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My First Paid Programming Project, 1984

Monday, February 28, 2005 at 07:26AM
Posted by Registered CommenterPolitical Mammal in Company history, My personal history

I continue to go through old papers and was amused to find another item that represents a very modest milestone in my path to small software company owner. I have next to me a handwritten contract from 1/13/84, which I think was the first time I was paid for a computer-programming project. I was eighteen. I had taught programming before, in private lessons at my house and even two summers at a computer camp, if you can believe it, but this was a bit different.

The project centered on the Valentine’s Day Dance of February, 1984. The student council at Boulder High School had an idea for enlivening the evening by employing a computerized system for matching seniors with a list of their ten most compatible members of the opposite sex, based on a questionnaire. Actually, I think the idea may have come for a commercial vendor who had solicited the student council with it, but as it was too expensive they took it to Bill Hilty and me for execution.

The contract in question guaranteed us the princely sum of at least three hundred dollars, plus the cost of the paper to print the lists on, and seventy-five cents for each list we produced over the first 400. I don’t remember the negotiation on this contract at all, nor was it properly lawyered, though it is clearly signed by Ray Kahn, Student Body President, as well as “Munch,” Kirsten Mundschau, St. Body V.P.

The project was surprisingly successful. We got many hundreds of survey responses to what was at least 25 multiple choice questions like “On a first date, would you rather, A) park in the dark, B) go to the library, C) go to a movie, or D) I can’t imagine going on a date.” We compiled all the information into a file on my Apple II Plus, came up with a system for weighting the responses, compiling scores, and sorting the best matches for each person. It was a fine precursor to eHarmony.

The program took a long time to run, and even longer to print on my Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer. I actually slept next to the printer because it went all night, and I was concerned that it would jam. And if you remember those printers, they were not quiet. Bill and I had designed what we thought was pretty nice looking output, three top-ten lists per page, and some character-based graphics like rows of asterisks. I remember being quite curious to see who would end up on my ten most compatible list, and pretty surprised when the computer came up with a list composed mostly of my closest female friends.

My final fun (I can’t remember if Bill participated) came in “tweaking” a few lists and reprinting them with “improvements.” I did this when, for example, the object of a friend’s crush had not made their original computer-generated version.

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Reader Comments (2)

I remember this. It was much fun.
February 28, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAlthea
I hope your data fudging days are over, Nathaniel...
March 3, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

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