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My Developer Origin Story

Paul Lefebvre
Play: I am a father, husband, baseball player and technology geek. Work: Xojo Software Engineer.
Updated on ・5 min read

I’ve been writing software since I was a teenager, starting with Atari BASIC on an Atari 800XL. In college, I used Turbo Pascal and C primarily. But also worked with Lisp, Fortran, Scheme and others. In the early 90s I had a few apps that I wrote for the Atari ST (using Pascal, C and GFA BASIC), one of which was shareware and made a decent amount of money, at least for a poor college student.

My first job out of school was working with a DOS-based tool called Advanced Revelation. It was an integrated system that built database applications (it used its own proprietary database). Its programming language was called R/BASIC. At the time all our workstations had Windows 3.1 for Workgroups, which I thought was a horrible operating system. So got permission to switch my computer to IBM OS/2 Warp for all my development. OS/2 Warp was slick. It was a modern OS that could also run DOS and Windows apps, often better than Windows itself could.

After a couple years of working on this app, I was put in charge of the project to migrate it to Microsoft Windows. This involved rewriting the entire application using PowerBuilder, another integrated environment that worked very well with databases. Oracle was chosen as the database server so I also had to write a database conversion tool to get the data out of the Advanced Revelation proprietary database and into the Oracle database. Unlike every programming system I had used before, PowerBuilder was object-oriented, which I quickly came to appreciate.

Unfortunately, PowerBuilder was a 32-bit app didn’t work with OS/2 (which could only run 16-bit Windows apps) so this meant I had to switch to Windows. However, I wasn’t about to use Windows 95 and instead jumped to Windows NT 4.0, which was at least a modern operating system, even if it was Windows.

You’ll note at no point had I ever used a Macintosh. Having used Atari ST computers, I always felt the Macintosh was inferior. And I was no fan of the original Mac OS, which did not have preemptive multitasking and was really no better than Windows 95, in my opinion. But in early 2001 a friend of mine who was a grad student stopped by with his new toy: a PowerBook. I wasn’t too interested, but he showed me the beta of Apple’s new Macintosh operating system, Mac OS X. Now that impressed me. Mac OS X was a full-blown Unix system with a slick UI and modern OS features such as preemptive multitasking. I ran right out and bought a book on OS X so I could learn more about it.

I remained impressed and when Apple announced in May 2001 that they were shipping all new Macs with OS X pre-installed, I ordered a PowerMac G4. I booted it into Mac OS 9 once and that was only because it was still the default OS. I switched the default OS to Mac OS X and never looked back. I remember how people at the time used to complain how slow Mac OS X was, but I can tell you that it was no slower than using Windows NT!

After having the PowerMac for a few months I began to get an itch to program it. I still was primarily working with PowerBuilder at my day job (and also a little Java) and started looking around at options for programming the Mac.

The programming pickings were slim. CodeWarrior (what a cool name for an IDE, by the way) was commonly used, but I really had no interest in programming in C. Java worked on Mac OS X, but there were no good IDEs available at the time. I then somehow stumbled across something called REALbasic, a purported clone of Visual Basic.

I had never used Visual Basic, having heard mostly bad things about it. But I downloaded the REALbasic trial and played around with it. I thought it had potential, so I bought Matt Neuberg’s book, REALbasic: The Definitive Guide and studied it for a couple months. Based on Matt’s excellent book, I determined that REALbasic would be a good choice, so in late December 2001, I ordered REALbasic Professional. If I recall, it was at version 3.5 when I ordered but version 4.0 came out only a couple weeks after I ordered, so the company actually held off sending me the manuals (this was when they had printed manuals) so that they could send me the new manuals.

What drew me to REALbasic at the time was its object-oriented capabilities, which were about equal to what PowerBuilder could do, and its UI designer. I also was drawn to the fact that REALbasic also had its own native database engine. The IDE was a bit odd for me, coming from a Windows background, with the Mac style of many windows all over the place, but I quickly got used to it.

I didn’t use REALbasic for anything significant at first and then in early 2002, I saw a post about a new REALbasic magazine and was looking for columnists. I proposed a Database column for the magazine, but it didn’t make the initial cut. After the magazine debuted at MacWorld NY, I was told that the number one request was for a database column, so my column was added for issue #2 and I have had a column of some sort in every issue since then.

In early 2003, I incorporated LogicalVue Software. During this time I created a few REALbasic apps and tools that I sold through my web site, such as SQLVue, RBUnit and UltraToolBar.

Also during this time I moved on to another company and switched from working with PowerBuilder to working with Microsoft .NET using both C# and VB.

In 2005, REALbasic 2005 was released with it’s all-new IDE and I loved it. The new IDE reminded me of Visual Studio and I thought it was much easier to work with than the old IDE that had windows all over the place.

Speaking of Visual Studio, also released late that year was Visual Studio 2005. In 2006, I began work on porting a project from Visual Studio 2003 to Visual Studio 2005. This was far more difficult than it should have been. But I could see the writing on the wall. Microsoft was doing what they do best and taking something that was nice and simple and making it horribly complex. I began to get disillusioned with .NET.

This all came to head in August 2007 when I made the decision to start looking for REALbasic consulting work. And I found plenty. So much so that by spring of 2008, I had enough work that I had to leave my full-time .NET job so that I could focus on REALbasic consulting.

After several years of consulting I went to work for the company that made REALbasic. Since that time, REALbasic has become Xojo and has been expanded to be able to create desktop (Windows, Mac, Linux), web and iOS apps. I love working with Xojo and showing people what a great tool it is for rapid app development.

What's your Developer Origin Story?

Discussion (1)

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Jason Harrison

Paul! We have nearly the exact same origin. I also had an Atari as one of my first computers, AND I still have my notebook from the same time period (early 80s) with a bunch of BASIC written out, and sprites sketched on graph paper. We've come a long way since then. Thank you for sharing.