Bruce M. Van Horn II is a software developer who got his first professional coding gig at the tender age of 12, back when the mighty TRS-80 reigned supreme. He studied Psychology at the University of Oklahoma where he walked into the class of Professor Charles Gettys. Dr. Gettys announced to the class that a freshman had “accidentally” registered for his junior level class and that the student needed to drop the class immediately because the class would be too hard. Bruce was the freshman, but he didn’t drop. Instead, he got the top grade in the class, as well as another class taught by Gettys. Having proved his mettle, Dr. Gettys took Bruce on as a lab assistant with his research group, Decision Theory Laboratories. The group conducted the UX research that produced WordStar, which was at the time one of the most popular word processing programs for the Microsoft Disk Operating System (MS-DOS). The group also produced one of the first virus scanners and did research on using multimedia for teaching. The job was unpaid. Instead of money, Bruce got a key to a lab filled with equipment most people had never heard of at the time, but that everyone uses today. Bruce learned everything about PCs working with Gettys and the two produced some of the very first multimedia presentation systems which Dr. Gettys used to teach his classes.
While at OU, Bruce befriended a young woman named Cinda. Cinda was confined to a wheelchair and had little use of her arms and lets. Cinda was partially the inspiration for the character Tom in Chapter 7. Cinda could write with her teeth! Her "handwriting" was nothing short of caligraphy.
After graduating from OU, Bruce took a job with Electronic Data Systems where he was fast-tracked through the world-famous Operations Development (OPD) program. He quickly moved from an entry-level job in tape operations to operating mainframe computer systems for General Motors. EDS offered computer-based training on everything from SQL to Visual Basic and this is where Bruce found his passion.
A few years after leaving EDS to go work for the Boy Scouts of America, Bruce took a nighttime teaching position at Richland College. He went on to teach coding there one night per week for 25 years in addition to his day job as a software developer. While teaching animation at Richland, Bruce met Tom, who had limited use of his arms and legs, and was confined to a wheelchair. Tom was the other insiration for the atply named character in Chapter 7. Many people who met Tom misjudged him, but he was a briliant man who despite his handicap earned a master's degree. He really could type with his feet.
In 2012, while working for the United States Marine Corps (through a military contracting company), Bruce was diagnosed with dermatomyositis (DM). DM is a rare degenerative muscle disease. At first, his doctors told him he wouldn’t survive. When he received his diagnosis, his daughter, Kitty, was 18 months old. Bruce’s wife Karina was 9 months pregnant with Phoebe. Shortly after the diagnosis, the software company he worked for eliminated his position in a layoff of one. Drawing motivation from his family and his faith, Bruce beat the odds, cheating death three times. His physical state made it hard to interview for work, but he was hired as the lead developer at Clear Technologies on a startup venture called Visual Storage Intelligence.
The following six years were very hard. He spent most of it in a hospital bed. Along the way, he was told he would never walk again, that he would never speak intelligibly again, and that he would never eat nachos again. The disease had destroyed the muscles in his back, legs, arms, and throat. He couldn’t swallow anything and had to have a feeding tube implanted in his stomach. The OB/GYN who delivered Phoebe encouraged the family to induce Phoebe early for fear she might not otherwise meet her dad.
Bruce often said (unintelligibly) that he could live without walking again, and might consider never talking to be a perk. But no nachos? He wasn’t having it! After a long fight with the disease, financially crippling medical bills, six courses of chemotherapy, two years of daily injections in the stomach, and thousands of prayers from thousands of people, the disease went into remission. Today, if you were to meet Bruce, you might take for granted that he stands upright, walks three miles every morning, eats lots of nachos, and teaches six hours a week at Southern Methodist University.
Almost ten years later, he’s still working on the Visual Storage Intelligence product team as the engineering director and Certified Scrum Master. On his watch, the product has gone from being a nascent start-up to becoming highly profitable. If you don’t count the gig he got as a twelve-year-old, Bruce has over 30 years of software development experience and nearly 30 years of experience with teaching people to code. He has authored video courses for LinkedIn Learning, Lynda.com, SkillSoft, and Packt. You can find him on LinkedIn.
Bruce sometimes produces videos independently and publishes them at maddevskillz.com When he’s not doing that, he’s usually riding bicycles with Kitty and Phoebe, or driving his “Yella Jeep” over big rocks (just because they’re there) at Big Bend National Park in west Texas.