When I was a teenager, my father leased a minicomputer from a three-letter company for his insurance business. This computer was about the size of a small refrigerator and had a half-dozen or so serial terminals plugged into it. It was mostly used for data retrieval, and weekly updates were available on 8″ floppy disks that arrived in the mail on Saturday mornings. Loading these weekly updates was one of my chores. Cleaning the office was another.
Thus, my Saturday routine started with biking to the post office before closing to pick up the box of disks. At noon my father’s office shut down for the weekend, the employees went home, and I could start my work. Naturally, the crucial first step was to put one of my 8-track tapes (Styx, Rush, Ted Nugent, AC/DC…) in the office sound system and crank up the volume. Then log in to a serial terminal to start the update process and mount the first floppy, hit return. While the disk was loading, I could start a cleaning activity: dust furniture, vacuum the floor, scrub the sinks, etc. After a while the first disk would be done loading, I’d remove it and mount the next, then clean the toilets, collect trash, and so on for a good part of Saturday afternoon.
I didn’t mind the cleaning tasks, or spending part of each Saturday afternoon working, because I got to do something, no matter how trivial, with some type of computer. I was fascinated by the things. However, personal computers were very expensive at that time. Nobody I knew had a personal computer. My school didn’t have a single computer, let alone a computer lab. Thus, a weekly chance to peck around on some keys, poke at menus, type commands and get error messages, etc. was quite a treat. I couldn’t imagine that anything would ever take that away from me.
One day, I stopped by the office after school, and my father told me that the field engineer from three-letter company had been there to install a new device. It plugged into the phone line and enabled transmission of the updates, and they could be done automatically every night. My father was thrilled and quite impressed. No more data that’s a week out-of-date. No more floppy disks to retrieve from the post office. I looked behind the computer, and sure enough there was a telephone line that hadn’t been there before, as well as some new flashing lights.
With that, the modem had taken away my weekly computer fun. I turned to my father and said “Well, I guess you don’t need me to come in here on Saturdays any more.”
To which my father replied “Oh no, you still have to come in here on Saturdays and clean the restrooms, sweep the rugs, wash the windows…”
So, with this I learned an early and valuable lesson about my chosen field – if you want to work in technology you have to keep up, or else you’ll only be qualified to clean the toilets.