Dr. Albert Gutowsky

There are two serendipitous things that happened from my sophomore year in high school to freshman year in college that put me down a path in software engineering.

The first one was from an after school job in a law office. WordPerfect 5.1 on DOS was the word processing program that ruled the world at the time. Windows was not around and Macintosh couldn’t break out of education and graphic arts. It was all DOS, and all the programs were DOS programs.

Styling and formatting in WordPerfect was set by markup tags. You didn’t see the outcome, you just saw the tags, another pane with as decent of the result as DOS can provide, and that’s about it. You had to visualize the output in your head, and hope the printing worked. Otherwise, your mistakes went from costing near zero on the computer to more that zero in the printing in terms of toner, paper, and time (even lasers were slow).

When HTML came around, I picked it up immediately. Sure the tags were different than WordPerfect tags, but the concept was the same. Come to think of it, growing up in DOS also provided a smooth transition to Unix/Linux, which still runs everything today. Eventually, I was more interested in making websites and programming than going to class.

The second event was when I asked my econ advisor at CSUS, Albert Gutowsky, to fill out a form required by the computer engineering department for an account on a VAX machine. This was well before internet accounts, and I think I was the first one from the econ department to get an account on that server. Gutowsky had no idea was I was asking for but signed the form anyway. I distinctly remember giving him a ten second elevator pitch describing that the form was about, and putting “economic research” to the “Purpose:” question on the form.

“Economic research” eventually meant downloading every font I can get my hands on from gopher, spending a lot of time playing that tank game hosted at UMich, and learning about networking protocols. I might have downloaded a few pirated econ papers and books from an FTP server somewhere, but that was the extent of my economic research.

I (thankfully…) didn’t graduate from CSUS, eventually got an econ degree at Rutgers while continuing to writing code for my real job. I recently learned Dr. Gutowsky died a couple of years ago. He was was such a challenging and dynamic teacher. I remember feeling like I disappointed him by dropping out, and in retrospect, that was an awfully stupid way to view it. I regret not keeping in touch with him.

Kids, do yourself a favor and reach out to teachers and professors that have made an impact on you.

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