Choosing my favourite piece of software would be a tricky task. TopStyle would definitely be in the top five though, if not number one. That's why I anticipate the release of anything Nick Bradbury decides to do. His latest project is a Newsreader called FeedDemon. Something Windows is lacking is a decent news reader and you can bet this fills the gap. I've been lucky enough to get my hands on an Alpha release and I love it. This is the incentive I need to get the RSS feed added back to codestore. Thankfully Mr Golding has saved me a lot of work.
Nick uses Delphi to create both applications. Hence I decided to download an eval copy of Delphi 7 last week when I was having a whimsical half hour thinking I would make a start on my very own web designer's toolbox. This wouldn't as been as hard as you might think as my computing background has its beginnings in Delphi v1.0 and hence Pascal, way back in 1996. Needless to say I've all but given up on my venture. It did revive some memories though that I will share with you now if you'll let me. So, if you want the full "How I got in to Lotus Notes" story, read on. I warn you now, it's going to be a long one!
It's 1996 and I am in my second year of university at UMIST in Manchester. I use my Student Loan to buy myself a PC. It had 16MB of RAM. I remember the guy on the phone double checking that I really needed this much. The reason I needed this much RAM was that I had developed an interest in CAD and needed to be able to run the copy of AutoCAD 12 I had got my hands on.
During the second year of the Mechanical Engineering degree you have to choose a project that you will spend most of your third and final year working on. Knowing that I wanted to do something computer-based I started applying for all those that involved CAD in some way. They were all taken and had waiting lists. The next best thing I could find was a project working on an existing program written in Turbo Pascal. Strangely I was the only applicant. Little did they know I had failed my first year course in programming Pascal with particular style. Come to think of it, I failed almost everything in my first year and had to resit the whole year. If only there were exams in partying I would have flown through.
Not having much choice, they accepted me to take on the project. At the same time, the father of my girlfriend at the time kindly gave me a copy of Delphi 1. This is when I realised I could take the existing Pascal command-line based application and really impress them with a new Windows GUI interface. Looking back I think it worked and may well be the only reason I got a second class degree rather than a third. The following year saw me develop a love of programming and endless nights were spent learning and "perfecting" the application I was working on. It's been a while since I looked at the end result as the only copy I know of is in my dad's possession. So this weekend, while I was at home, I took a copy with me. If you want to take a look feel free, just promise not to laugh. Don't worry if it makes no sense at all. Not sure what it's all about myself anymore. All you need to know is that it works out the amount of heat exchange in things like, errm, heat exchangers.
Anyway. The fact that I had done all this without any help whatsoever had me believing I had what it took to be a computer programmer. If I could do that with no training, what could I do with the right help!? My ambitions were soon quashed as I left university and started to apply for jobs. Nobody was interested in anything less than a completely IT-based degree. I felt like all the work I had done counted for nothing. I do remember one interview with a Lotus Premier Business Partner. Ironic looking back as I'd never heard of Lotus Notes at the time. It all went well until they asked me to describe a book in terms of OOP that a child could understand. Obviously they wanted me to mention methods like turnPage() and properties like PageCount or whatever. However, at the time I had no idea what they were talking about. What I needed was some serious tutoring. They obviously didn't recognise that and showed me the door.
Getting close to losing all hope I found a company based in Hastings called Mountfield Software (now FDM Group). They took anybody with a degree and the will to learn, trained them for six months and sent them out to various companies as "consultants". It wasn't perfect but it was better than no job at all and the rates they promised were pretty good. After five months of the course and a grounding in VB and SQL they "ask" what skill you would like to specialise in. My choices were PowerBuilder or Lotus Notes. No need to say which one I chose. The only reason being that I had heard we were more likely to get jobs in Notes than PowerBuilder. How right they were! I remember at the time thinking how awful Notes was though. After a few days creating forms and views and playing with @Functions, I felt a little dissapointed. This wasn't programming! Then they showed us LotusScript and I was a little happier. No sooner was I writing agents and playing with Domino (Notes 4.6 had just been released) than they had me out of the door and on my way to Ipswich. Easier said than done when you have no idea where it is.
After a few months in the role I soon found out the amazing difference between what they paid me and what companies paid them. I left and have pretty much been a freelance contractor ever since. The rest, as they say, is history...