Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code

In my early teens I spent much of my spare time programming games in BASIC — first on the afformentioned ZX81, and later on an Acorn Electron. I don’t remember if I ever read a book on BASIC; I probably just started by copying out the simple games that were in computer magazines and amending the code.

This early experience instilled in me the importance of efficient coding, at a time when this made the difference between a game that was fun to play, and one that merely crawled along.


I returned to programming in 1999, when the firm where I was working as a Professional Support Lawyer asked me to look into document automation. This time around, I bought the big Sybex book on Visual Basic for Applications, which I read cover to cover.

My first VBA project was an automated bill template — which was quite a leap forward for a firm that (like many of that era) still relied on secretaries-with-calculators come billing time. The template enabled users to enter items via a simple onscreen form, then laid out the bill in Word, calculating VAT and totals. It was used to generate many thousands of bills over the next decade.

Since then, I have written numerous VBA applications and customisations in Word, Excel and Outlook, including:

  • Automated Word templates, including tightly-integrated usage with both commercial database applications, and databases which I have built


My first experience with SQL queries came around 2000; a legacy VBA form, built by a defunct supplier, was supposed to populate a combo-box from an Access database. It had never properly worked, and had been abandonned well before I got involved with VBA.

Another Sybex book, and a bit of trial-and-error later, the template was working, and I began working with basic Access databases to drive


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