SM: What year was that?
TT: That was in 1981. I fell in love with programming. The very first computer program I wrote was a blinking Christmas tree with asterisks. That was the only computer course that Wesleyan offered; however, the University of Illinois was a couple of hours away. They have a very good computer science program, so I transferred there to study computer science and math. It was terrible! I was using card punch machines, so I had to wait up all night to get my stack of cards, only to find out that on my third card there was a mistake. You would have to go retype that card and wait in line again. That was awful!
The things we were programming were boring. I just kept thinking that if I could just get through it, technology would be fantastic as a career. I barely scraped through, but I graduated in December 1983. There were not very many women in computer science, but I got a job in southern California as an engineer for Hughes Aircraft working on surface ship sonar and fault detection. It was pretty fun. It was the first time I ever saw a true application of calculus. Seeing how the waves going through the water were able to map into an object was very interesting.
I stayed with Hughes for two years and then got bored. The amount of work they had slowed down while work in the computer space was really heating up. The most value with computers is applying them to real-world problems and using them to interact with people more so I decided to start my own company in 1985 at the age of twenty-three. I was doing programming for different small businesses. I would completely underquote, but it made me a really good programmer. That also gave me the entrepreneurial bug.
SM: How long did you continue freelance programming?
TT: Not very long, because I was truly starving to death. I only did that for a couple of years. It was during those years that I met my husband in a laundromat. He was a Marine on the U.S.S. Missouri. He paid my rent a few times, and he fed me. I ended up getting associated with a mortgage company and working on real estate appraisal software. I stayed with that for a couple of years, and I built a great software package. It had started out as freelancing and then evolved into a partnership.
The mortgage company I was working with went under during the S&L scandal. I had appraisal software, but I did not know anything about business. Other businesses would ask me to FedEx something and I would pay for it myself. Then my husband and I got married, and I got pregnant with my son and my husband wanted to go to law school. I decided that I had been doing the independent thing too long, so I went and found a programming job.