About Me

Having fishy fun in Antigua
Antigua: Karen & I get personal with a stingray

Blog: 17th Jan 2024

Hi, I'm Bob Osola. I've been married to Karen since 1990. We have two grown-up children who—amazingly!— still talk to us without swearing. And our first grandchild arrived recently. So I'm a very lucky man.

My first career was as a UK merchant navy deck officer. I started off on BP tankers in 1976 trading world-wide. Foreign travel was really only for the wealthy back then, so I hadn't been abroad before. I can still vividly remember being both electrified and mesmerised by the foreignness of African countries—the heat, the colours, the smells, the vegetation, the insects—all of it! And of course, the people, who were so far outside my own small world that they could have come from Jupiter. But shore visits were short and few and far between. We were mainly at sea out of sight of land.

I was probably one of the last generations of seafarers who regularly used sun and celestial navigation to fix our position once we were out of range of coastal navigation systems. By the end of my training GPS had come on the scene, and hundreds of years of traditional marine navigation died almost overnight.

The VLCC British Purpose
Deck cadet on the VLCC British Purpose

After qualifying as 2nd mate, I was curious about other types of ships and frankly a bit bored with tanker life. So I took a job with a company who traded with foreign-flag bulk carriers in order to experience a different life working with international crews. Often, I might be the only Englishman on board, but English was always the lingua franca. I learned a lot about tolerance and different cultures by living, working, and socialising with different nationalities. It was around this time in 1984 that I met Karen in a sweaty crowded beer-and-song dive in Southampton called the Frog and Frigate.

When I finally got my Master Mariner's ticket, I went to work on North Sea oil rig supply and anchor-handling ships. I soon got my captain's job and stayed about 10 years. I loved that job, but the miserable winters and lumpy seas were tough. Karen and I were married by this point, and our daughter Charlotte came along the year after. Her arrival made me realise I was getting more and more fed up packing a bag, and wanted to be home more. Our son John arrived a couple of years later which piled the guilt on even further. So I jumped once more, this time to cross-channel ferries in Dover, and shortly after that to local ferry work near my home on the south coast of England. That wasn't the most varied of jobs, but at least I was home every day. But by a stroke of luck I soon landed a job as a harbour pilot in Portsmouth's commercial port, mainly berthing fruit boats.

The anchor-handling tug Lowland Raider
1st Mate on the Lowland Raider towing a jackup

I became interested in programming while working on the North Sea in the '90s. I taught myself C and PostScript to write an application to calculate the ship's stability (a laborious manual job), and then print it to the Dec laser printer we had on board. That soon led to learning other languages for the fun and challenge of it. Later on when I was a harbour pilot, I developed a profitable side-line (that's a side hustle these days) writing intranets and websites in the early days of the web for a family friend who owned a local IT company but couldn't yet afford a full-time developer.

John and Charlotte
John & Charlotte visiting the pilot boat

Just after the millennium, the IT guy's company had grown, and he offered me a full-time job. Big decision time! After a restless weekend of do I or don't I? I took the plunge, said goodbye to the sea, and started a life as a full-stack software developer. I was initially the only developer, but as the company grew, we became a small team. We did all of it—getting the customer requirements, writing specs, developing, installing on site, and supporting. I loved that full end-to-end involvement, it built up great personal relationships with customers, plus we had the luck of largely managing ourselves. Naturally, managers appeared as the company grew, and that early freedom slowly got more and more curtailed. The job satisfaction dropped off accordingly of course. But still, it was much more comfortable than desperately holding on to my breakfast somewhere northeast of the Shetlands in a North Sea winter.

I retired from paid employment in 2018. I now split my time between seeing family, making decidedly amateur videos, caravanning around Europe, travelling at home and abroad, mountain biking, coding for pleasure, and a bit of home DIY when the need arises. I still love old-style web dev with separate handwrought HTML, CSS and plain JavaScript. And for anything server-side these days I look first to Rust. It's lean and mean like C was in the K&R era, but sane, and doesn't blow your laptop up :-)