What programs are you running?

I’m reading a lot at the moment, and different ideas are popping into my head. I’ve started to call this “organic study.” One of the books I’ve been reading is called Using your Brain for a Change by Richard Bandler. He was the architect, back in the 70’s, along with John Grinder of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). There is one quote in the book which I particularly love,

“People aren’t broken, they work perfectly. The important question is, How do they work, now? So that you can help them to work perfectly in a way that is more pleasant and useful.”

I love that, it makes me feel better – I am working perfectly. I’m working perfectly to get the results I get at the moment. If the results I get at the moment are unpleasant or not useful, then how I work has to change. Just how I work.

That reminded me….. I used to be a software programmer in the 80’s in a company in Dublin. I worked with interesting people and I loved solving problems, but other than that I hated my job! People were always complaining. Well, to be exact, the users who used the programs I wrote were always complaining to me!  (The programmers called the people who used the programs “users” and the users called us “computer experts” as in, “Well you’re supposed to be the computer experts, aren’t you?”) The programs never seemed to do what the users wanted them to do.

Let me, in my defense, explain the problem. The users I dealt with were from the finance department, and they needed programs to analyse their financial figures. For example, they might need a report showing how much the company spent on parts in the last quarter, with details sorted by supplier. Nowadays all this can be done easily in (probably) half an hour on a laptop by someone who’s done a day course in databases. Back in the 1980’s there was a special room to house the computer and another room to house the programmers and a simple program might take a week to complete!

In order for someone from finance to get a simple report they first had to explain to me what they wanted on their report. They had to do that in a way that a non-financial person (me) would understand. I, for my part had to ask questions to understand exactly what was required, and I needed to ask in a way that a non-programmer would understand. Added to this was an atmosphere of animosity between the users and the programmers, which made communication a little difficult!

Very early in my programming career I wrote a program for one of the people in the finance department – lets call him Jim. I got some information from Jim about what he wanted and set to work. It took me a week to write and test the program and when it was ready, I rang Jim and let him know. He had to wait until after the weekend to receive the new report because the computer was so slow that any extra programs must be run at quiet times, like overnight or weekends. So he waited patiently (or more likely impatiently), until Monday for his report.

Monday rolled along and I got a phone call from Jim, shouting something like, “It’s not #$?!!#@ working! The stupid computer is broken! I wanted it sorted by part within supplier and it’s coming out supplier within part!”

I couldn’t tell Jim but the program was working. It was doing exactly what I had programmed it to do.  A program always does what the programmer programs it to do. Unfortunately, what I had programmed it to do was not what Jim had wanted! It did not produce the results he wanted. My code was wrong.  Eventually when he calmed down I got some more information from him and changed the program so that it produced the results wanted.

Like computers, we run programs. The programs were written by programmers called mother, father, teacher, and society in general. The programs do what they wanted us to do at the time. We “work” exactly as we were programmed. The programs we run produce results. If the results you are getting now as a mature adult are unpleasant or not useful for you, then you can change the program.

How do you change the program? First step is to realise that you are running programs. Once you are aware of that, the next step will become available to you

Before I left my job in 1987 the company  introduced personal computers for each department. Teaching the users to use their own personal computer was the most enjoyable work I did during my time at that company. They learned how to produce their own reports, make changes and get the results they wanted. In a way I’m still doing that job. I work with people who run programs and get results and I show them how to change those programs to get the results they want!