[TSTIL] Porting an Atari tax program to Delphi

[ This is a part of "The Software That I Love", a series of posts about Software that I created or had a small part in ]

2005 - Porting an Atari tax program to Delphi

My mom made me take side-jobs from age 13 and that's something that I'm really grateful for. It gave me a good work ethic and plenty of money for a kid, but I always spent it right away and was never able to save any. I started delivering newspapers, and then graduated to baking bread at the Jumbo supermarket. I got fired after a year because I overslept one too many times, and had to find something new.

My friend Marijke from school had a neighbor, George, who was 18 and was starting a computer repair business. He was entrepreneurial and studied next to this full-time job. He also played in a band. He had so much energy. She recommended me to him because I was doing things with computers all the time. I was 15. The pay was terrible but I loved the work. I started with 4 hours per week, but by the time I was 18 was often doing 20-25 hours per week after school and in weekends. We started in his mom's house, and she would feed me Mexican food all the time. She was very sweet and I was way too skinny. Then we moved to a real store in the center of Middelburg and I had to arrange my own food.

I could program, repair and assemble computers. We had two more employees, Lotte and Bart, who knew very little about computers and I had to teach them almost everything. The assembling was the most prestigious work. The repair was excruciating, especially when the hard drives were semi-broken and de-fragmenting would take ages. Or when there were nasty viruses. People came in with "very important data" that they could not afford to lose. That was mostly porn.

There were so many mistakes (by me) that I don't know where to start. I lost computers under repair because we had no labeling system. Customers came in for weeks asking if their PC was done. I had no idea which one it was and had to play dumb. I was also very introverted and had to practice calling someone after a finished repair. Lotte and Bart were much better with those kind of things. Often I forgot the mainboard backplate when assembling the machine. Then I had to take everything apart and start over. I learned from my mistakes and became quite competent. I programmed our webshop, created a labeling system and built a couple of high-end PCs for rich customers.

Then one day, George came in with a big stack of paper. George was a great networker and sales guy, and he had made a deal. The paper was the source code for an administration & tax program for a local store. The store owner was an old geek and had built his own software in Basic(?) in the 80s. The Atari it ran on died and he needed a replacement on Windows fast. George put me to work. I had to decipher the code but I did not know the language or how a terminal worked. I did not have a working version of the software or a computer to run it on, so had to reconstruct it in my head.

I had to program the replacement in Delphi but I was also a complete beginner in that. It took me weeks to figure it out, and I'm not sure if George ever made money of the project. In 2012 it was still running, because the VAT rate in NL went from 19% to 21% and George contacted me to see if could update it. I did not have the source code anymore. Oops.

I learned a lot from George and from all of the mistakes I made. Thanks for the fun and the opportunity BG!


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