History Programming

My failed A-Level results found me my vocation

1983: 35 years ago this morning I received my A-level results. I needed a ‘B, B, C’ in Maths, Physics and Electronic Systems respectively in order to take my place at Warwick University for their degree in Electronic Systems. I even had details of my assigned room in their halls of residence.

I received my A’ Level results: ‘C’ in Electronics Systems, a dismal ‘E’ in Physics and an utterly shameful ‘F’ in Maths!

I spent 24 hours with my future plans shattered. The next morning, I received a card from Middlesex Polytechnic offering me a place on their new ‘H.D. Physics’ course. I attended the course, hated it, but fell in love with one aspect: Programming their Burroughs mainframe computer. Programming (‘coding’ to you kids) was something I loved and seemed good at, despite my Maths fail resulting in me being diagnosed with Dyscalculia – ‘numbers blindness’ (the equivalent of Dyslexia for ‘word blindness’).
With programming, I didn’t have to go into great mathematical depth as there were maths functions that did this for me; it was just that the apparently beautiful world of numbers was a fog.

Meanwhile, the course leader at Middlesex noticed that I seemed to be bumbling along the bottom of performance for most of the HD Physics course subjects (in truth I was bored by it) but came top of the year in computer programming. He recommended that I leave! He also promised to send a letter of recommendation for me to be placed on a computing science course at another polytechnic as this was not available at Middlesex.

In 1984 I joined Leicester Polytechnic and their two-year H.N.D. Computer Science course. I loved the whole experience so much that, at the end of the two years, I was then transferred to their Polytechnic Graduate Diploma course – a steep one year in Computer Science to give me a degree- equivalent diploma in the subject.

Of course, I could have discovered the joy of programming after successfully getting the required A’ level grades and hurried along to my degree course at Warwick. It’s just that I don’t believe that it would have stood out so much, as I do like electronics (being a radio ham!) and I may have stuck to that lesser fulfilling path. In the case of the Physics course at Middlesex, failure revealed to me what I was good at by contrasting it, starkly, what I was totally NOT good at.

So it took to utterly failing my A-levels for me to find the vocation I loved and love to this day – computer programming. What’s more, I now have a stranger set of letters after my name than your average B.Sc.!

Best regards
Nick Lansley Grad.Dip.(Leic.Poly.).

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