The First Time I Used Programming At Work

It turns out you don’t have to be employed as a programmer to use programming at your job. When I was a college student, I spent a few summers working at a law office as a file clerk. Basically, the job was as boring as it sounds: get requests for files from the file room, physically sort through boxes, pull out said files, deliver them. Occasionally rearrange the entire file room to accommodate more boxes.

Because there was a full time file clerk as well as myself, there wasn’t really enough for two people, so I also spent part of my time as the assistant IT guy. That was also as boring as it sounds, and much less technical: reinstall copies of Windows 98 for the lawyers, hand them new keyboards, etc.

At one point a particularly terrible task came at hand. In order to make exhibits for a certain case the firm had to lay out and print literally thousands of photos. For God knows what reason, the software they had been using to do this was Microsoft Excel. They would actually make a spreadsheet and individually import each photo and then drag it to the right place so that there would be six photos per page when printed. This task fell to the woman who ran IT, which was promptly kicked down to me.

Imagine importing and dragging one-by-one thousands of photos into an Excel file. Even worse, the task got increasingly slower over time as the individual XLS file consumed more and more of the system memory. I used the first 10 minutes of the task to calculate the rate at which I was making progress, and realized that this would take me some 3-4 days to complete. 3-4 days of doing the same, monotonous 45 second task.

Well, fuck that. After 20 minutes I wanted to end my own existence. So, instead of actually continuing, I opened up the Excel macro editor, and started trying to figure out how to automate some part of the process. After about an hour, I had something that read parts of the file system looking for the appropriate files. Hooray, progress!

I excitedly told my boss that I thought I could automate this painful and tedious process (which had to be done several times a year). I can’t remember her specific words, but she basically told me to stop working on that and just do it the way they had been: she didn’t believe it was going to work and thought it was a waste of time.

Well, double fuck that. A couple more hours of applied effort and I had a macro that looped through all the images in a directory tree and laid them out in Excel. I spent the next four days surfing the web and handing out files.

This is why I encourage everyone to learn some basic programming.


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