Chris Espinosa on Computers and High School

Source: Interview with Chris Espinosa, 13 June 2000.

Pang: Let's being with your experience with user groups. You met Steve Wozniak at Homebrew Computing Club, and were involved in the San Francisco Apple Core. How did you get into that world, and what did you get out of it?

Espinosa: Basically, I was a student in Homestead High School between 1974 and 1978. In the summer '74, before my freshman year, I took a class in computers-- I took summer school before high school, that's how much of a nerd I was [Pang laughs]-- and the equipment we had at that time was HP minicomputers and dialup connections to HP minis using basic dialup connections to Tymshare using Tymshare BASIC. We did all of our programming on that. Our instructor was Steven Headley. He was an incredibly efficient scrounge of equipment from local companies, and managed to build a very very good computer facility, including some books. He himself had little knowledge of computers. What he did was turn kids loose in an information-rich environment, let them go to town, and had the graduates come back and teach, which was a very good plan.

Armed with relatively little knowledge, I basically taught myself BASIC programming, wrote some code on the local machines, and got very interested in the whole thing. But I was very frustrated that the only time I could play on computers was when I was at school, and when I was at school I had other classes to take.

Pang: Was Steve Headley the same teacher that Steve Wozniak had for electronics?

Espinosa: No, mathematics. He was a math teacher, math and computers. He had taught both Woz and Jobs.

Pang: It sounds like there were some interesting teachers at Homestead.

Espinosa: There were some excellent, excellent teachers there at that time. Some of whom are still there. I had been taught by many of the same teachers who taught Woz and Jobs just a few years earlier, and those teachers warned me against them.

My electronics teacher was ex-military, and told stories about his experiences in the military and in business over and over again; so the class wasn't just electronics, it was industrial education, it was how to be a member of a work force. But it was how to be a member of the old work force: how to work for a company like Raytheon and Fairchild. Steve Headley's was basically the first New Economy class: it was, you're on your own, you're inventing something new, there are no rules, I don't know anything, do what you want, and if you do something cool I'll give you a good grade. The two courses-- the electronics and the computer science courses-- were diametrically opposite. I got value from both of them.

One of the chief values from the electronics course was that you had to document your projects: you had to write about what you were doing. The teacher told stories over and over again about how when he got into business for the first time, and he wrote memos, he would have to run his memos by his boss-- imagine this in this age of e-mail-- who would edit them with a red pencil and send them back, and he had to go through 6 or 7 iterations of that before he could send it out to its recipient. And that kind of discipline does not exist in the New Economy, which is really sort of sad, because people have forgotten how to write. It's not just spelling and orthography; people have forgotten how to compose decent sentences, paragraphs that have a point, and entire memoranda that serve a purpose. People just ramble in e-mail. In the Old Economy's discipline of business, communications are official, and must be clear, pertinent, and to the point. So it's sad.

But I got a very good education from the two of them put together, even through I don't think that they would have agreed on anything, and certainly didn't like or respect each other's teaching methods. But taking both classes was a real education.


Document created on 6 July 2000;