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The software programming course in 1989 that changed my life for good

Today, I found an old certificate from 1989, and that set up a train of thoughts & recalling of old memories. It was the first computer programming certification given to me thirty-two years ago for completing a course on BASIC, Word-Processing & Database management. Below is a summary of my early years with IBM PC & MS-DOS.

My first contact with a computing device was probably in 1986 when my uncle gifted me an Atari 2600 gaming console. I used to spend every waking hour on the device, playing games and creating quiz presentations (a question popped up on screen and an inbuilt delay before the answer was shown) and recording the output on our VCR – then I shared the VHS tapes with my relatives and irritated them to play the quiz that I had created.

IBM PC AT & MS-DOS 4.0

A few years later, my father’s business had bought an IBM PC AT (a Wipro PC 386 SX with MSDOS 4.0) for accounting & letter-writing. Our family used to live on the same campus so after office hours once the staff went home, I spent countless hours trying out various things unsupervised on the PC and finding my way with the computer. That’s how I learned the basics of PC, DOS and mastered Central Point software’s PCTools utility. My self-learning was aided by Microsoft’s MS-DOS manual that came with the Wipro PC, the popular Peter Norton’s column on PC Magazine (I used to beg/borrow/scavenge for an issue), and his classic “Inside the IBM PC” book. In these years, I had not learned coding other than, a few batch files which I copied from Norton’s articles.

Microsoft MS-DOS User's Guide (Manual) for Operating system Version 4.01
Microsoft MS-DOS User’s Guide (Manual) for Operating system Version 4.01
Inside the IBM PC by Peter Norton
Inside the IBM PC by Peter Norton

The training programme in 1989

Then in 1988, my sister and cousin brother attended a training program on computer programming in a local institute in Chennai’s Pondy Bazaar area. In the summer holidays of 1989, my sister enrolled me in the same course. That’s how I had learned formally on how to write software. The institute was a small office in an apartment complex that happened to own a few PCs. Here I experienced a downgrade in the PC that was given, from a 386-SX to use an IBM XTs, each PC had a Green or an Orange colour CGA monitor.

In the three months, I was taught BASICA (GW-BASIC clone), WordStar & dBASE III. The teacher, a senior citizen, made me write each program line by line in a (paper) notebook before I got any screen time, but that was common in those days. That rote learning benefited me with a solid foundation of programming skills, which comes immensely handy to this day. The teacher, who owned the institute (Systems and Services, Thanikachalam Road, T.Nagar, Madras), tutored each student one-on-one, no classroom training and I liked the format. Before starting a new topic, he will begin by saying “in the very beginning” (in Tamil he will say எடுத்த எடுப்புல). In a casual way, we students gave this phrase (Edutha Edupula) as the teacher’s identity.

To certify that Venkatarangan had completed a training programme in BASIC, Word Processing & Database Management in 1989
To certify that Venkatarangan had completed a training programme in BASIC, Word Processing & Database Management in 1989

Clipper ’87 and Invoicing system

Had I not attended this training, I would’ve wasted a few more years just dabbling with the PC. The training program led me to a structured learning of programming languages. Following this, I studied on my own FoxBase, & then Clipper Summer 87. In the next year, I wrote an entire Invoicing (Billing) system for my father’s business in Clipper ’87. Once I mastered the world of xBase it was time to go deeper – I learned x86 Assembly Language (first with MSDOS’s inbuilt Debug program as I couldn’t get a copy of Microsoft Assembler compiler MASM) from the popular local coding magazine Sysreader which was run by Mr Shivraj, who became my mentor later, and then the C language. Understanding the algorithms and solving problems in C language proved difficult, I had to reread many times K & R’s classic “C Programming Language” nicknamed the white book.

Pascal, Fortran in engineering school

And in 1992, when I joined the college for a bachelor’s in engineering, they taught us Turbo Pascal (I love this elegant and unambiguous language style) and Fortran as part of the curriculum. These two were easy due to my earlier exposures to Clipper & C. In the four years I studied in college, I used the travel time to read in the college bus C++ from Bjarne Stroustrup’s book “The C++ Programming Language” & his columns in Dr Dobb’s magazine and Clipper 5.x from Rick Spence’s “Clipper Programming Guide“.

Clipper Programming Guide 2nd Edition Version 5 by Rick Spence, Co-Developer of Clipper
Clipper Programming Guide 2nd Edition Version 5 by Rick Spence, Co-Developer of Clipper

Novell Netware & Clipper 5.x

This was the time I wrote several applications for my own use and had done a few paid freelancing projects along with a friend. Two of the projects I recall vividly: The first was written a TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident) program written in C and Assembly language which I installed in the Novell Netware network we had in the department’s computer lab to do repetitive tasks; The second was a fleet management system for a local taxi company in CA-Clipper 5.x, this was my first full-fledged object-oriented program, each entity (customer, car, driver) were represented as first-class objects with strong relationships, the visual screens too were represented as classes – I was proud of my design of having a common add/modify/del representation which every data entity could inherit and instantly benefit – you could tag (mark) records across screens and then perform a batch operation!

User Interface preferences: Every element on the screen was configurable, other classes inherited the settings from here
User Interface preferences: Every element on the screen was configurable, other classes inherited the settings from here
Taxi (CAB) service trip sheet booking
Taxi (CAB) service trip sheet booking, written in Clipper 5.x by Venkatarangan Thirumalai around 1995

With this my days with MS-DOS (and DR-DOS) ended. I moved to Windows 3.1, NT & then to Windows 95. Let me write about those on a different day. Good night.

Footnote:

  1. One thing I vividly remember from the Systems and Services institute where I learned BASICA was that they had three huge voltage stabilizers (made by Alacrity Krykard brand) placed in their entrance, common for all the electrical connections in the entire office.
  2. My sincere thanks to Mr J Gowardhana, the owner of Alankar Travel, T.Nagar, Chennai who trusted a college kid and gave me the paid engagement to develop the trip management software.

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