How QBasic Jump Started My Career

When I was an enlisted sailor in the US Navy, I spent an awful lot of time on a deployment hacking away on our ancient laptops to write QBasic programs to automate some of our completely-not-computer-related work. For instance, I wrote a little program to format short text messages in a particular way and write them to a floppy. Then I could hand that floppy to the ship's radioman, and he'd run a program to load the messages and broadcast them over a packet radio to the MARS radio network. A ham operator in the States would call the recipient, read the message to them, transcribe the reply, then radio it back to our ship. I'd pick up a floppy with those replies, bring them back to the medical department where I worked, and print them out.

At that time, the quickest way to contact home was to buy a calling card for the ship's on-board satellite phone, which cost something like $5 per minute to use. The alternative was to write a physical letter. If you were lucky and the person wrote back immediately, that would take about one month to get a response. The MARS radio system was free to use and shortened the round trip to about a day. My little program helped people use it, and I can't exaggerate how happy this made my coworkers and bosses.

One day, a particularly enlightened boss sat me down for a talk. "Why do you lie to yourself that you want to be in medicine?" "Uh, because I want to be a doctor?" "Stop kidding yourself. You want to work with computers. We both know it." Whoa. It was like a lightning strike. Well, of course I could go to school for that thing which had been my obsessive hobby since I was tiny! Why hadn't I thought of that?! And so I got out of the Navy, enrolled in a computer science program, and here I am today rattling on about it.

Thank you, QBasic. You weren't running on my beloved Amiga, but you were in the right place and time to kick off a career that I've loved every step of the way.

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