in my work with people who share the same love as me for computers and software.

Here are some morals from my story.

• Don’t be afraid to invest your time and money in someone else’s passion.

• Even if you know a little more than someone else, teaching them what you know can make all the difference to them.

• Perseverance and learning the learning method pays dividends for your lifetime.

• Follow your own passions, you will learn all kinds of skills that you would not have learned otherwise.

• Listen to good advice from people you respect.


Jeff Schneider is an at-large councilman from Marshalltown.

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