As a freshman, I got increasingly interested in computers and what they could do, and acquired a part time job at the Stanford AI Lab as a backup dump operator (using seven track tapes at 800 bpi! Now those are old!) I became a Student Consultant at Stanford LOTS (Largely Overloaded Timesharing System), spending a fair amount of my time answering questions in return for free computer time. I learned a lot about how to speed-read documentation and correctly answer a question about a product I'd never seen before; a skill which has stood me in good stead later in my career.
In 1980 I got a summer job at Hewlett-Packard, where I ported a large Fortran graphics package from the HP 3000 to the Decsystem-20. I also did tape backups and other administrative activities, and was able to keep this job part-time during the school year (full time during the summer) for the next three years, at which point I pretended to graduate (got the B.A. anyway), and went full-time as system administrator for the (now three) Decsystem-20s. The lab (which had been about 75 people strong when I joined) continued to grow, and in its growing pains began experiencing quite hideous internal politics by the time it had 300 people, and I started looking elsewhere.
In May 1984 I joined the Fairchild Laboratory for AI Research (FLAIR). Fairchild was bought by Schlumberger a year later, which reached in, stirred thoroughly, and moved half of us across the street. The project I was on was the FAIM-1 (Fairchild AI Machine), and we used Symbolics Lisp Machines heavily (I learned lisp for real---college classes just don't prepare you for the full power of the language!) I did manage to finish up my Master's degree while at Schlumberger. But the slow wheels of reorganization turned at Schlumberger, and eventually I read the handwriting on the wall.
I left Schlumberger in May 1987 to join Lucid (R.I.P.), which made lisp systems on conventional hardware. In September 1988 I decided to move to Boston with my housemate Ken Olum, who also worked for Lucid. We got them to give us a passel of computers, and set up a 9600 baud SLIP link (high-tech at the time!) from our house back to Menlo Park, where Lucid was located. It was fun for a time, but then became lonely and depressing. Eventually I figured out that I needed to stop working from home and "get a real job," so in June 1992 I quit Lucid and took a job at Symbolics. Everyone said "They'll go bust!" Well, yes, I knew that, but it was still the right decision, because it broke me out of my lonely mode by exposing me to other people at work. Predictably, they laid me off six months later.
From February 1993 to September 1999 I worked for Harlequin, Inc. doing Lisp and Dylan programming, in particular interfacing both of these languages to various SQL servers. I also did database stuff with CORBA and C++. I started to officially work parttime, 30 hrs/week, while at Harlequin. I'd always been only working part-time---the rest of the time I sat in my chair was goofing off in one way or another! I finally decided I wanted to do something else with those hours than compute. Harlequin suffered from a lot of mismanagement, and eventually this led to its downfall; even though it basically had a bunch of good products and decent revenue, it still managed to go bankrupt. I survived the first two layoffs, but bit the dust in the third.
So, starting in November 1999, I began working for Gensym. It was a little tricky to talk them into the 30 hours thing, but they bought it in the end, though they shorted me on the pay thing for the first year. I still got to work in lisp! (Well, some of the time, anyway. They sucked me into a bunch of java and C as well.) It lasted eight years, during which I had kids and started working even less, ramping up from quarter time when the kids were infants to half-time when the final bell tolled in December 2007. Gensym was acquired and the new owners didn't have any use for most of the old employees.
No more lisp: there are still some companies that do it, but none of them that were hiring half-time employees. Instead I talked to some former Gensym employees who were now working for Rocket Software, and they were willing to give this part-time thing a go. So here I am, working in Java, Installshield, Ant, and C. It's not too bad.