Ron Helwig

Taking control of my digital life

Work History

I started out doing the typical 70's & 80s kid stuff. I had a paper route, made a very small amount of money mowing lawns, and worked for a couple weeks cleaning a restaurant.

After high school I enlisted in the Army. I asked the recruiter for a job working with computers and they said they were all filled due to high demand. So I then asked for electronics, and they suggested Pershing Missile. When I got to the training for that it seems that "electronics" to a recruiter includes dragging a bundle of cables under a truck and connecting them. But at least I earned some money for college.

I attended a community college, then graduated from the University of Minnesota Institute of Technology with a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science. Of course, I graduated into a recession, and it took me a couple years to get an industry job. Until then I worked as a car lot attendant at the Mall of America.

Tech Industry

My first actual industry job was testing games at MECC. I spent something like three months testing things like Oregon Trail for Windows, Amazon Trail, and Dynopark Tycoon. It was very valuable as a future developer to see first hand what testers do, and when I was writing code I always kept in mind all the BS that testers have to go through.

After that I tested educational courseware at Ideal Learning. I had to create and follow scripts to try to test every possible combination of paths through the code, answering questions wrong, right, and absurd in a multitude of combinations.

In 1994 I finally got a programming job at National Biosciences as an independent contractor. Initially I was adding printing functionality to a DNA analysis program, but I also got into writing code to actually analyze DNA strands. I also created the install program and the help files associated with the program.

When that job ended I got hired at a contracting firm, Analysts International Corp where I stayed for two years. Here's the list of stuff I worked on:

  • Helped implement a finance module for an automotive sales system using Visual C++ 1.5, MFC, and FarPoint Professional Toolbox.
  • Designed and implemented an MFC OLE server based RTF report engine for a sales force automation program using Visual C++ 1.5 and SubSystems Inc.'s TE.
  • Designed and implemented the administration module for a computer managed instruction system using Delphi 1.0 and RAD methodology. Created install system using WISE and extension DLLs.
  • Designed and implemented the UI layer of a quotation module for a sales force automation system using Visual C++ 4.1 and MFC. Integrated UI with business objects.
  • Technical lead and primary developer of a reusable print engine module for use with sales force automation systems. Programmed in Visual C++ 4.2 using COM.

After that I moved to a competitor, Connect, Inc. I was a more senior developer there, being the lead developer most of the time in the projects I was working on.

  • Designed and implemented mainframe data access and low-level business COM objects for an insurance sales system using Visual C++ 5.0, Visual Basic 5.0, and IBM CICS.
  • Technical lead and senior developer for maintenance of a HVAC ductwork analysis and design program. Used Visual C++ 1.52 and Rational Rose.
  • Senior developer for maintenance of a sales force automation tool for a major HVAC supplier. Used Borland C++ 4.52 and Sybase SQL Anywhere.

Then a friend and I started our own contracting company, Left Hand Side. He did a lot of the heavy lifting of the business aspects, and I was the face of experience. (He's since gone on to great things, as he deserved.)

The first gig we had was working at Laser Data Command putting together an airline security kiosk application that took pictures of passengers and their luggage and printed out barcodes that had the images embedded in them. We had to use some crazy compression tools to get the pictures down to under 1,000 bytes while looking good enough for identification purposes.

Then we went to work for Return Inc. That was challenging work but the business was pretty cool. They basically take unsold goods being returned from stores and process them. Some get returned to the manufacturers, some got donated, and some got thrown away. But they handled the entire process. The software we worked on would allow for easy handling of the items by scanning them and sorting them into boxes, pallets, shipments, etc.

In 2000 my partner got a great offer so we shut down the company. I went on to a contract gig at Profit Solutions. I don't even remember what I did there other than converting some components from VB to C++.

Then I did a short stint at Digital River, maintaining an Internet utility. Back then downloading software was still new and irksome enough that separate download programs were a thing.

My last "real" job in the industry was at Plato Learning, a place I had worked at previously as a contractor. We took the platform we had created years earlier and updated it for the web. I was in charge of the data tier, and I automated a bunch of the code production. That job lasted for around five years. I even telecommuted for a year after I moved to New Hampshire.

The last stuff I did in the tech industry was website development. I mostly used Drupal as a framework. Learning from an expert, I first started out helping him build several sites. Then I moved on to building several on my own. But by this time my health and financial situations were quite a strain and after years of trying to make a living doing it I finally realized that the competition was too fierce for that kind of work. Newer tools made cheap website building noncompetitive, especially when compared to young guns working for free.

It took me several years after that to find something worthwhile. I helped an associate with his courier run, and just kind of fell into that business. I got an independent courier route and did that for over a year, which paid the bills (barely). Then I moved on to an employee position and have been there a couple years now.

In the mean time I started working part time as a Dungeon Master at a local homeschooler resource center and have expanded that into more regular sorts of teaching.