Critical Thinking (Part 1): The Day I Discover Numbers & Patterns

I’ve been thinking about my Dad a lot lately. He’s been starring regularly in my dreams, after years of frequenting the outermost galaxies of my consciousness. Not because I wasn’t close to him, but because he had always been there. By there, I mean, he was always in the background if (and when) I needed him, never in the foreground. Pop was very private, humble and self-deprecating, so he never wanted to be in the limelight. He was a working-class man in the mess that is the English class system. He was solid, reliable, dependable and accountable. He took his responsibilities seriously and never shirked. When he married my Mum, in the late ’50s, he took on a very young (ready-made) family and worked his fingers to the bone to give us the best start in life he possibly could. He nursed my Mum through years of mental torment and torture after the loss of our baby sister. He was our rock. Earlier this year this exceptional man left this world and was re-united with our Mum and our Sister.

My Dad, is a major influence on what I do and how I think today. We grew up listening to “Pop’s Philosophy on Life” – you know the sort of thing. He would come out with little gems like “If you’re thinking of dating a girl, look at her Mum first. If her Mum’s short and dumpy, chances are her daughter will turn out that way too, no matter how she may look today“. Pop wasn’t brought up in the politically correct ’90s!!

Pop loved sci-fi and got me hooked in my mid teens when I asked him what books he read while commuting into London. He would give us daily summaries of futuristic adventures penned by Arthur C Clarke and Isaac Asimov. I didn’t read a book (other than those we were studying at school – and even those I skimmed rather than read) until I was about 16 and the first one was I, Robot by Asimov. Once I hit my twenties reading sci-fi was restricted to Douglas Adams, as I gravitated to the movies to get my fix. And then came the movie 2001, A Space Odyssey.

When it came to forging my career, IT was effectively sci-fi to the ordinary man in the street (in the early 70’s) and no-one in our circle of family and friends could even spell IT, let alone understand bits, bytes, background and foreground processing etc. But, an opportunity arose at the Stockbroking company where I got my first job and (based upon feelings of security and self-belief) I jumped in – hook, line and sinker. It was one of my first grown-up decisions and one that shaped the rest of my life, not just my career. I am what I am today because of that single decision back in 1971. That didn’t mean that once I decided what I wanted to do I was set for life, it just meant that I had a focus (and a plan) and it was one that suited my way of thinking.

Before I went to High School I don’t remember thinking much at all. Once I got to High School my thinking revolved mainly around sports and representing my school at soccer, cricket, athletics, volleyball etc. However, somewhere in the midst of an offside-trap, I discovered that Numbers and Navigation were easy, while French and Spanish were bloody hard…. I also discovered that when we had quizzes and anything remotely resembling a competitive situation I became animated and driven to achieve something no-one else could. High School was a great time for me and one I still cherish enormously, even with the added complexity factor of Mum being sick for long periods and Pop working most weekends to make ends meet. Life was as simple as run/kick/dive/score and responsibility was for grown-ups.

As High School was coming to a close how many “O-Levels” I needed to pass to get a decent job (that would enable me to become a millionaire by the time I was 30) was beginning to consume my thinking. It was at this point that Stockbroking appeared on the scene via a chat with a cousins’ husband. Stockbroking seemed to fit the bill, as he was well on his way to becoming a millionaire himself with huge bonuses being paid during the 70’s Stock Market boom. (Incidentally, I didn’t become a millionaire before I was 30, but that’s for another Blog post).

So, I’m 12 months into a Management Trainee Program when I become aware that the company is looking for a Trainee Computer Operator and all I have to do is take a 2-hour IT Aptitude Test and undergo a short interview. As it happens, I absolutely ace the Test (98%) and two weeks after my 18th birthday my IT career is off and running…. Geekdom has entered my universe and I’m feeling like all my Christmases have come at once. I get to work on an IBM 360 series mainframe and learn how to operate, diagnose and fix problems that occur when the software being squeezed into a 128kb (yes, kb not gb) doesn’t compile or execute cleanly. We were not quite at the cutting edge, but we were playing with some pretty serious technology, with the responsibility of ensuring that London’s leading stockbroking firm stayed operational 24 hours a day, 5 days a week. This was my first encounter with patterns and technology-induced problem solving. This is the first time that I come across input/process/output and if/then/else concepts and it scared me as much as it invigorated me!! This was the start of the rest of my life…

Dateline: Wednesday August 21, 2013; Melbourne, Oz

Next time I’ll talk about my transition into coding and technical analysis and how my approach to thinking and problem solving is elevated to a completely new level.

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3 thoughts on “Critical Thinking (Part 1): The Day I Discover Numbers & Patterns

  1. Pingback: Five Blogs – 22 August 2013 | 5blogs

  2. That’s interesting Colin, my first IT job was working on an IBM 360 as well. I recall challenges around dropping punch card decks, opening disk drive drawers (forgetting to power down first) & having competitions between operating shifts to see who could crash the beast & get the most little red lights flashing (the combination of which would point you in the direction of the problem). Needless to say on that last count, my shift always won; perhaps a foreboding of my future testing days that started some 17yrs later!

    • Hey Geoff, the “games” with the disk drives and their associated disks were endless. Launching disks across an entire open plan office a la Frisbee was my fave though 🙂 Sweet memories…

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