Older Does Not Mean Unproductive
You can program forever
Issue: 12.6 (November/December 2014)
Author: Markus Winter
Author Bio: Markus is a Molecular Biologist who taught himself REALbasic programming in 2003 to let the computer deal with some exceedingly tedious lab tasks. Some call it lazy, he thinks it smart. He still thinks of himself as an advanced beginner at best.
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Article Length (in bytes): 11,969
Starting Page Number: 71
Article Number: 12608
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Excerpt of article text...
When you are young, healthy, and full of energy, then it is easy to live in the moment and forget about what life might be like in 20 or 30 years time. And by all means, enjoy the moment. But have a look at those in your profession who are 20 or 30 years older than you are. Are any actually there? Do you see any people in your company who are in their 50´s or 60´s? How many chieftains for each foot soldier? What happened to all those who started at the bottom and are no longer there at the top?
Maybe their skill set is no longer in demand, or their health might be failing, or they might simply be considered too old or too expensive. Life isn't always easy, and certainly not fair, but programming can be a great leveller. A computer and a programming environment is all you need to be productive, and expertise can be a big advantage in creating apps that others would find useful. Xojo makes this easier to achieve than other programming environments, and so it is probably no coincidence that many Xojo users are in their 50´s, 60´s, or even 70´s and 80´s. Today one of them tells his story.
Dr. Scott Steinman, age 58, Bradenton, FL, USA, On Disability
When I was attending a science high school in the 1970s, there was only one computer course offered, and it was in the math department. I was extremely math-phobic so I did not consider taking it. Even in college, computers were mostly a math tool. As much as I loved technology, taking courses in electronic music and working with a room-sized synthesizer array, computers scared the hell out of me due to their association with math.
Fast-forward to the early 1980s. I had just completed my post-graduate degree in optometry and was teaching an ocular disease course that included electro-diagnostic testing, an area that I fell in love with in optometry school. It involved recording electrical signals from the eye or brain that were affected by several diseases. Yet I felt like I was missing an important piece of the puzzle. I knew how to use the tests but not know how or why they worked, so it was back to school for me to learn about the physiology of the visual system. Yes, I was a glutton for punishment—eventually attending school for a total of nine years after college, plus three years of post-doctoral research training.
As I was working on my Ph.D. in vision science, I needed to create custom visual stimulus displays for my research projects. There were no off-the-shelf apps or libraries available for doing this at that time, so I was forced to learn how to do it myself, and that meant (gulp!) computers. Consequently, I saved my meager graduate stipend and bought a Commodore VIC-20 computer with a cassette tape drive for storage. I taught myself BASIC and 6502 assembly language for the timing-critical code. Once I realized that I did not need to be a math genius to make computers do all sorts of fun stuff, I quickly fell in love with programming. Over the next several years, I programmed a variety of machines for my research (DEC PDP-11 laboratory minicomputers, Commodore-64, Amiga, PCs, and Mac) in several languages (such as FORTRAN, C/C++, Java, LabVIEW, and a purely visual language called Prograph CPX that I wrote a textbook about). I built some fairly complex software systems, such as an app for mapping electrical signals across the head recorded from multiple electrodes, and the software to run an infant vision testing clinic in a hospital. Each programming language served its purpose but, for the most part, the programming became more complex, more tedious and less spontaneous.
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