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Arik
Arik

Posted on • Updated on • Originally published at creactiviti.com

That time when programming saved my life

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The year was 2000 and I had been a soldier in the Israeli Defense Force beginning my second year of my mandatory 3 year serving term.

My post in the army was nothing glamorous. By strange chance of events I found myself in charge of a small seamstress office, in a small army unit that had nothing to do with computers (I think it had about 5 computers between all its offices). Needless to say, my life was not fulfilling and I was actually quite miserable.

Prior to joining the army, at high-school, I discovered my passion to programming and even did pretty well at that. Unfortunately the Deputy Commanding Officer (who hated my guts) at the unit I was serving, wanted to hear none of that when I asked for a re-appointment as a computerization officer.

Additionally, my less than rudimentary high-school computer science training gave me no real-world skills when it comes to building any usable software.

One day I came across an army manual which was explaining how to use Microsoft Access to build applications. The manual was quite small and was only covering the basics but it made me realize that the army has approved Microsoft Access as a technology for building applications.

Since I didn't know the first thing about Access, the next time I got an off day from the army I went to the nearest book store next to my home and bought the biggest book on the subject that I can get my hands on. I think it was this one (in Hebrew):

MS Access Book

Now I just needed a project.

So I walked around the various offices in the unit, sniffing around for a project. After a little bit of searching, I found out that the "Hamal" (a mix of receptionist and phone operator) had stacks of hand drawn phone books and other scraps of paper all over the place with phone numbers on it. So I decided to build a phone book database. Seems easy enough.

I started reading the book and got into it just enough to build the first few screens. Once I got stuck I opened the book again and resumed reading until I got my answer. Then I got back and continued writing some more code, fixed a couple more screens and hitting yet another wall. Opened the book again, continue enough to get my answer and then get back to the code. Rinse, repeat.

Bear in mind, the internet was not as ubiquitous, Stack Overflow didn't even exist for the next 8 years and Google was not really a thing yet. So my only option was to continue on with my book.

After building a significant portion of the application I decided to give it a go with that phone operator guy. He seemed interested but somewhat skeptical. But was willing to give it a go.

The next day, when I came to visit him, he had already entered most of his phone books and scraps of paper into the application and had a big smile on his face. This made his life so much easier -- he said -- and gave me my first list of feature requests.

Feeling like I'm onto something, I decided to take a leap of faith and give that Deputy Commanding Officer a demo. Heck, I got nothing to lose. It's not like I can get fired.

So I walked into his office and asked if I can show him something. Reluctantly, he agreed. I started up the application and I could tell that I got his attention. I continued to explain the problem with the hand written phone books, how phone numbers get lost to wear and tear, how hard it is for the operator to share the data with other offices in the unit and the positive feedback I got from the operator.

He was sold and within days I was re-appointed as a computerization officer which led to many more interesting projects (one of which was featured in the army's magazine) and ultimately what started me on my career path.

Top comments (31)

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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integerman profile image
Matt Eland

I kinda expected the old unit to get wiped out or something.

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azserrata profile image
David Fernandes

Of course you were. The "programming" part of the title was not what got you into. :)

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

Hey David, I'm sorry, I'm not sure I understand what you mean.

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azserrata profile image
David Fernandes

It was a reply to Matt's. See the thread indentation. ;)

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

Damn. That was silly of me lol

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azserrata profile image
David Fernandes

Anyhow, what I meant to say was that a "click-bait" only deceives the ones who (actively) expect the "promise" the bait "gives": in this case, a supposedly dramatic outcome. Moreover they don't seem very aware about the diference between conotative and denotative meaning. Tabloids live by these people. :)

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

Very well said. That last sentence pretty much sums it all up, aha

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

Okay well unfortunately for you that didn't happen. I was asking Shy Shalom anyway.

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

Out of curiosity, what was you expecting? Without knowing the thoughts Arik was having or the feelings he felt, I think it's unfair to assume that it didn't actually save his life. Unless you expected a javaScript bullet proof vest or something else that would physically save a life?

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Shy Shalom

I expected to read about how programming saved his life. Considering the title states that programming saved his life, I don't think that's such an exaggerated expectation. I was not expecting the article to end without any mention what so ever of the life saving promised in the title.

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

Okay that's fair enough if you need it to be literally typed out to receive that message. I read the whole thing too and my assumption was that he felt his life had been saved when something happened that allowed him to take a completely different life path. As an example, My life was saved when my son was born, although strangely enough I wasn't in life threatening danger either.

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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Adam

Everyone saying this is just clickbait is an absolute shining example of how people act like dickheads on the internet. I'm so glad you found programming when you did, Arik. I'm glad you felt it saved your life and I'm very glad you shared the story. Genuinely makes me angry and a little upset to see how many people wanted a horror story of you nearly dying or something equally terrible like "the old unit getting wiped out" as one user so graciously put it. Fucking disgusting.

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Ben Halpern

Thanks for enforcing community values Adam. Mods have taken appropriate action.

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Adam

I was actually worried I might get flagged for 'vulgar language' lol - I really love this place and it's been such a nice way to get all the code info I want without the harsh replies on Stackoverflow or the constant distractions on Twitter. After reading the article and relating somewhat I was really worried to see that it was Arik's first and (after a load of mean comments) potentially last post! I actually mentioned to my girlfriend I could probably have just told you and you would have sorted it but I try to avoid being a snowflake when I can aha. Thanks a lot Ben (and the mods!!) Really appreciate what your doing with this site.

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Thanks for the kind words, we're really trying!

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Brian Ruff

Where was the life saving?

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HowToCodejs

This is a great story. It's also a perfect example of the kitchen vs restaurant mentality. With the internet, most expect tutorials to automatically serve them everything about the subject they want to learn. But without trying to solve a problem or build a project, you can't truly take a step forward towards learning, say, JavaScript.

Cooking up phone book databases might be the way to go ;)

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Pumpedfuel

Excellent article similar to my foray into coding, and here I am 20years later still as excited as ever

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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Arik

My sentiments exactly

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Shahar • Edited

No one will ever understand how much life saving that was until they will serve 3 years in the most boring place for just 120$ per month with no other option at all. Good post, inspiring

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Jasmine English

Fun story, but not really life saving.

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acoh3n profile image
Arik

Thanks, but I beg to differ. Joining the army in my country was not optional and having to serve a 3 year term doing a job I absolutely abhored felt more like prison than anything else. So while the story is not about dodging bullets or escaping Hollywood-style bombing it had everything to do with saving my sanity.

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adamthewizard profile image
Adam

And who benefited from that traffic?

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Abdul Qadir Luqman

Arik, only you can understand how programming saved your life. Don't explain yourself to anyone. These same people have made SO kind of boring and they are bringing the same attitude here.

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Anna Rankin

That's awesome! So glad you perservered and were able to not only solve a real problem, but transition into something you loved! πŸ’―

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Arik

Thanks Anna!

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