Some People Are Just Not Cut Out To Do Some Jobs

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As much as I hate to say it, there are people in this world who would be a lot better off in almost any job except the one they have. I’ve run into a few of those in my time, and something tells me I’m not the only one.

I’ve often wondered about that, haven’t you? Just about everybody is good at something, so why do some people stay in a job that is so-o-o-o wrong for them?

Why not go do something you’re good at?

Could it be that some people don’t know how bad they are at what they’re doing? Is that possible? Even when it’s as obvious as a dead rat floating in the gravy boat?

I mean, if you’re a brain surgeon, your hand shakes, you cut your own finger during your junior high frog dissection, and you tend to forget what it was you started out to do, I would think that sooner or later you’d realize you picked the wrong career.

But not some folks I guess. Not one I knew anyway.

I’m going to tell you about someone who had a job teaching computer programming, but who didn’t have a technical bone in his body. Not one! He was just about the least technical person I’ve ever met.

Every once in a while he would say or do something that absolutely floored me. Like this time ...

One day I went wandering into the classroom where a friend taught programming. He was hard at work trying to fix a classroom network that wasn’t working. He’d been at it for a day or two that I knew of. Maybe more, I usually tried to stay out of there.

“How’s it going?” I asked.

“Making some progress,” he told me.

This was years ago. The classroom was divided up into four networks of six computers, but all the “networks” did was allow the six machines in each bank to either print or save — one at a time. All six used the same printer and the same floppy drive. If someone tried printing or saving out of turn, the whole system locked up until the guilty party was shut off.

And yes, computers have come a long way.

“Got two banks that’ll print or save,” my man told me.

“Just two?” I asked. Two out of six wasn’t a big number.

“Better than none.”

I couldn’t argue with that.

He was leaning over and working on a connector. I looked down at it, did a double-take, looked again, and tried to figure out how to ask the question I was trying to choke down.

“Uh ... Steve ... uh, what are you ... uh, doing?” I finally asked.

“Fastening the wires into this connector.”

I didn’t ask the next question. I just didn’t have the heart.

I swear on my mother’s grave, he was hooking up the wires to the pins in a 25-pin connector with a hot glue gun.

Why didn’t I ask the question, Johnny?

Like, “Yipes! What the hell are you doing?”

OK, let me ask you a question: If you saw a guy walking back and forth across a mine field, stamping his foot as he kept his hands over his ears, do you really think you could teach him how to safely clear a minefield?

Hey! In some cases you aren’t just starting from ground zero, you’re starting from the bottom of a 100-foot pit. So why bother?

You see, I’d already had some experience with Steve, so I knew I would just be wasting my time. Listen to this ...

The machines we had were very old ones, not old for their day, but very old compared to anything you’ve probably seen.

In that day there was no such thing as software. If you wanted a machine to do something, you sat down at it and wrote a program. Then you tried out the program, worked on it until it did what you wanted, saved it to a big old 5-inch diameter floppy disk, and used it.

And don’t laugh. Back in those days we used to do things like operate an entire dam system with a machine like that. It sure beat 16 guys flipping switches and turning dials while they looked out the window at the dam.

The biggest problem with those machines was that they had very little RAM memory. In fact, the machine I am talking about had exactly 32k.

That’s right, thirty-two thousand bytes of memory — to run the computer, hold in storage the program you had written, put a display on the screen, and run something.

That meant that anything that you could do to save a byte or two here and there while writing a program was a big deal. In fact a very big deal.

These days with megabytes and gigabytes, a byte here and a byte there means nothing. But back then?

Hey! We would have killed for the memory you use up saving a filename in Word.

And graphics? Forget it! Nothing.

Well, maybe not quite nothing. To create “graphics,” each key on the keyboard had two symbols on it. One was the letter it stood for, capital letters only, no small letters — and obviously only one font.

The other symbol was a little shape of some kind you got by holding the shift key down — like a vertical or horizontal line, or a little L-shaped thing, or some other odd little shape.

To make a graphic you fiddled around, putting together the shapes on the screen one character at a time and putting them side by side so that they looked like something.

And don’t laugh, we used to make some fairly decent graphics.

For example, I once made a man who walked up the stairs to a gallows in a Hangman game.

And got hanged too — if you lost the game.

Anyway, you can imagine that with only 32 thousand bytes to work with and a screen that could only display 25 lines, it was very important to save a byte here and there whenever you could.

So why didn’t I ask that question about the glue gun?

About a week before I saw my man hot-gluing wires together I showed him a program I had written. It included a way of saving four bytes every time you entered a large number.

And please remember as you read this that Steve taught programming on the same machine I had written the program for.

“Hey!” he said as he read the program. “This program saves a lot of memory. Where’d you learn how to do that?”

“It’s in the manual for the machine. On page 221.”

“Oh, I never read manuals.”

Now think about that. He was teaching the machine, but he never read the manual for it, which is where you learn to program a machine.

Now do you see why I didn’t bother to ask that question about the hot glue gun?

Would you?

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