Programming, Autonomy and Leadership

Although I have been writing code since I was at least 10 years old, on a Vic 20, my first professional full time job was in 1999. It became full-time after working at this place in the summer, and my job title was "Database Administrator"

The database was MSAccess 97. It was a pretty important database, initially created with the MSAccess wizard, its purpose was to manage inventory and purchase orders.

The summer job instructions basically consisted of "Here is our Inventory database, please see what you can do to make it work better"

It was a small company of maybe 4 or 5 people, there was quite a bit of autonomy and freedom and I found myself with the amazing opportunity to express myself through my code.

There were no design specifications, or instruction manuals for the software, there were some ideas of what worked well in the application and what did not, but basically I was on my own to figure out what I could do to make it better.

My degree in computer science had prepared me for the 'rules' of software engineering and design, set expectations for an an ordered industry of rules to follow. During my time in university, there were a few opportunities to see actual programmers in their day jobs working at cubical reading specifications and writing code. The prospect of which frankly disturbed me. Is that all programming is? writing code for others?. Where was the expression, the art?

So I was pretty excited about the opportunity to express myself without hard and fast walls. Where I had autonomy, and as my autonomy grew, so did my confidence, perhaps even at times being "over confident"..maybe to the point of being boastful.  Looking back now, I think this happens to a lot of folks as the enter the workforce, full of energy and excitement,  building up almost a 'god complex' of what they can do...or maybe it was just me?

I am very grateful for that first job, shortly after starting full time they suggested I look into 'quality management'. I shrugged, "umm, but I'm a programmer!", but I decided I may as well try it. They saw something in me, that I didn't yet see in myself.

Turned out I loved it. It was a very exiting challenge learning about policies, processes, and procedures. In fact, a lot of it matched with skills I already knew, I remember thinking how policies were like C-Language header (.h) files and the procedures were the code itself (.c) files.

It didn't come without challenges though, armed with my new knowledge, I found that people just don't 'follow' procedures the way a computer follows its instructions. I needed the experience of how to work with people. Consistency in the real world is much harder than in my little world of code.

I got into management business novels pretty heavy. The place where I worked had lots including 'The Goal" my first business novel, I would later move on to read "Zapp!", and "Hero Story". It awoke a whole new world of ideas inside of me, that continues with me to this very day.  I would continue to use my programming knowledge to create systems within systems to help maintain and automate clockwork type processes, while at the same time trying to manage those that did not 'fit' so well into my automated world.

From Programmer to Quality & Systems manager, my journey had just begun..now where would it take me?


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