I like hearing stories about how people got into computers and programming. Perhaps if I blog my story, you'll share yours.
I went to school in NE Portland in a small and diverse but relatively poor elementary school. I remember the first time a computer showed up in class. It was fifth grade - I think I was 11 - and the computer was an Apple ][. There was only the one computer. This was the 80s and these were $2600 machines if you got the full 48Kb of RAM.
Before I discovered computers I was, in fact, a typewriter nerd. Yes, that existed. I took typing class on old manual (not IBM Selectric) typewriters and I was the kid in class that repaired the typewriters. I remember spending hours trying to figure out what each typewriter needed to fix a stuck key or repair a carriage that wouldn't return.
I was also the A/V (Audio/Visual) geek. This basically meant I was the only one in the class (including the teacher, sometimes) who knew how to thread film onto the projector.
Clearly I was wired to tinker from the start. I was always taking apart the toaster or the clock radio. I loved going to Goodwill or the local flea market and buying broken stuff and trying to bring it back to live. This continues today. Just this weekend my 4 year old and I bought a small toy walking (broken) robot for $2 at a garage sale and spend the evening taking it apart, cleaning the gears, re setting the mechanism and getting it walking again. Perhaps this is also why I like watches with moving parts and hands and not digital ones. I was analog before I was digital, I suppose.
Anyway, when this Apple ][ showed up, I immediately opened it up. I had to see what was inside. This, of course, totally freaked out the teacher but it seemed pretty clear I wasn't going to break it. We had the usual games like Oregon Trail (no color here folks, this was all green screen) and I quickly learned how to get out of these educational games and write things in BASIC.
Screenshot: The original Oregon Trail computer game. (Photo credit: The_Pug_Father via Flickr)
This was all in 5th grade and this was when it all started. I blogged about my fifth grade teacher in 2004. She and her husband attended my wedding. We stayed in touch until her passing. She - along with my parents - was absolutely instrumental in keeping me out of trouble. I can say that I honestly don't know what I'd be doing if she hadn't done something extraordinary.
She let me take the computer home.
In clearer terms, she let my parents and I effectively "steal" the computer every Friday night after everyone left as long as we had it back Sunday night and ready for Monday morning.
This was massive, in case that's unclear. She played favorites and made a deal. She singled me out because she knew without focus that I would be trouble. They used to joke that I would be voted "most likely to be convicted of a white-collar crime." This was a $2000+ computer in the middle of the 80s - the pride of the school - and they let me take it home. I can't imagine what would have happened had we broken it.
Each Friday evening my Dad would back his pickup up to the outside door of her class and we would abscond with the Apple ][. I'd spend the weekend programming, reading the massive spiral notebooks of Apple internals and generally staying away from trouble.
A year or so later when it was clear that I had a knack for computers, I came home from school one day and the family car was gone and there was a Commodore 64 left in its place. My Mom and Dad had sold the car and bought a Commodore.
When it's 30 years later and you're hanging with your spouse and perhaps watching your kids play you will find yourself thinking about how this crazy journey happened. I am standing on the shoulders not only of computer science giants, but also unsung heroes like my parents and my 5th grade teacher. I look forward to the time when I will make sacrifices for my kids and the children in my life. I hope I make those decisions as unselfishly as did the adults in my life.
Thank you Mrs. Hill, for introducing me to computers even though you were breaking a half dozen rules to make it happen.
Thanks, Mom and Dad for bringing a computer into our house even when there wasn't money for one.
What's your story?
Sponsor: I want to thank my friends at DevExpress for sponsoring last week's feed. Take a moment and check out their stuff as they are lovely folks. Touch-enabled apps require developers to re-think design & user experiences. DevExpress tools help you take on these new challenges using your existing skills & today’s technologies.
Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. I am a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.