Setting Out The Pathways

which path?

Over the years, I've enthusiastically pursued my opportunities mostly without needing the encouragement of others, but there have also been times when wiser men have guided me to opportunities I didn't see. From time to time, then, I admit I have been given the necessary 'kick up the pants' by mentors far cleverer than me, who perhaps saw greater potential in me than I saw in myself.

What? Yes, it's true; sometimes, you just need to 'follow' your leader and remember that, most of the time, they know more about it than you and you must trust their greater experience.

And so it has turned out; all for the better, I think. Since leaving school at the age of sixteen and finding myself a first job as a lowly Maintenance Clerk in a famous engineering company, I have been on a continual 'sprint' through life. Leaving school without substantial qualifications, I had to work hard for the next fifteen years to eventually overtake my contemporaries, finally achieving over twenty qualifications covering many engineering, construction, applied physics and computing disciplines. I qualified as a Design Engineer at the age of twenty three and went on to a twenty year career in the architectural and engineering fields, during which time I learned how to build my first computer and how to program it in languages which are now long dead.

a crossroads - 'new' technologies

Like many Engineering graduates studying in the early seventies, I had the opportunity to use the university's mainframe computers for advanced calculations. It opened up an entirely new world for me. The experience triggered my desire to learn more about a technology which I knew, instinctively, would totally revolutionise the way we all worked, particularly in the engineering fields. It drove me to immerse myself in all aspects of computing - beginning with building my own machines, from scratch, in order to understand how the technology worked.

It seems strange now to talk about building a computer based on a single board design with an external power supply, cassette interface and a flakey monitor interface. This, in the seventies, was before 8" floppy disks were available - even if I could have afforded one! My first machine was based on an OSI design which, once built, housed 4K of Random Access Memory. It was the smallest amount you could get away with, and it stored the entire but extremely basic operating system, an assembler, disassembler and later, a crude version of a Dartmouth BASIC Interpreter.

I remember it cost me £700 to buy an upgrade board and 24K of additional memory chips for it; that's well over £5,000 in today's money! Think of that when you buy your next laptop with 32Gb of RAM and 1Tb of hard disk, or the achievements of Apple in relation to the iPod, the iPhone and the recent iPad - 128Gb of memory in a multimedia device embedded in hardly more than a sheet of glass!

The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
— Winston Churchill

Fortunately for me, I was given the opportunity to combine this new knowledge with my engineering training and so became part of the early vanguard of computer 'experts'. On seeing my work on interstitial condensation predictions in multi-layer wall constructions and on advanced heat transfer and vapour pressure gradient analysis using software I had developed in my spare time, my employer invited me to computerise the production and management of our engineering design work and assist in solving our project management challenges.

This 'success' created an entirely new career path for me; one that has presented many obstacles. More importantly, one that brought me greater opportunities and a chance to contribute major innovations in various fields. Indeed, the chances of a lifetime. My heartfelt thanks to those monitors who took it upon themselves to push me forward when I needed it, whether it was in my  work or private life. My debt can never be repaid.

The point is; you never know when opportunity will present itself. So, seize it, whenever it materialises. You never know where it will lead. Unless you try!