Geeks in Uniform

I ran across a post on HN this morning titled How I got a medal from the Army for writing code. Being a veteran coder myself, this story naturally prompted both a warm-fuzzy feeling and this celebratory me-too! post.

Now as a programmer, I’m constantly looking for ways to make my job easy. I didn’t want to sit and add qualifications, and print licenses one by one. I was too lazy for that, and worse, the whole thing was horribly inefficient. So I decided to figure out how to automate the process.

This soldier’s story about his military career is strikingly similar to my own. During active duty, I started out as a logistician tasked with generating reams of mindless reports using antiquated systems and tools developed with zero consideration given to user experience. Hand-editing hundreds of lines of spreadsheet rows is the norm in some of those assignments. Needless to say, this kind of stuff bakes in plenty of opportunity for fat-fingering something in an important report.

Anywhere I found an avenue for automation, I would write some utility or macro to save time. At three duty stations, I did virtually the same thing within my first six months—write utilities to turn 2+ hour jobs into 20 minute jobs. Then I’d go about simplifying the interface. I always tried to put the most user-friendly UI on it because I know that the poor sap who’d inherit my job after I PCS might have to scrap it if he or she couldn’t figure out how to use my stuff.

I still remember my Motor Sergeant looking perplexed when I showed up in 20 minutes with a warm stack of licenses, still fresh from the printer. “Didn’t this take you a lot longer before?”, he asked. I started talking about the script but he just tuned me out after about three or four words out of my mouth about Perl, SQL, and ODBC connections and nodded and took the licenses to the TOC.

I left the Corps in 2012 and received a Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal as my end-of-tour for this (among other things). I’ll be eternally grateful to my leadership for writing me up for one, even though I, like Vivin, never did this stuff for awards, but because it needed to be done and I hate seeing people waste time.

It’s always funny because nobody ever expects this kind of stuff from a Marine, but there are many of us geeks out there in uniform writing VBA to automate Excel spreadsheet data entry/formatting and debugging SQL queries secretly in order to accomplish the mission in a timely manner.

Other Geeks in Uniform (with webpages)

  1. Chad Morgan, USMC
  2. Vivin Paliath, USA
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