Programming Discovered Me

by Phil Harrison, MBA Digital Technologies Manager

The TI-59 was my first programmable tool. I didn't think of it as a computer but my clients sure did when they saw what it could do!

In the Spring of 1977 I was a 28 year old Banker working in the bedroom community of Carstairs, Alberta (Canada). Carstairs was booming due to the high price of land and housing in Calgary 95 Kilometers away. In order to take advantage of the resulting mortgage and personal loan business, I needed help; but Bank's aren't known to increase staff overnight so I was working long hours.

I had never been very good at doing math in my head. I needed tools to work things, and in any case, loans officers still had to use amortization tables -- the whole process of financial analysis coupled with working out payments was slow and cumbersome even with the help of ordinary electronic calculators (which I needed several of to handle pending operations).

One day a Civil Engineer client of mine came in and showed me his new Hewlett-Packard programmable. He said "I suppose you know all about these?" and proceeded to explain how he used it in his work. I told him I had never heard of them. He was disappointed because the HP manual described a Moon Lander game he wanted to play. The game could be programmed by hand but he quickly discovered he did not have the patience to code it, let alone try to figure out where he went wrong when the code did not work. As the only other person he knew of in the community that had some appreciation for such devices (or so he thought) I was his last hope!

But that calculator had it's tentacle in me already and that weekend we got together and I religiously followed the instructions, debugged the program and saved it on the magnetic strip. The program worked and I was hooked!

I couldn't afford the HP calculator but the TI-59 was about half the price and although it didn't feel quite as solid it was actually easier to use. I also purchased the financial and statistics plug-in modules. With my foundational coding experience behind me I began to write programs to solve simple interest and later more complex financial analysis problems. The financial module took care of amortization and I discovered "what-if" analysis, a great trick when I need to play with the numbers to make a package work for the client. With the statistics package I was soon predicting business growth and other estimates which greatly simplified the annual budget process. I expanded and used that system for many years even after purchasing my first PC in 1985. It eventually died around 1989 and was given a hero's burial, deserving of an ally which had served me very well for over 12 years. Show me a PC that can top that!


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