Dan Joaquin is an excellent teacher. He was my first real mentor in the field of software, introducing me to the wonders of digital computers and inspiring me to master them.
In the early 1970s, at the College of Marin, Dan was a standout on the faculty. He was competent and caring, knowledgeable in both complex computer systems and in how to excite the imagination of those lucky enough to study with him.
In addition to Dan’s regular duties as a full-time instructor, he was also responsible as an IT professional. In practice, he was the brain-trust of the small school’s very modern data processing installation. On the strength of Dan’s expertise, COM owned one of the most advanced mainframes of its day, running beta-level operating system software. Dan would analyze and debug IBM’s code in the hours between classes when he taught students how to use it.
More than any other mentor I’ve known, Dan taught me professional rigor. In my brief years at COM, I was one of a cadre of four bright students employed part-time there as computer operators. Primarily, we ran student jobs on the college’s IBM 370/135 mainframe; its main responsibility being the college’s various business applications, including registration, grading, and finance.
One of Dan’s responsibilities was to bring us to a level of competency at our operating jobs before we could manage to crash the big machine. This he did with an energy and enthusiasm that was eye-opening to the four of us.
He pushed us harder than any other teacher we’d experienced. He demanded more work, more attention, and more rigor than we imagined ourselves capable of. And we dug deep and gave it to him, largely because of his clarity, but also because he worked even harder than we did.
He fielded every one of our queries good-naturedly, but with a bulldog’s tenacity, regardless of how trivial or obscure. Anything he didn’t know, he would track down and answer the next day. I didn’t realize it at the time, but Dan was teaching us all to be professionals. He set the mark high, demonstrated that it was achievable, and then gave us each a hand up.
Dan’s influence remains strong with me today. Thirty-five years into a successful career in the software world I find myself echoing Dan-isms when I speak to my employees or address audiences of software engineers.
For example, Dan Joaquin is a virtuoso at the chalkboard. Unlike every other teacher I’ve known, Dan Joaquin refused to rush when he was at the board. He would patiently write out longhand the point of each lesson, and his diagrams were abundant and clear. To this day, every time I step to the white board, I know I am channeling a little bit of Dan Joaquin as I write my own points out longhand, supported by the same boxes and arrows Dan used so effectively.
Without a doubt, the most daunting class facing the four of us was Assembler Programming. On the very first day, Dan stood before us holding up a small paper card. He declared that the entire contents of the semester were all on this little card. Then, with a grin, he let the card unfold, falling open to reveal eight pages of tightly packed op codes. We studied those reference cards until we knew them by heart. But this corny gesture was far more effective than Dan could have guessed.
Twenty years later, as a pioneer in the new field of GUI programming on Microsoft Windows, I found myself wishing there was a quick reference card for the 597 Windows system calls. That vision of Dan unfolding the little reference card was the obvious and irresistible solution, and I finally created a version for Windows 3.0. I called it the QRC, for Quick Reference Card, and it ended up having twice as many pages as Dan’s original. I had it professionally printed, folded, and shrink-wrapped, then sold it at local computer stores and through the mail. I barely made back my investment, but money wasn’t the point. Somehow, Dan had gotten that card into my head, and the only way I could get it out was by creating my own.
Shortly after I left College of Marin, Dan left also, joining IBM as an operating systems expert. He has had a full career in the IT business, running large shops and managing hundreds of engineers. Today, he wants to go back to his first love of teaching, and he asked me to write a letter of commendation. It’s been my pleasure to do so, and I hope that you will consider him for any demanding teaching post you might have.