Tuesday, December 20, 2011

What got you interested in programming?

When I was a kid, I would race home after school to watch M*A*S*H reruns on TV. One of my older brothers watched Star Trek reruns so I would sit through Star Trek waiting for M*A*S*H to start. It didn't take long before I became a Star Trek fan. Star Trek provided me with a view of the future. In that future all things were better. No one was poor, getting around was easy and just about any sickness seemed curable all in a 60 minute episode. Computers were an important element in Star Trek so for me, they became a way to touch the future.

I grew up near the University of California at Irvine. I would ride my bike there and hang out in the computer science lab. I bought punch cards, put them in a punch card machine and typed on them. I had no idea how to write programming code. I just mimicked what I saw others doing. I was probably 13 at the time and why no one chased me out of there still surprises me to this day.

My father spent his career as an electrical engineer mostly creating communications equipment for the military. One day he brought home a Texas Instruments portable terminal. It had no screen, just acoustic couplers that held the telephone handset for communication with the VAX mainframe at his work. A thermal printer was the only output device and of course when we would run out of the special thermal paper, that was a problem. My dad taught me to program in the original BASIC and we played the original text adventure game (called "Adventure") as well.

When the Apple II came along I wanted one but being in high school at the time, I certainly couldn't afford it. My dad was unwilling to pay extra for the Apple brand so instead purchased a Franklin ACE 1000, which was an Apple II Clone. The Franklin's motherboard failed several times, and I'll bet my dad ended up paying far more for it than he would have paid for an Apple II to begin with!  He bought me a book that taught Applesoft BASIC and 6502 assembler. One look at the pages about assembler and I knew right away that I was going to stick with BASIC.

Programming for me became a terrific outlet where I could create anything I could imagine. That's what got me interested in programming.

What got you interested in programming? Share your story.


Stephen said...


Those sweet, sweet arcade games of the early 80's.

I would go home and cut up cardboard pieces of space aliens and write up pages of complex paths for them to follow on graph paper. I had no home computer and only vaguest fantasies of how they might operate inside. It never occurred to me you could have a variable or a conditional branch so I wrote all these games based on static patterns. I could never figure out how they managed to make Pac Man so dynamic!

When I got my first Commodore 64 (we couldn't afford an Apple) I immediately wrote the most complex games I could imagine in Basic. They would operate at about one frame per 5 seconds which was a little dissapointing.

Still love coding. My games have just got more complex and involve time and expense management rather than space aliens.

Keir Wells said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Keir Wells said...

I remember clearly the first program I wrote - it was a simple BASIC program that displayed a blue box on the screen hooked up to my brand new TI-99/4a. From that point on I was hooked! BASIC, Pascal and Assembly. C? Who needed it, when you had the incredible ease of developing in Turbo Pascal combined with the raw speed of Assembly for the "it's gotta be fast" routines.

I remember slogging away for a solid four weeks, using Borland Turbo Assembler to create my own Ultima-style game. I even hand-coded the tools required for it - a 16x16 tile maker, a map constructor and palette mixer. I was in heaven!

It was the realisation that I could get a computer to do whatever I wanted that blew my mind - and it still does.

My programming focus is a bit different nowadays - using Real Studio to develop database-centric applications for my business. But has the wonder and awe of those early days (30 years ago) even slightly faded? No bl**dy way!

Jason said...

When I was 11 the internet was starting to pick up a little bit. It still more or less resembled a giant fireworks show, with unbelievable colors, text chasing the mouse hungrily, and frames which said, "I'm complex and awesome!" I started to get curious how all this worked, as I'd grown up the son of a Trekkie engineer, and curiosity was in my veins. So one day I went to one of my favorite sites, right-clicked, viewed source, and stared at it until it made sense.

From here I got into web development using the most powerful programming tool of all: Notepad. I simultaneously discovered one of the early versions of Photoshop (while simultaneously learning about internet piracy... ahem... I stopped when I was 18, I promise).

From there it was a blur of HTML, ASP, QBASIC, C++, and on. :)

Dale Arends said...

I started out as a hardware geek but soon discovered that I liked writing the controller software and test routines more than I liked the hardware. I actually wrote 4 different boot loaders for my old Altair (with the toggle switches on the front, you geezers know what I'm talking about) just for the fun of it.

One thing led to another and after years of programming in many different languages, I've finally slowed down to Real Studio and an occasional C routine, just to keep my brain and fingers active in retirement.

Norman Palardy said...

Some of these replies make me feel very old.
We lived near the University and friends& I would always go over & hang out in the CompSci building.
They had all the punch card machines & stuff.
In grade school we never had computers.
By high school I took an accounting course & we had to do some work on computers at the University for that. Now I realize we were supposed to start writing a program to DO accounting.
Moved to a different high school & they had an Apple.
I never used it but it was interesting to watch others.
When we moved back I worked for a company and we had to use a mainframe to update records. I made more money than I knew what to do with so I bought a computer - Tandy Color Computer.
Learned basic and started writing some D & D like programs on it.
Took a couple night school classes & found I did pretty well at them (2 years with a perfect GPA)
The professors there said that if you REALLY wanted to learn you should go to University.
So I went and have been writing programs since the early 1980's. It's been in assembler, Pascal, C, basic, Adabas/Natural, Cobol, C++, VB, RB, and several others along the way.

Jeremy said...

For me, I was 10 yrs old walking through another boring yard sale with my mom, but what did my eyes see? This large box with a cord going to a keyboard and TV (I thought). It had a price tag of $40. I wasn't totally sure what it was, but for some reason it just looked fantastic.

I talked my mom into purchasing it. We were told it worked great. Coming home, it did not. All it did was a solid beep when you turned it on. The monitor didn't even do that. There was a computer consultant who went to our small church, my mom reached out. After changing memory and getting a new monitor, I had a working 8086 computer. After getting borde with typing DIR and CLS, I picked up the IBM manual on BASIC that came with it. From that point on I spent more time programming that I did riding my bike.

Still love programming just as much to this day.

Fernando Ferreira said...

Please, can you help me?

I need to parse a XML where nodes have attributes.

My problem is how to take the XMLAttributes if what I get from XMLDocument.Child is a XMLNode and only XMLElements have GetAttribute and GetAttributeNode.


Norman Palardy said...

Fernando I'd say you'd be much better off trying either the Real Software Forums (http://forums.realsoftware.com/) or joining the NUG (http://realsoftware.com/support/listmanager/)

The blog is really not a support forum

MacATDBB said...

Thanks for the insight Geoff. Nice to find someone else who spent time around 6502 assembly back in the day.

I started fiddling with basic at about the age of 11 on a ZX81 (zilog80 based 1k RAM) because there was only so much fun you could have fiddling with the program settings buttons of a radio alarm clock. Besides which my folks were getting fed up of the 3am wake ups. After realizing that the ZX81's 1024 bytes of RAM was a bit limiting I shifted to a BBC Micro (a classic 6502 platform) in about 1983/4. BBC basic was great and allowed the hardware to be easily accessed - this in turn led me to 6502 assembly which I think of as one of the first RISC ISAs (compared to Z80!). I'm not sure basic was easier by comparison - 6502 assembly was very elegant - writing a fractal generator in 6502 assembly took only a few hours and was marvelously fast (a mandelbrot in only half an hour :).

While I moved on in college years to C, I missed the simplicity and speed of basic and eventually found RealBasic (with Andrew Barry leading the way back then) which I've been very happy to call home ever since. PowerPC assembly was in many ways similar to 6502 assembly. So much so that one of the first projects I wrote in RealBasic was an assembler that would compile PPC assembly, put it into the resource fork of the assembler app, flush the code out of the dCache and allow it to be executed.

I'd never try that now intel variable length assembly code .. more's the pity :( Though I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has tried!

Looking forward to the LLVM future!

Software Maniac said...

Long story. In the old days there were no PCs - I read books in high school about computers and COBOL/FORTRAN and paper tape readers, card decks in school was the only way to do it.

After school worked on DEC minis, DG (Data General - who I joined in the "Soul of a New Machine" days in North Carolina), and fell in love with the PC, but always liked the idea of developing portable, efficient code. I've been lucky to become a leader with software companies (VP of engineering at Software Publishing - remember Harvard Graphics???) and others -- still on the side, I built small projects and sold them. What other industry allows you to create things that help automate and simplify mundane activities and all it takes is some skill (ok, endurance), an idea, and a personal computer?

Now, all you need is the right tools...

Thus, Real Software caught my attention several years ago and I've been an avid fan ever since.