From Metallurgy to IT, Part 4

My first real step into programming was a bit of a false start (sounds familiar ?). I did a distance learning course with CompuTeach, which included two residential week-long course sessions. I just scraped through the exam, one out of two who managed to do so – so maybe this course wasn’t all that good, or else becoming a Sun Certified programmer is hard than I’m giving it credit for.

Anyhow, there I was, with my brand new programming certificate, and when did I try to find a job in IT ? Exactly, just when the dot com bubble had burst. Fortunately I managed to find a job with the PEGS team in Llanwern, where I was told “don’t you come here with your Java, we’re using Visual Basic here”. So I had a steep learning curve in coming to grips with VB5, VBScript and ASP, although there was a use for Java after all, since Java applets were used to display charts on web pages.

After a year I was despatched from the Hot Mill team to the Cold Mill team, in order to preach the gospel of web-based information dissemination to the natives there. Which went down pretty well, since the cost of having Cap Gemini create a new mainframe screen was pretty steep, and one of the fastest routes either. So that became the story of the rest of my working life : to be able to bring information to the masses at a speed that matched the requirements of a production environment, and to do so at no extra cost apart from my salary.

Gradually I spread my wings with requests coming from Port Talbot’s hot mill people. That meant learning how to build web pages in PHP, which isn’t as big a deal as it sounds, since the structure is very similar to ASP, just using a different syntax. In the end I had made enough of a name for myself that I got appointed in Port Talbot blast furnaces, which had been one my aims since I joined Strip Products in Llanwern.

I managed to get along fine with our Process Control department, which set me on the path to start learning how to build web applications in .NET. The transition to object oriented programming caused me a few problems at first (I cringe when I see one of those early attempts), but in the end, once you get used to it, it’s far more powerful and easier to debug than your standard ASP.

I started to get involved in a variety of applications outside the blast furnaces, helping out with complaints handling, Occupational Health records and QA audits. So much so that in the end, when I had made the decision to retire, the six months I had to train up my replacement and familiarise him with the landscape proved only just enough to have everything in place before my final day.

But it’s been a good 15 years in programming : it gives you the feeling that you can be creative and at the same you get the gratitude from those you’ve helped out. There’s not really much more I would want from a job. However, you have to ask yourself : how much difference did it really make to the survival chances of Port Talbot ? Given the enormous market forces at play, maybe I should be realistic and admit that on the geopolitical scene I didn’t make that much of a difference.


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