25 years in the IT industry

Today it is exactly 25 years since I started my first real job in the IT industry. On September 19, 1988 I started working at Microsoft in Sweden as employee #42, right out of 12th grade of school. So how did I end up working at Microsoft at age 19? Well, I had a bit of bad luck, which turned into good luck. Let me explain. 🙂

I started programming in 7th grade. In the late fall of 1982, a computer club was founded in my school. When we came back to school after Christmas break, in January 1983, some older students taught some classes in BASIC in the evenings. Attending those classes were a requisite for getting the magnetic card that gave us access to the computer room (as long as there were no regular classes taking place there). In preparation of the classes starting, I went to the library and picked up a book on programming the ABC 80 computers we had in school. I started learning programming by writing code by hand in a notebook, to understand the concept. I spent the Christmas break learning BASIC, so when the classes started in January, I had a pretty good understanding of the concept of programming. A couple of years later we got another type of computer in school, and I switched to Pascal as the programming language of choice. I spent on average 3 or 4 hours in the computer room each day (during lunch breaks and after school) for the next 5 1/2 years… I even managed to convince the school to let me borrow one of the computers and take it home during one Christmas break, as I was working on a big project.

Hersby skola on Lidingö, where I spent the years 1982-1988 learning programming.
Hersby skola on Lidingö, where I spent the years 1982-1988 learning programming.
My schedule in the last year of High School (1987-88). Computer Science is coded “Da”, and we had it Tuesday and Friday.

After finishing what’s in Sweden is called gymnasium (equivalent of High School in the US), I was not motivated to spend additional 4 years or more going to university. However, I found a one-year specialty course in Systems Programming and Computer Science, where they crammed 2+ years into one year, with 8-hour days five days/week. I applied and was accepted. However,after a couple of weeks, the assistant principal (who was also one of our main teachers) came in and told us that the class had to be cancelled. The class was simply too small, and they had not been able to get any more students to apply. The class was postponed and would start over in January 1989.

In the mean time we were encouraged to find an internship or entry-level job in the IT industry. I picked up the yellow pages section of the phone book and looked up computer companies. Being a person thinking outside the box, I started going through the companies in reverse order. I figured that anyone else in the class would start from the beginning. I started cold-calling some companies, and after a few calls, I got a hit. This company called Microsoft was interested, they needed someone in tech support, to answer calls from customers and solve their problems.

I had not really heard much about Microsoft at this time. We used CP/M-86 as the operating system in school, and I had only seen Windows 1.0 once or twice, and never really used it. I knew about PCs, but I mostly associated them with IBM. I sent the then-manager of the support department, Arne Josefsberg, my grades from school (I did not have a resume yet). Later I found out he actually never even looked at my grades…
I called Arne back the following week to verify that he got the letter, and he asked me to come in for an interview the next day, Friday September 16. I took the subway to the Microsoft office and met with Arne, who performed a short interview and a little test of my problem solving skills. He had me perform some actions in Word for DOS, a for me then totally unknown program, to see how quickly I could solve some problems. A few minutes later I walked out the door with a job waiting for me the following Monday and the user’s manual to Windows 2.03 under my arm with orders to read it over the weekend… So on September 19, 1988 I started working at Microsoft, my first real job in the computer industry, or IT business as it is called these days.

I have to say that I did learn an enormous amount of things at Microsoft. There was no formal training, you were expected to learn things on your own. But my coworkers went out of their way to teach me things. Thanks Anna, Micael, Magnus, Rolf and everyone else that helped me and taught me about the Microsoft products. After working at Microsoft during the fall I went back to school and finished the education, while working at Microsoft during school holidays and the summer, as well as for a few months after graduation.

I then served in the Swedish Air Force for 11 months, as the country still had mandatory military service at this time. I actually intended to go back to Microsoft after the Air Force, but I was offered a job as a programmer right before I left the service, and I started my career as a programmer/developer in early 1991. It was now I started playing with Visual Basic 1.0, released in the summer of 1991. I learned programming using traditional BASIC back in 1982-83, before switching to Pascal some time around 1985, and then to C in 1989. I quickly realized that Visual Basic was a great product. It removed much of the complexity of creating Windows programs, and the developer could focus on the actual functionality and business logic instead of having to write pages of code to handle windows and events.

After the company I worked for went bankrupt in the end of 1992, I got a job at IDG Sweden as a journalist at the weekly publication Computer Sweden. It was during my time  there I learned about (among other things) HTML and Lotus Notes, knowledge I still use to this day. I worked at Computer Sweden for five years, covering the PC marketplace (both hardware and software), before moving to Boston and taking a position as Notes developer with IDG in the US.

After a little over four years in Boston, my then-wife wanted to move closer to her family in Texas, so we moved to Arlington, TX and I got a job with Deep South, a Dallas-based insurance company where I still work 11 years later, as a Notes/Domino developer. I am also taking on some administration tasks, after out previous network admin and operations manager left the company last year.

I count myself very lucky to have a job I love. How many people can say that they been working 25 years with something they like? I also had the luck to work almost exclusively at good companies, and having good managers/bosses. I have for example been able to go to Lotusphere every year since 1997 (as well as a technical conference in 1996 that were a pre-cursor to Lotusphere Europe).

Finally I once more want to thank everyone who over the years helped or supported me, and who made it possible for me to be where I am today.

This Post Has 2 Comments

    1. Karl-Henry Martinsson

      Yes, I did learn a lot, and had a great time at Microsoft AB. There was a pioneer spirit, even if Personal Computers had been around for a decade by then, but it was around this time it started to really grow.
      And MS was a great place to work at, with great co-workers. I still often think back to my time there.

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