Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Technical training

Went off to training last week. I’m a programmer, and have been working mainly in Microsoft FoxPro for the past few years. I started working on mainframes a long time ago, and moved to the IBM PC when it first came out. I worked on the second IBM PC sold in San Diego, converting a program that was the forerunner of the spreadsheet from a mainframe over to the PC in Fortran. I then had some projects in PC Cobol, assembler, Basic and C. But then I worked in dBase and really enjoyed the ease of manipulating data. FoxPro was less expensive and faster so I moved there.

But Microsoft purchased FoxPro several years ago. There have been rumors about Microsoft wanting to drop the product, but too many people buy it and it is profitable. Unfortunately there is no formal FoxPro training available. I traversed the Microsoft training web site and found all of their other products, but no Fox.

Back in southern California there were lots of FoxPro jobs and programmers. But I find here in Vegas there are not many of either. I guess the two go together – if there are people available to do something then more companies will match. And if there are jobs available then people will move to fill the positions.

So here I am, working in the credit card section of a bank. Most of the programs are written in FoxPro, but management has bought into the new Microsoft direction of .NET programming. Every few years Microsoft changes things. Some people think it’s just to encourage spending on upgrades – after all, if your computer works with Windows and does what you want, why change? But then when a ‘new’ windows comes out, with programs that only run there, and needs more disk space and computer speed then companies have to follow the line and move up.

This bank has stayed steady for a while, but it looks like they have had problems in getting good Fox programmers. So they are starting to change everything over to C#.Net. I am supporting the credit approval programs, along with several other support systems. Another Fox guy works on the collections programs. The rest of the group includes a bunch of Oracle database analysts and .NET people. My group has just finished converting the approval programs over to C#, so my workload in Fox support has decreased. I need to learn the new way (follow the Path my young Jedi) and have been going through a C# programming book – about halfway through the 1500 pages. But when my boss suggested I find a class I jumped at the concept. Up to now I have always had to pay for training myself, but with an offer for the company to cover costs I figured it was the time.

Searching the Microsoft site (boss said go to an approved training center) I found there was no formal training in Las Vegas. Most casinos and hotels (the majority employers in Nevada) use large computers and old RPG and DB2 programs, the same ones used by hotels all over. And the casino side uses the same programs that banks use to keep track of money. Not many PCs there, except as terminals. I found the nearest classes were in California, in San Diego, LA and the San Francisco Bay area. Wanting to go quickly (if the boss says now then push for now) I found one open at a training facility in San Jose. So last week I spent out of town learning.

It was a combination of two weeklong classes squeezed down to six days. They spend three days on the C# language then three days on applying C# to the .NET ‘framework’. During that class I learned why I stopped doing C programming. Compared to Fox it takes a lot of work – everything is complex and way complicated. But if that’s the way the boss wants to go then that is how things will be.

So here are some pics of my trip. Let’s start with the terminal

A scene you probably don’t see at too many boarding gates: rows of slot machines. So while waiting for your plane you can spend whatever money you didn’t lose at the casinos right in the airport. And if you are arriving and just can’t wait, then you can dump your bucks right away. And the machines take credit cards! No cash required.

I see the planes taking off when I go for my lunchtime walks, but didn’t realize how big the airport here was. I’ve been in and out from San Diego, but that was using SouthWest airlines, which has it’s own little island. This time was on America West, in the general area. The airport is nowhere near the size of Chicago or Kennedy, Vegas is a destination city not a disbursal point, but it is quite a walk out to the planes. Left just before noon on Sunday. After the push away from the boarding gate our plane ended up just sitting for an hour waiting to get to the runway to take off.

This is looking west, you can see the mountains that surround us in the background. It was a traffic jam on the taxiways – over thirty planes lined up waiting. Looking to the right you can see the gold Mandalay Bay tower as well as the Luxor pyramid.

The airport is at the south end of the strip, stopping expansion of new casinos to the south. For some reason the plane took off heading north, instead of the normal westward departure. Guess the wind was in a different direction. Driving to work this week I see that there is construction work on the main runway, so that's probably why there was a backup and use of the alternative runways. We taxied past the executive terminal – I usually drive past this on the other side every day.

A nice group of private planes, you can’t see all the smaller LearJets from this angle – they line up against the fence to the right. Must be nice to have your own plane, go where you want when you want to.

After takeoff the plane turned west. This brought us past Red Rock and the new Summerlin housing area.

Just a dozen miles west of the strip, you can see how Las Vegas disappears into the surrounding desert and mountains, unlike most of California that just blends city into city.

The San Jose airport was a little different.

Here you had to use stairs to get off of and onto the planes. I haven’t been to an airport where stairs were used in the US in years. On our daughter’s wedding trip the St. Martin airport was small enough and the weather good enough to deplane like this. I thought that with all the computer companies, and money, near San Jose the airport would be fancier.

San Jose is at the south end of the San Francisco bay and peninsula. There are typical California rolling hills all around – if you drive down the central valley from San Francisco to LA most of the coastal range, for five hundred miles, looks like this.

From the Fry’s parking lot. Fry’s is a supermarket for electronic freaks. They started in the Bay area. Imagine a hugh store, big enough for a dozen football fields (or soccer pitches) inside, with nothing but computers and monitors and parts, newly added are TVs and stereos and other home electronics. And computer books, software, CDs, DVDs and assorted other gadgets. I stopped in to get a C# programmers reference book.

No shots of the class. It was a ‘standard’ classroom, but with a computer on each desk. There were only four other students in this class. All female, as was the instructor. Three of the others were Indian – half of our programmers at the bank are Indian as well. I asked the teacher about this, and she felt that technical stuff was emphasized early over there, joking that kids learned Oracle in grade school. I can see why the US is falling behind in technology, here some high school students don’t even get to use a computer at school. But I came home with a full head, and two books the size of large telephone books. Now I just have to apply all that I’ve been through.

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