I thought I’d change it up a bit and just do a quick blog post about who I am and where I came from. Some of you are probably wondering why I used “IT” in my blog title since I don’t blog about hardware stuff. Technically, I was hoping this blog would cover my knowledge in both hardware and software, but it has turned into a blog about software only. Sometimes you just have to choose a topic and stay focused. I started my career as a hardware guy back in the day when computers were repaired at the chip level (at least I didn’t start when computers were built with tubes!). When I was a teenager I got into electronics as a hobby and I really got hooked onto digital circuits. I still have my TTL logic book and my original 8088 manual that I purchased from Byte magazine for $5. There was a deal going on back in 1980 when Intel had a new chip called the 8088 and they were offering a free chip if you bought the tech manual for $5. So I did. I still have the chip (never used it) and the manual.
As you can see, the pages of my logic book are getting yellow:
And the iAPX 88 book is well worn:
Anyway, I joined the Navy at age 19 as an electronics technician. I spent almost a year at Great Lakes training center learning (or re-learning) electronics from the ground up. I was very good at electronics and I graduated top of my class in A school, so I got first pick of orders. Fortunately, there was a ship in Pearl Harbor that needed a satellite communications technician with automated communication skills. So they sent me to San Diego for C school to learn automated systems and satellite communications. The automated system consisted of a class to repair the UYK-20 mini computer. Or as we nick-named it the Yuck 20. This minicomputer was built specifically to be small enough to fit through a round hatch, so the ship yard didn’t need to cut a hole in the ship’s hull to install these machines. Which was a good thing, because even my ship had over a dozen of these machines on board and this was in the early 80’s. Here’s what a UYK-20 computer looks like from the outside:
It’s a bulky machine but it was bullet-proof and built like a tank. Rarely did I ever repair one of these machines after I was deployed, and I was stationed on the USS Worden for 3 years.
Another minicomputer that was introduced while I was stationed on the Worden was the SNAP-II computer. This minicomputer was used to keep track of inventory on-board the ship and run all the nasty paperwork that was needed in order to procure a repair part. This machine used 8″ floppy drives and 9-track mag tapes. I preferred the mag tapes.
After I received my honorable discharge from the Navy, I decided to go back to college. Technically, I wanted to go to college before I went into the Navy, but circumstances prevented me from being able to afford such a luxury. Fresh out of the Navy and able to get a good paying job, I was able to afford college. During this time I worked at a small phone company that maintained large business systems. I installed and maintained a lot of KSU’s, or Key systems as well as some large switches made by Mitel (Also known as PBX’s). Our company installed a lot of SX-200 and SX-2000 switches. These machines switched circuits by digitizing each channel, then multiplexing them into a serial stream. A special chip in the machine would swap two channels inside the stream in real-time which is what performed the switching.
By the time I was involved in telephone systems, the paradigm had already changed to a board-level replacement only. Rarely did I have to break out a soldering iron.
After I graduated from the University of Michigan, I did some network related work. Primarily thin-net and 10Base-T (which was new). Technically, I was already involved in the installation of distribution systems when I worked for the telephone company, but I became more involved after the PC became powerful enough to be used as a server and Novell was the primary server OS.
I went to work for Pirelli for one year and I learned about the line of Allen Bradley PLC products. This was a fun project. I designed and wired up a system consisting of three PLC’s (industrial computers) and connected them to a AB data highway to a PC in the computer room which was used to receive the raw data from the factory and store it in a database. I also had to learn PLC ladder logic, which is the language that these devices used in order to read relay contacts and transmit data over the data highway. Here’s what an 8-slot PLC looks like:
After I left Pirelli, I went to work for Building Technology Associates where I was tasked with merging two database systems together and fixing all the non-relational issues that were created by years of throwing together software without any knowledge of how to do it right. That was a fun task. At BTA I was also in charge of the hardware. For this company I was able to hire a network administrator to off-load the work that needed to be done. Since we maintained our own computer center, we had three partial racks of servers to maintain. This is where I parted with the hardware world.
I worked for BTA for 16 years and I slowly dis-involved myself with servers and hardware, other than to possibly configure for my next project. Now I work for Dealer-On and we have a clear separation of hardware and software personnel. This gives me the time to fully focus on the company software and leave the hardware to those who only work on the software.
Do I miss working on hardware. A little. I prefer the good-ole-days when I could troubleshoot to the chip level using a schematic diagram. Those days are all but gone. But I could still drag out my tools and resurrect my hobby!