My First Exposure to the RPG Programming Language

In my junior year of high school, I took an entry level Fortran programming class. My senior year I had signed up to take advanced Fortran programming. On that first day of classes I entered the class to see the other thirty or so individuals who had been in the entry-level Fortran class the year before. Only, a different teacher came into the room. I wondered, what happened to Mr. What’s-his-name. She proceeded to write on the chalkboard, “Report Program Generator,” underlining the capitol letter at the beginning of each word. She then declared Fortran to be a dead language; that noone used Fortran anymore. Even more outragious was her second claim; that if we would take the time to learn the R-P-G programming language we would not lack for work for twenty years. How rediculous I thought, still in shock that this would not be advanced Fortran programming.

As if she sensed that we were emerging from that initial shock, she instructed us to open our books to page 7 and memorize the RPG cycle, because we would be having a test on it the next day. In lock-step, we all opened our books and began studying. After awhile, I closed my book and began looking around.

“Steve, close your book and take out a pencil and a piece of paper,” the teacher said. She had decided to pick on me to set an example for the whole class.

“OK, OK. I will study it” I replied, openning the book again to the RPG cycle. After a while I would look away from my open book to play the cycle over again in my mind, to determine if I was remembering it correctly.

“Steve, put your book away and get out a pencil and a piece of paper. This time you are going to take a test,” she declared.

“You are picking on me ‘cause I’m sitting closest to the door,” why else would she single me out.

She repeated her declaration, “put your book away and get out a pencil and a piece of paper.”

That was enough. In that moment I had decided to drop the class. I only needed one credit to graduate, and it was not going to be this class. After standing up, I took two steps towards the door. There was the teacher between me and the doorway. “Sit down!” she said sternly.

“No!” I responded, “I am dropping your class.”

“Sit back down!” she said, adament, but less sternly.

I could see that I would have to present my case. “How many in this class are going on to engineering schools next year?” I asked. Everyone in the class raised a hand.

“How many know that you will need Fortran?” I asked. Everyone again raised a hand.

My point was made, but I asked one last question, “How many of you think you will need to know RPG?” Perfect! Not a single hand was raised. With my point made, I was now empowered.

She stepped out of the way, I dropped the class, and that-was-that. Or so I thought. Years later, when I ventured forth to find a job in my chosen profession of computer programming, I landed a job coding RPG on a System 38. It has been 20 years since that youthfully rebelious declaration that RPG was worthless to me. Today, I look back and think God has quite the sense of humor. If only I could have been a tad bit less of a teenager back then, what a head start I would have had today. No matter. Today I take every opportunity to learn new languages and technologies, wondering what will be the next front-runner.

By Stephen West

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