My first job ever

Thursday 7 March 2002

The Museum of Old Computers includes a page about the Compucolor computer, which was the cause of my first ever job writing software.

It was sometime in the late seventies, and I was a high-school kid who knew how to write programs in BASIC. I had a subscription to BYTE, I was reading about all the microcomputers then, and I was fascinated by all of them. My mother (who is a software engineer) also subscribed to some computer magazines, and one of them sent her an admission pass to a computer show that was being held in the Coliseum in Manhattan.

Since technically, my mother and I share the same first initial, and the badge was made out only to "E Batchelder", I figured I would use the badge to get into the show and look at all the cool computers. This felt like a daring, illicit act. Of course, what I didn't realize then was that this was not a big deal, since if the badge was sent free to all the subscribers of some magazine, then they probably didn't care who walked through the front door, but at the time I felt like I was getting away with something.

So I went downtown on the subway, and made it through the fortress-like security (ha!) into the computer show. Of course, I was in heaven, since I could try out all these microcomputers I had been reading about. I remember seeing the SOL there, which seemed different by virtue of not looking like it had wires hanging out the back.

But the computer that really caught my eye was the Compucolor, because it had a color display. The booth had a few of them running simple demos written in BASIC. It was very easy to stop the programs, list them, make some small changes, and see them do something a little different, but just as eye-catching and useless.

I was trying out different things, all with the same "I'm getting away with something" feeling in the back of my mind. I was afraid that the guys manning the booth would shoo me away. I was just a kid fiddling with this serious stuff they were trying to show off to the potential customers.

Finally, one of the salesguys did come over, and took a look at what I was doing. I thought the jig was up. He said, "Tell you what: you stay here and do that, and I'll buy you lunch."

My first job.

It was fun. I was beginning to realize that I could do things with computers that people appreciated.

Historical footnote: The Coliseum has since been torn down. One Central Park is now being built where it stood. The Coliseum itself was unremarkable, and a bit dingy and depressing, being just a gigantic box in which to put conferences and tradeshows. One Central Park looks excessive, arrogant, corporate, and pre-packaged. What else would you expect from AOL Time-Warner?

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