Rob Ritter

aus dem Ritterhaus

My Milestones

I met my first personal computer. Shortly after my school got a TRS-80, some of us were invited to attend a coding camp hosted by the US Army at Fort Leavenworth. That experience, along with the encouragement of my teachers, piqued my interest in programming.

I sold my first commercial computer program. I had been writing more than just games. In addition to music players and editors, I also wrote a couple of databases. One of these was a customer database that I wrote for the TI-99 for a local home improvement company.

I bought my first IBM PC. This marked the beginning of my time programming fully 16-bit computers. I wrote several DOS utilities, TSRs, and device drivers, as well as games. I added Microsoft Assembler, C and Microsoft QuickBASIC to my programming tools.

I wrote (and ran) a BBS. I took a job with a municipality that wanted an electronic bulletin board so that citizens could contact the mayor, police chief, and aldermen. We offered email for each of those individuals, as well as connections to state and federal BBSs through FidoNet.

I also wrote software for the water department that calculated everything they needed to know for water treatment. The first public release of the program, Meter Master, went to the local chapter of the American Water Works Association.

I began training IT professionals to support DOS and Windows. From running a BBS, I began to move more into the hardware, networking, and support side of the industry. I began a 28-year career of training the people who keep systems and networks running. Though my focus changed toward administrative scripting, I never stopped coding. In those early days, I was writing some very sophisticated (and hundreds-of-lines long) DOS batch files. I also began learning HTML and building for the nascent World Wide Web.

I began learning C++ and Java. I had become enamored of the Solaris OS, and acquired a Sun SparcStation as my daily driver at work. Java had begun to make inroads as the programming language of the Web, and it was on track to be an even bigger deal when Apple released its new Unix-based OS, so it became my primary language at that time.

I wrote my first web app. I had been asked to create a website that would allow people to register for a church function. I used CGI and Python to provide the middle tier and back end logic, and created a custom, flat-file database to store the entries. I used CSS to style the site and to create well-formatted printouts that could be used at the event to verify the people who had preregistered.

PowerShell 1.0 released. Python had been my primary scripting language for getting administrative things done. It ran on Windows, macOS, and all flavors of UNIX/Linux. PowerShell was a game changer, in that it gives scripts direct, real-time access to .NET. My script coding transitioned increasingly to PowerShell, particularly with the open source, cross-platform releases. It has become an essential part of my teaching in Exchange, Microsoft 365, and Azure administration classes.

Time for a reboot. I continued coding over the years, despite it not being my primary job. I wrote novelties and utilities in Ruby, Python, and PowerShell. I created software for UNIX, Windows, and Palm OS. I contributed to open-source projects for mainstream and niche operating systems. I write things for me, my family members, or friends when the need arises. But now I want to go back to my roots, to code again like I did in the eighties, when I worked with a team of like-minded high schoolers turning out platformers and text adventures for the Apple II. Or writing hacking tools for my friends and their Commodore 64s. I just get a kick out of programming.

There and Back Again

Like many kids of the eighties, I got my start with personal computers programming the early eight-bit micros. It's what you had to do; most computers didn't come with a large selection of ready-made software. If you wanted to really use your computer, you had to learn to program your computer.

That wasn't a hardship. Many of us found that we had an aptitude for programming and enjoyed solving the puzzles new projects presented. We wanted to learn and showcase new skills, making games, music, and business software, and having fun in the process.

Of course, we can never tell how things will turn out. One path leads to another, and we often find our way back with great difficulty, or not at all. In the words of Robert Frost:

Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

However, after twenty-eight years training IT professionals, I've decided to dust off the old skills, learn some new ones, and get back to the road not taken. It's been a while, and things have changed a bit in the four decades since I got my first computer. But I feel almost like I'm returning to an old homestead and familiar friends. Let's see what the next few decades will bring.