Scott Hanselman

She let me take the computer home. - How did you get started in computers and programming?

May 29, 2012 Comment on this post [133] Posted in Musings
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Apple 2 - Wikipedia CommonsI 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.

Oregon Trail - Photo via The Pug Father on Flickr - Creative Commons
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.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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May 29, 2012 23:09
WOW. Flashback.

I played this in the mid-80's in elementary school. It totally hooked me. There was also another game where you had to practice energy efficiency by closing windows and shutting doors. Then I got into LOGO and it was all over.

Good article
May 29, 2012 23:11
In the summer of 1981, at the age of nine, my family and I moved from Detroit to Phoenix. During that summer, my parents signed me up for a computer class to keep me out of their hair for a few hours each week. The moment I sat in front of that computer, I was hooked. Within a few weeks I was already writing BASIC computer code. I knew from that point on, I would be a computer programmer. I have never wavered. It has never even occurred me that could I do anything else with my life.
May 29, 2012 23:11
Awesome! I'm definitely inspired to blog my own story!
May 29, 2012 23:13
Inspiring, I am certainly going to blog about my own story.
May 29, 2012 23:15
Hmm, well....

My Grandad had a CPC 464 and I was six, he upgraded to a brand new Windows something or over and gave me it.

He taught me how to write my times table in BASIC and I started working from there and that was great, I wrote some very basic games.

When I was 8 or 9, my teacher Mr Bolton started letting me have entire days to just "play" with the computers in his room, I could do anything I wanted, he could always fix them.

Those two events were a life-changer for me, I learned I learned and I learned how to build the stuff I wanted to play with.

My other Grandad when I was 16 let me use his PC to learn C++ with, and the things I build with that were enough to persuade my father to buy my own PC.

The next two years were filled with distrust, as he felt I was using it for nothing more than gaming and porn - lies, all lies - I was coding during the day, and he'd get back in the evening to hear the telltale sounds of Diablo II and think I had done nothing all day.

He was surprised when a few years later I had a career doing this stuff, and not only a career but a really profitable one and one where I think I've gained a little bit of respect from a few folk around various places in the globe :-)

I thank my grandparents and him for having a bit of trust, and for recognising that my passion lay in computers - it was well placed, I hope.
May 29, 2012 23:17
@Greymarch - my story starts out almost the same! In the summer of 1981 at the age of...ten!

Anyway, my dad bought a TI-99/4A, and I spend countless hours writing code in TI-Basic, and I was hooked. I still miss that computer...
May 29, 2012 23:23
It was 1979, and a few months earlier, I had convinced my parents to abandon the Sears Telegames video game in favor of an Atari 2600. Over the months, I built my collection of cartridges (or "tapes" as my mom would call them). These were a luxury we could ill-afford, but my mom somehow made it happen.

One of those cartridges I wanted was Atari BASIC. My brother was learning a "computer career in less than a year" at a local trade school, and I wanted him to show me how this stuff worked.

I remember bringing home the cartridge and hooking up the arcane controller that let you painstakingly type commands into the interpreter. I followed the instructions:

From the first moment I made that 8088 processor do my bidding, I was hooked. This was far from the complex world of dealing with people and emotions... this was ordered and logical. I put in the instructions, the computer followed them.

Not long after that, I had my parents put an ad in the paper to sell the 2600 and all the cartridges. All told, I got about two hundred bucks for what I sold, and immediately used that money to fund a Commodore VIC-20. Coding with a real keyboard? Heck yeah!

The VIC-20 was awesome. Even with only 3.5K (11.5K after the expansion cartridge), I was in heaven. BASIC was my first real conquest, with 6502 assembly following shortly thereafter. I spent every last penny of my allowance and part-time jobs on magazines like Compute! so I could learn more about the platform, and I spent hours typing lines of code in from the magazines, carefully storing them to cassette tape (and tragically losing more than a few to an errant power spike).

Eventually, 11.5K was too little, thus came the inevitable upgrade to a Commodore 64, then to an Amiga, and finally, when the bloom was off the Commodore rose, I ventured into IBM territory.

Since then, there have been mainframes, minicomputers, and PCs. There's been Unix, Linux, and Windows, and a dozen programming languages. In short, that fateful day when I told the 2600 to print "Hello" defined my life.

To this day, the best way for me to learn something code related is for me to look at it on one screen and type it into my editor on the other screen. Though I'm 30-plus years removed from those days, it still stays with me, as does the hobby about which my mom said: "I hope you stick with this one, because your hobbies cost me a lot of money."

Thanks Mom. It did.
May 29, 2012 23:27
The year was 1986 current Ugandan president had just come into power, My elder brother had just ACED his exams and my dad walks in one night with an Atari 65 XL under his arm.
OH BOY!! There was a datacorder (tape drive NO REALLY cassette tape drive) and one LARGE 5 and 1/4 inch drive. The OS was Atari BASIC and a tonne of games. It blew my mind! When I realised the games were rather easily predictable and thus monotonous (5 or 6 months), I turned my attention to the instruction manual that came with the computer. There was BASIC code and instructions on how to write your own code! I remember spending one long weekend writing the code to find the roots of a quadratic equation. I erased my Dad's original copy of the Bee Gees to immortalise that program! It was beautiful! I astounded my cousins in Kenya when I went to visit and sat for 3hrs to read 150 pages of QBasic code they wrote at school for a fortune telling app as a class project.
To this date, while I play games on pc, I STILL LOVE TO CODE! I owe it all to my elder bros good grades and a proud father.
Thanks for the moist eye Scott.
May 29, 2012 23:29

There was a related meme back in 2008 and several people wrote about it:
May 29, 2012 23:29
My parents had enrolled me into a great elementary school that was an early adopter to classroom computers...actually, it was the library and you had to wait your turn. My parents picked me up an Intellivision II which allowed you to program in basic (1 of the 3 options at boot). This was amazing for me at the time...I was like 10 or 11 and flipping through the skimpy manual to learn how to write basic code to draw on the screen.

Since I had shown continued interest, they were nice enough to get me a TI-99/4a, my first real computer. I didn't think about it until Scott mentioned it, but I too really am where I am today because someone who knew nothing about computers saw fit to make sure I had one. Most homes did not even have them back then. I was lucky enough to go to some magnet schools in California that had these dorky computer classes where you moved up from the RAM level, to the ROM level to the CPU level for doing things learning the names of the major parts of a computer or being able to explain (in the simplest of terms) what Ram or ROM was. Those were great days!

Since I have kids of my own now, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what turns kid on to computers. I think its the love of puzzles and figuring things out.
May 29, 2012 23:30
This is too funny! I'm a few years older than you, but my first experience shared a lot of similarities. When I was in middle school I volunteered to help with the A/V equipment in the library every day for an hour. One day in the AV closet I found one of two unused Apple II computers -- one with a greenscreen monitor and one with amber. My first ever experience with a computer! I started by playing games (although we didn't have Oregon Trail, I did play a lot of "lemonade stand"). Then one day I found the manuals that came with it and started learning AppleBasic and the rest is history. My first program was a text based adventure game that I tried to model after the movie "War Games". Good times. :)
May 29, 2012 23:41
My story starts in 1986. My dad was a train conductor and spend most of his vacation days to order a computer through is work (in that time you could exchange vacation days to cheaply get a brand new expensive computer). It was an Atari 1040STf, not one of those 512K machines, but a full megabyte! At that time my parents were not that wealthy and it was a big sacrifice for them to do this, but I am sure glad they did!

At first we were playing some games on it, but the more time I spent, the more I saw the capabilities of the machine. First finding a cheap $10 Basic programing tool for the machine in a local computer shop, but after some time I switched to GFA Basic. A whole world of posibilities opened up for me and I spend my days and some nights programing on that thing.

I build all kinds of tools; disk-copiers, launch menus, etc.

After a couple of years, somewhere in the 90's they finally replaced it with another computer, a 486DX266. I remember the day we got it like it was yesterday. I was playing a soccer match and after it was over, my mom told me that we were going straight to a computer store to get a new computer. Again, this was a big hump of money back then. I was so excited, because finally I could get that programming tool everyone was talking about (like 1 person at school, no internet you know): Turbo Pascal.

I spent weeks programming a Dune 2 clone, figuring out the best travel paths for my units, animating them and how to fire and inflict damage. Cool times!

After a few year I got myself a job at a computer store. Repairing computers, building them, and more and more sales (which is probably why I am not as computationally-challenged as some of co-workers). Working a lot of hours in that store, keeping up with school and also some time outside finally gave me what I have now: a dream job where I can be creative, a productive mind and sometimes a rockstar :).

Yup, now I think of it, I think I am going to thank my parents soon for doing all that selfless stuff and allowing me to become whatever I wanted.
May 29, 2012 23:44
I think is was around 1978-1979, my school got a Radio Shack TRS-80 computer and no one knew how to use it. Due to my repeated "creativity" in the classroom, I was sent to the school psychologist for evaluation. LOL! It turns out my IQ was really high (can't remember how they tested me) and they put me into a gifted program.

I tried out the TRS-80 and got it up and running. I wrote my first BASIC program called "The Red Baron's Revenge" and was hooked! My school gave me two years of independent study on that computer (7th and 8th grade).

The TRS-80 was a gateway drug to my own Commodore VIC-20, and then a C64. I ended up coding most of the time in Assembly and Machine Language, making demos, games, and getting into a lot of trouble. I eventually started writing *real* software with the C64, creating a security system and a hospital mailroom management app that used a light pen!

Ahhh, the good old days...

May 29, 2012 23:47
I got started with the UYK-20 and fell in love with ASCII art. It had 64K of REAL core memory. Yep, wire and magnetic rings.
It wasn't very portable code but it was fun. Then in 1981 bought a TI-99/4A and learned BASIC.
A buddy and I programmed a Zork clone called the Island and we thought we were going strike it rich programming games.
I don't remember the model but I learned Clipper Winter 85 on a Radio Shack computer with 2 360k floppy disk drives.
Really seems weird to be composing this comment on a Quad Core 3.2 Ghz laptop with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 Gb SDD.
May 29, 2012 23:54
@GreyMarch Indeed, from the moment I started coding I knew this is what I want to do. Computers weren't that 'big' yet back in the days, but I never thought about anything else.

Even now I would not trade in coding yet for something other than the life I got now, maybe some cooler projects, but that's it.
May 29, 2012 23:58
Great story!

For me, it seems like complete luck when looking back. Especially since my parents had absolutely no interest in owning a computer. In fact, I probably owe my entire career to my childhood babysitter, B. She noticed my interest in video games. Particularly, my sketches and passion to make my own some day. She relaying these observations to her son, who worked with many computers at the time and was generous enough to give us one of his old, unused ones. A Tandy 1000 with MS-DOS.

That's where I met my first geek-love: QBasic.

I was so curious. I'd ask B so many questions, even though she didn't exactly have any answers. You can TELL a computer how to do things? How does it know what I mean? Luckily, MS-DOS only had so many files loaded onto it. It wasn't long before I discovered snake.bas and gorillas.bas. They were fun, and were fun to tinker with. But there were still a bit too advanced to learn from scratch with.

After playing around for a while, B introduced me to the QBasic help, and I learned how to fly from there.

Thanks, B and little B. And to my parents for making space for an old dusty computer!
May 29, 2012 23:59
>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.

Those are some committed parents. Some day I hope they come to your house to find your plasma TV and surround sound system gone and a new car in the driveway for them!

You are a luck guy.

May 30, 2012 0:05
Your teacher was awesome! I'm glad she let you take the computer home, otherwise we probably wouldn't be enjoying your blog today...

As for me, it started when I was about 8 years old. My father bought an Atari 1040 STE (1MB of RAM, wow!). At first I was mostly interested in games (Arkanoid, Rick Dangerous...), but when I was 10 or 12 I got interested in the floppy disk and manual titled Omikron BASIC that were shipped with the computer. For me it was a revelation: I could tell the computer what to do! I started by copying bits of code from the manual or from magazines, and from this time I never stopped programming.
May 30, 2012 0:15
Awesome story, Scott.

I remember your Commodore 64 fondly. I also remember begging my parents to let me ride my bike over to your house so I could play with it too. That of course led to me eventually getting one of my very own and was really the start of my love for all things tech.

(If memory serves me, wasn’t there a regular meeting of Firefighters and family where we could copy and exchange the newest C64 games?)

Anyhow, while I never had the mind or skillset for programming, this early love of computers is why I currently work in the Digital Marketing industry.
May 30, 2012 0:17
My story is not at all that different, but a little earlier. My high school had a 'digital computer' teaching aid. This was 5-10 years before the Apple ][. No one in the school including the teacher had any idea what it was, or how to use it, with its tiny round magnetic memory with wires running through the donuts. I got to take it home, as I was terrible at fixing vacuum tube TVs in class but showed a lot of interest in electronics anyhow. So I learned viecht carnaugh logic mapping entirely on my own. A very few years later after high school I wanted a TRS-80 so badly. My dad said fine, get a job and buy one. I did. for the next 30 years I was solidly ahead of everyone, often in terms of knowledge and always ahead in terms of experience. I broke the $100k salary mark in the 80's with no college. Not bad.
May 30, 2012 0:17
A number of factors contributed to my start. Sometimes my father would bring home a portable computer, Compaq of some sort with an orange monitor built-in, from work. And sometimes I would go in with him on the weekends and use the desktops at his work, too. A couple years later, we got a computer at home, 8086, I believe, with a green monitor, not much sooner before my mother started a new career of programming at home. One of my grandfather's had a color IBM computer, which was my personal mecca of computing for a few years. In about 3rd grade, in the mid-late 80's, the local school system started a new program where once a week some of us participated in activities, including learning computers. For the first two years of this, we programmed simple programs in BASIC on Apple IIe's. Unfortunately, for the second two years, this portion of the program simply became typing, albeit, on the same computers. The combination all of these pretty much guaranteed I would always be involved in computers.
May 30, 2012 0:24
I guess I'm the oldest guy posting so far :)

1976 - I was a Freshman at Evanston Township High School and one of the Math Teachers hosted a "Computer Club" after school. He taught us Fortran IV. The school had an IBM 360-E30 Mainframe they used for school purposes - and let the students have a daily "Batch Run".

We would key our own programs using keypunch machines into Hollerith Deck punchcards. We would get one run per day. If you had any syntax Errors you'd have to wait until the next day. Debugging was a particular challenge...

May 30, 2012 0:27
Cool story

Mine seems mundane in comparison: my dad worked for IBM since I was born (he retired about eight or so years ago - maybe 35 years as a field engineer fixing mainframes). So I basically grew up around the things. Was playing with punch card readers when I was young, taught myself COBOL when I was seven (I was a weird kid). My first "PC" was a Timex Sinclair that I outgrew in about 45 minutes. Had a PC-XT, -AT, two PCjr's (side note: anyone else notice that the chicklet keyboard that was such a "horrible" feature of the jr is surprisingly common nowadays?), a TI99/4A, and an Atari 800XL as a teenager. Took a jr to college with me, did physics and astronomy modeling on that - used to have to take the cover off and clean the floppy drive rails with rubbing alcohol every week to keep it running.

In grad school, my research (physics) was computer modeling what's colloquially known as "things so uninteresting that you'll never hear Michio Kaku talk about them." For that, I had an acquaintance build a "monster" desktop (DX/4-100mhz, overclocked to something like 180mhz, 128mb RAM). When he delivered it, he said to me "You know, I know a guy who needs some programming done. He'll pay you." To which, my response was " mean, I can get paid for doing this???" That particular opportunity didn't work out...but one 9-month Access DB project later, and I'm a "professional".
May 30, 2012 0:43
Back in the summer of 1980, I was 11. That year my grades were not the best. My dad decided that I did'nt deserved to stay lazing at home. So as a "punishment", he took me to work to read and study and he would re-test me. That lasted a week, after he saw I really knew the stuff, It's just that I had problems concentrating. I needed to be producing output more than receiving it.

Did I mention that my dad was a programmer and he worked in a big computer center for a university? So, he sat with me and explained the basis of bits, bytes, memory, cpu, etc. Then put me in front of a terminal for one of those IBM 370 mainframes with a manual for something called "minibasic". Minibasic was included in the "Roscoe" editor for VMS. It was really "basic", very basic. Didn't even handled string variables. Anyway, it was my dad. I owe everything to him.
May 30, 2012 0:50
Growing up as a kid I dreamed, and thought, thought I was going to go into Aerospace. Then I discovered programming. It was like crack. Unlike studying Aerospace, in which you need to spend years in the books for any return, programming yielded instant gratification. It was as though I couldn't wait to write the next program; just one more hit. It was accidental really, but great all the same.
May 30, 2012 1:02
My IT teacher let me take home one of the school's 18 or so Acorn Archimedes A130 computers... for the entire summer holiday.

This was a 32-bit ARM machine worth a 999 GBP in the 80s. At home at that time I had a 128KB Sinclair ZX Spectrum admittedly with a disk drive.

Was very educational and definitely helped maintain my interest in computers until I could finish school and buy an Amiga and a modem.

May 30, 2012 1:07
Reading that your teacher let you take the computer home on weekends filled me joy. Kudos to her.

We had some sort of a "career day" in 7th or 8th grade (this would have been around 1981 for me) and a local guy brought in his Vic 20. I must have ranted and raved to my parents about how cool it was because for my 12th birthday that year I got one. It brought tears to my eyes, I was soooo happy (and my brother to this day teases me about my reaction, but those of us that get it, get it).

I upgraded to a C64 with a disk drive a year or two later.

I'm surprised no one has mentioned COMPUTE! magazine - what a wonderful publication that was back in the early 1980's. Each issue featured BASIC programs you could type in yourself - later on they published a makeshift editor that you could use to input programs written in assembler (not as many learning opportunities there). Typing in other people's code was a great way to learn the ins and outs of the language, as well as providing a springboard for tweaking their programs.

The magazine also had a column that would go into the more "under the covers" stuff, teaching you assembler, or how to have fun peeking and poking directly into certain memory locations.

Fond memories indeed.
May 30, 2012 1:36
In 92 or 93 my dad brought his new work laptop home. It had the usual stuff like Office, Solitaire, and Minesweeper. It also had Visual Basic. This was unusual because my dad was not a developer, but a physicist. I started playing around with it and loved being able to build UI mock ups. Dragging scroll bars, and text boxes onto that grey canvas. I began to delve deeper into the actual language and was fascinated by being able to tell a machine what to do and when to do it. From then on I knew what I wanted to do when I grew up.
May 30, 2012 3:15
Great idea and post, Scott. Here is my story,

May 30, 2012 3:37
I got started when the ']' prompt of my Apple ][C prevented me from playing Oregon Trail. One of my friends told me that you could type 'load' and make it load the game. I thought to myself, what else can I make this thing do?

When I was 13 my parents sent me to National Computer Camps: This is a great place for kids to learn about programming. I learned Basic, Pascal, Assembly and C programming of the course of three summers. I learned more there than I did in my CS classes!!
May 30, 2012 4:02
I actually started with a Delta Gold Elite II 16-bit PC/XT back in the early 80’s. You can learn more by visiting my profile on Google +
May 30, 2012 4:12
Computers for me started when I was 7 years old. I went to a very small village school, about 30 kids in total. One lunchtime we were all in the dining hall when a man came in to deliver and setup the schools first computer, a BBC model a. I went over and didn't leave this mans side for the rest of the day. I have no idea why I was so drawn to this odd looking typewriter that he had brought in but I spent the next four years at that school doing anything that would get me computer time.

Fortunately my dad is an electrical engineer so shortly afterwards he bought a ZX81 and a few ŷears later a commodore 64.

Unfortunately at high school, they only had 2 computers for use by about 600 students so I had to focus on what I could do at home peeking and poking my way through the commodore 64 user manual.

From the Commodore 64 we upgraded to the Amiga which was an amazing machine but by then the bullying had set in at school and being remotely geeky was not cool. As a result, I strayed away from computers, almost hiding my interest in them like some dirty secret. At home we moved up,to an Opus 286 with 1meg of ram and one of the first VGA screens. I learnt about databases using dBase IV and some basic Fortran.

As I moved through the educational system I deliberately avoided computer subjects as options for study for fear of being seen as a geek and being bullied as a result. That is until my second attempt at A Levels where I met Bill Edwards, one of the greatest teachers I have ever met. He would stray miles beyond the curriculum if he thought you were interested, and luckily my class was filled with students that were very very interested.

Now, I am one of the fortunates that genuinely loves his work, as I sit here it is 1 am, I have just finished setting up an esx server for no other reason than I haven't done it before and wanted to see what it was all about.

I have a two week holiday coming up and I intend to spend part of that time learning about Mono.

Thank you Bill for helping me come out of my programming closet.
May 30, 2012 4:17
My dad is an electrical engineer and he's been doing embedded programming a long time. As such, we always had computers around the house growing up. My first experience with a computer was playing games on a TRS-80. Then there was a 286, 386, 486, and so on. All the while my main interest was games.

That is, until my brother introduced me to QBASIC programming when I was 12 years old. I was hooked immediately. By the 3rd day of programming I had discovered the graphics capabilities of QBASIC and I began creating animations. I wrote over 100 QBASIC programs tinkering with various animation techniques and physics simulations. I eventually progressed into Visual C++ and OpenGL programming and some of my work was published in a book before I graduated from high school.

In hindsight, that whole story is kind of ridiculous and it almost doesn't seem like me. After all, I haven't really revisited 3D programming ever since I became a web developer at age 18.
May 30, 2012 4:40
I remember seeing Space Invaders while waiting for some cave attraction. My dad and I played 1 game, but then we still had 15-20 minutes until the cave tour.

I just stared at the attract screen. I just had to know how it works. It was 1978 and I was 8-years old.

My parents bought us Super Pong™ and then later an Atari 2600 Christmas of 1979. Every time they asked me what cartridge I wanted, I said, "Basic Programming". They looked at it and said, "Nah, that looks boring."

Despite asking for it 3½ years every birthday and Christmas, they never got it for me. Finally, when I was 13, my Dad starting giving me $20 at the beginning of every week for lunch. I would only spend about $2-$3 a day and save the other $1-$2.

Finally, I convinced my brother to go together for an Atari 800XL computer. I told him that they games were much better (not a lie). My parents got so tired of me being on the main TV that they finally bought me a $200 13" color TV for my room. From that time on, I spent a lot of time in my room instead of listening to my parents argue. (One time my mom actually tried sending me to my room. I told her, "Ooo, what a punishment. That's where I go every night anyway...)

I typed in listings from Antic magazine and saved them on tape. I wrote a joystick tester program in BASIC to test our Atari joysticks, which were notoriously brittle. (I gave that program to many people when they visited and it eventually ended up in a magazine listing with no credit to me.)

Because of ridiculous lawsuits, my school started doing this thing where if there was any way you could end up failing a class, they would send home a note. I got notes for classes where I had a B-. Once even for a B+. My mom took away my computer and locked it in her trunk.

If she knew where I would end up, she probably would have given me the computer and let me skip my homework...
May 30, 2012 4:40
Oh, and thanks to MAME, I know EXACTLY how Space Invaders works... ;)
May 30, 2012 5:13
"White-collar" crime maybe?
May 30, 2012 5:41
I've got a few stories from that age, but I suppose the most relevant is that my best friend's father was the IT manager in the late 70's for a local construction company (big enough locally but small in absolute terms). They had some pre-VAX/pre-IBM System34 minicomputer (Wang? no doubt expensive), and he did his best to teach some of us how to program it after hours. I got bored and typed in a utility program that I didn't understand from the back of the manual. Apparently I then reformatted the system drive! I was clearly very dumb, but he was very brave for giving us such access, and I've turned such lessons into a very successful IT career. I salute him.
May 30, 2012 7:08
Wow! Talk about taking a walk down memory lane.

My first exposure to computers was in 1983 after my dad was transferred to the KC Metro Area. The suburb in which we settled had a gifted and talented students program called Quest and in the Jr. High Quest classroom, there were several Apple ][ and Apple ][e computers. In my freshman year, I learned a little programming and my first big trick was to try and re-run an entire NHL season based on a Kansas City Scouts media guide. According to the simulation, the Scouts actually did better than predicted by their stats.

During my freshman and sophomore years (my first year of high school) I was able to visit Ft. Leavenworth and tour their computer center and the War College's simulation rooms. Then I was able to see the computer labs at the University of Kansas. That sparked my interest and form my birthday, my parents got me a Commodore 64. My dad picked it over the IBM PC because the salesman told him the PC would never take off. LOL.

I learned to do a lot of programming on that beastie, but as I went to college, I left that behind to focus on a degree in linguistics. After I graduated, I would do a lot of work with and for my dad on his PC. After I moved to LA I fell in with a friend who was a computer programmer and he introduced me to the internet in the mid-90's. My dad sent me his old PC as a housewarming present when I went to update the computer, I could not afford Microsoft's OSes, and I bought Linux instead. From there, I started learning programming as a hobby as I was learning how to build computers and basic networks.

After 9/11, I left LA and returned to KC. While I was working at different companies, I was always trying to find a way to work with their computers and systems. Finally in 2008, I was laid off at the start of the recession and my now wife suggested (read cajoled and pushed) that I apply for a job as a web developer. I didn't feel qualified, but I got the job and have never looked back from being a programmer or developer of some type. Right before that I finished an MIS and am now back in school for my BS in Comp Sci and am working out a possible PhD thesis. I am curious to know if programmers learn programming languages in a similar way to how people learn to speak other human languages.
May 30, 2012 7:09
I was 8 years old or so, and my brother bought an Apple ][. I BEGGED him to bring it with us to my grandmas house for a 2 night stay. I don't even know why, because I hadn't even seen it turned on, and had never typed on a keyboard that wasn't attached to a manual typewriter before.

But he spent 10 minutes teaching me how to make a variable, an IF statement, and print to the screen. I spent the next 6 hours typing out a story and watching it print on screen. I learned myself (not sure how) to make the text page and wait for a space key before showing the next page of text, which caused my 19 year old brother to look at me in astonishment, like "how the hell did you learn that?"

Skip ahead a few months, and I discovered an Apple ][ at our church. I spent the next several months going there after school for 3-4 hours and learning how to create "hi res" graphics. Ahh....hres. Such huge power. Something like 256 columns available or so to painstakingly draw my masterpiece, which was a castle, drawn 1 line at a time.

Then I learned that I could use a FOR loop and use steps to draw a diagonal filled area. It took my castle program down from thousands of lines to a couple hundred.

I begged my mom to let me get a modem, but my evil sister convinced my mom that I'd just use it to hack into the Pentagon. So, I stopped using computers as seriously. I had a ][c, and loved it, but all I did was play games.

Right before I graduated from college in 1995, my girlfriend got a 486 machine and a modem, and she just couldn't get hooked on the internet. I spent 2 weeks debugging that stupid internet connection, and actually got online....omg...netscape 2...the rooms...and HTML.

HTML! With just a simple <HR> I can make those really cool divider lines that makes the computer look like it has depth! And I can simply "View Source" on the Microsoft website and see what code made that? I can see code from real life professional programmers? I was in heaven.

Last, I convinced my mom to buy me a computer (Gateway 180Mhz Pentium Pro with 256MB of RAM, a 2 GB HD, and Win95, $3,000) along with a copy of Powerbuilder 5. I convinced a comp sci teacher to give me an "Independent Study" to make a grading program with Powerbuilder and Sybase SQLAnywhere.

After graduation I moved home into my mom's basement and got a 2nd phone line which was hooked onto the internet pretty much 24/7.

The greatest thing about that time was that Dell and Gateway were in such a war with each other that they both offered 24/7/365 phone tech support. I got a free education from Gateway. I'd mess up my machine and have them walk me through a complete rebuild of my machine. I learned about dip switches, how to find and fix things in the Windows registry, and a lot more about the internals of Windows.

I then lied my way into my first programming job with Farmland in Kansas City, and never looked back.

Man, that was fun.
May 30, 2012 7:51

Very touching, the past where your parents sold the car almost moved me to tears!!

Indeed, if not for a few people, those few unsung heroes, we would not be half what we are today!
May 30, 2012 8:17
Hey Scott that is really an inspiring story... You would be happy to know that I am also similar to you... I also used to break things apart to see whats inside. I even got my fathers attention that this kid is going towards destructive mentality. Thanks to my Mom, I always used to be saved...
My parents also bought a computer even when they could not afford it... Such similar story but I am just a kid in front of you with very little knowledge about .NET and all... I am - you can say "work under progress"...
Thanks for sharing your story. Loved it a lot :)
May 30, 2012 9:06
I will probably write a post on this. I got into computers through my grandparents who one day brought home a MS-DOS IBM machine. In school I had played with the Apple's but wasn't super interested. It was only until I got to play with the command-line, fix sound blasters, and install shareware that really got me interested. I was not afraid to tinker with my grandparent's computer, often resetting the OS every time I came over because I messed something up. I remember them getting dial-up for the first time... I remember when they moved the PC into the room I stayed in, so I'd stay up all night chatting with random people on AIM. Man, what a life.
May 30, 2012 11:17
We had a BBC Micro at school - I was pretty much the only child that showed any interest - while everyone else was playing outside at break time - I'd steal a few minutes to write some basic.

The moment that changed everything for me was when one of the parents who worked for IBM (their UK research HQ was close by) lent the school his modem (this was about 1984) and that term, rather than do a normal pen pal programme with another school - we did text chat on the BBC Micro with a school in Australia. My 7 year old brain was BLOWN.

The next term the teacher managed to borrow some LOGO kit and we had to learn how to program that - probably for the first time ever I was utterly engaged - other than being read Scrub Dog of Alaska - this is my favourite memory of junior school.

Unfortunately computers didn't play a big part in secondary school - and I only got back into them at college.

I wrote quite a long post about my professional journey from college to where I am today about a year ago:

May 30, 2012 11:20
When I was ~6 my father brought home a acer aspire, it had a Celeron processor (2.6ghz) and 512MB of RAM, I remember watching my Dad open it up and change the GPU from some ATI card to a Nivida Geforce 6200 - which I purchased myself for $60 (which was for me *heaps* of money :D). I stood behind him fascinated by all that complex looking circuitry inside the computer, and watched it when he installed Windows XP Professional. All I remember for the first few years was playing games like "Blue's Clues", until we moved house some years (I was playing Halo and such at the age of 9 or something... I sure wouldn't have let my child :D) later I finally asked the question "Dad, how do you make games?", he replied saying that I would have to go to University to learn :D, so, from there he gave me a book on HTML, and I flew through it! I created some site which had all my favourite flash games (which I pirated ;D), all I remember was a whole lot of copy and pasting... (and changing 80 html files - when I just wanted to add a link).

I got bored with the HTML thing and learnt CSS from some pdf file from msdn. This was at the age of about 11 or 10 I think, I didn't "get" JavaScript, and just gave up the whole web thing... At the end of Year 6 I got back into "programming" with C#, I went to the local library and borrowed "Learn to Program with C#" by John Smiley. I thought "Gee, this is so much better then that web stuff" :D. I got in contact with the author and talked to him via facebook, but lost contact with him when I began to despise the site and deleted my account (LOL). Since then I've read numerous other books on the language and started writing games in XNA (none of which I ever finished mind you, I started with 2d and later went into 3d). I revisited the web scene some years later (just last year) by relearning HTML, CSS and learning JavaScript, Java, and PHP.

I remember throughout much of this time dad was a Microsoft employee (hence my reason for learning C# instead of Java), when I Initially wanted to get into server-side development he started me off with ASP .NET, I'm sorry all you ASP .NET fans out there... But I *hate(d)* it, PHP is so much better... And open source :). I've always been playing around with operating systems, namely Linux, and just recently wiped Windows 7 off my laptop to install Debian :D... Wireless network drivers are not working however >:-(.

Thanks for sharing your story, I enjoyed ever word!

May 30, 2012 11:40
What a great story - I'm not an emotional guy but that touched me!

I started programming as a 12-year old back in 1982 when I was lucky enough to be bought a Sinclair ZX-81. It came with 1kb(!) of memory, and although I also had a 16kb "ram pack", for some bizarre reason we couldn't tune the TV in when this was attached. As you can imagine, 1kb games were hardly exciting, so I picked up the BASIC manual that came with the computer (oh those were the days), and started tinkering and writing my own stuff. A year later I got a Sinclair ZX Spectrum (48kb woo-hoo!) which I owned for many years before leaving school and getting a job. After a brief spell of owning an Atari ST then an Amiga, I entered the wonderful world of PCs! After learning Turbo Pascal (buy guessing the keywords or opening the exe in a text editor and trying to decipher the bytes) I moved on to VB, then ultimately to C#.Net, which I've been using since early 2002, and still am.
May 30, 2012 12:21
My brother walked in with his old Vic 20 when I was just 8 (which was handed down from my Grandfather). I had been tinkering with electronics since I was 6 so it was the next logical progression.

If I ever went to him with questions he told me off and said, "check the manual." 17 years later he is asking me questions and I am telling him to go check the manual.

At the last high school I went to (when we moved to South Africa) I was exempted from second languages and extra-murals by my computer teachers so that I could maintain the computer room - and work on pet projects. I am no aptitude when it comes to sports, so I was very grateful.
May 30, 2012 12:22
Thanks for sharing this heart-warming story. It's a precious one.
May 30, 2012 13:13
I got into an over-lunch computer class in fifth grade back in '85. We had a couple of CPC-464's that were purchased by the school. It was the only time in my whole youth where I genuinely managed to impress the girls.
May 30, 2012 13:29
My mom used to create Hollerith punched card to be able to compile the programmers code. She's the one who tought me about computers.
One day back in the late eighties, she brought home an old IBM PC XT from work, which I could use. It was quite a hightech machine, since it contained a 20 MB hard drive!
I basically used it to play games from a single 5.25 floppy disk and to write a comic book series.
May 30, 2012 15:25
I started working with computers when I was 11 or maybe 12. The only thing I was able to do was to play games! My favorite game was FIFA 96 ;)
One day I bought a game that my computer's configuration didn't support it; so decided to go to one of my relative's house because their computer's configuration was good enough to for playing that game!
My relative's son was a computer science student in a governmental university. He started to teach me a little bit of QBasic to make me interested. In fact, the first piece of code, I wrote was in QBasic. It was a FOR loop at all:
FOR I = 1 TO 16
This was the start of my programming life :-)
May 30, 2012 15:31
I have a similar reason with you. That year was 1984 when I was in fifth grade. I got a 80486 computer.
May 30, 2012 15:37
Like it a lot Scott, thanks for sharing. I hear/read a lot of stories like this from the "older" generation of developers - no offence meant of course! I simply refer to developers who used to write code without gigabytes of RAM available, had to squeeze every ounce of performance out of a 1 MHz processor etc. It makes for interesting reading since I didn't experience those kinds of limitations that others did from 20 - 30 years ago.

My story is briefly explained in my own blog (not spamming, honest!)

I've definitely learned that once you get the initial urge to want to do this you have to continually learn more and more, and your blog and podcasts are a part of that learning so please keep up the good work Scott.
May 30, 2012 15:54
Great stories from memory lane. For me it all started when my dad came home one day with an Atari VCS2600. It was 1978, I was 9, and the future had arrived in my house. I loved it and was always driven by a desire to find out how it worked. I wanted my parents to by the BASIC programming cartridge, but that wasn't going to happen. My dad was too into playing games.

A couple of years later we moved up to a ZX Spectrum 48K on which I learnt to program in BASIC and then Z80 Assembler. I remember I wrote a character set designer and sold it to Prestel for something like £90. Other people could then download it from the BBS. We only had a 2400 baud modem, but it was awesome.

Driven again by the lure of better games, my dad then bought a C64 and I switched to programming the 6502. My friend had a C64 too and we used to create programming challenges to outdo each other.

As soon as I started work I bought myself my own C64 and portable TV for my room and spent every waking hour trying to find better ways to use raster interrupts to display more sprites on the screen. And it all started there, and I'm still going today.

So I owe it all to my dad, because without him being a big kid and loving gaming, I wouldn't have got the chance. My dad just turned 66, and for his birthday this year I bought him a new game for his XBox 360 that he wanted.

Only the body grows old.

A great book if you want to look back over computers of that era is: Digital Retro: The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer.
May 30, 2012 16:33
I was in my 30s, and had only ever tried programming a little on my Atari 400 computer, and a little on an HP computer. I worked as an analog engineering technician, and had no interest in digital circuits or code. One day, a software engineer I worked with questioned me about not knowing how to use a computer (1994 timeframe). I said I didn't know how to use Windows, or DOS at all. His comments still ring in my ear: "In the next 10 years, if you don't learn how to use a computer, you will be left behind!". We had just aquired a company that used a local area network, and had a bunch of old 286 computers, so he told me to go home with one, and learn DOS. That's what started my computer fascination to this day! I learned DOS, and then Windows, and eventually began learning programming, and got the bug. Thank you Ray Russell, wherever you were a true prophet!
May 30, 2012 16:47
I'm another one that got started on a TRS-80. I remember my mom typing in code from magazines. She would tell us she couldn't run it until she got to the next GOSUB, to keep us from bugging her to try running the unfinished program again.
May 30, 2012 16:50
I worked in a factory as a operator. Wasn't busy, responsible for checking quality. There was a book outlet in the neighborhood, bought some books about programming and read the books while working. First wrote the programs on paper, later a was able to buy a computer and test my programs. Than a year or so later one of the programs controlling a machine broke down because of a new type of sensor. Fixed the program, not a big thing, but that changed my career....
May 30, 2012 16:52
Ouch, I cringed when I saw "white-color crime." That has some very negative connotations, even though we know you meant well.
May 30, 2012 17:22
My origin story is getting a TRS-80 somewhere around the fifth or sixth grade, but what strikes me most about all of our stories is how if you really wanted to play with your home computer during that era, you really had to write programs on them.

If you didn't learn to program in BASIC, you would end up just staring at an empty screen with a blinking cursor.

May 30, 2012 17:35
I also got my start with computers in the mid 80's with the help of a little rule breaking. During my freshman and sophomore years, I was good friends with the band captain, who had a key to the band room. As luck would have it, that same key also unlocked the door to the school computer lab which held 20 Apple IIe machines. We would spend most Friday nights, except for football season, in the computer lab either experimenting with programming or playing Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn. We also met up during summers. For a while, the computer class teacher was even in our little "club", although he never actually knew about our nighttime (mis)adventures. He started up an after hours computer club, which our little group quickly joined. By my junior year, I was elected band captain and inherited the key.

Shortly after that my parents got me my first computer. It was an Atari 600xl and came with a whopping 16k of RAM. At first, all programs were stored on paper. I wrote a very simple video game that literally took me several hours to type every time I wanted to play it. Needless to say, during those days that computer rarely got turned off. Then, joy! Rapture! My parents bought me a cassette drive that let me store programs on standard audio tapes. Then, for Christmas, Mom bought me a German language program. It came on something like 20 tapes which had a mixture of data and recorded audio of native speakers. Each lesson would take 20 - 30 minutes to load, and perhaps 10 minutes to actually run through the exercises. However, it needed 32k to run properly. So, we shipped the computer off to the Atari service center to upgrade the ram. IIRC, it cost a little over $300.00 for them to insert 8 chips into sockets on the board.

I graduated high school in 1988 and I received my first PC as a graduation present. It was a Tandy 1000. 384k ram, no hard drive, but it did have two floppies, one 3.5" (720k back in those days) and a 5.25" disk. I attended college in Livingston, AL where I was the only person in town with a computer that could read both disk formats. I made extra spending $$$ copying disks from one format to the other.

Fast-forward a few years... Life got in the way of college. I had to get a job. But my love of computers endured. I was really active in the dial-up BBS community. I was co-sysop of several boards, one of which actually went commercial and made enough $$$ to keep the phone bill paid on 10 incoming lines. Then the internet pretty much killed the BBS's. For a while we held on as a telnet BBS, but the users disappeared one by one and we ended up closing down.

Fast-forward a few more years. I worked various jobs, never got around to finishing my degree. Then a workplace injury got me into the office of my employer on light duty where they discovered that I actually had some computer skills. I helped them set up an office network, 10bT on coax cable, and did some CAD work. Then an opportunity for a tech support job for a major pharmaceutical distributor came along. While I was there I started writing simple little in-house apps firsts in VB4, then VB5 and finally VB6. Then the company merged with their biggest competitor and our support center was closed down. From there I got a job on the local Air Force base as a contractor working with Oracle databases running on HP servers. I didn't like that environment very much. Every time the contract came up for bids we were all in danger of being laid off so I kept looking and found my current job where I work mostly on ASP.Net intranet and internet sites.
May 30, 2012 17:42
Your story is so similar to mine, I saw my first computer in the eight grade. it was a TRS-80 the school library had. The first game I played was an educational game where you placed coordinates to throw a boulder and knock to try to knock down walls. It was very rough block graphics on a black screen with glowing white characters. My dad moved alot and my parents had just gone through a divorce I went with my father and was sort of an outcast at school because of everything.

We had just moved so I was at a different school and knew nobody there. My ninth grade science instructor had just convinced the school board to purchase three TRS-80 computers and I was spellbound. He made a deal to us. If we got our assignments in class done before it was time to leave he would make sure we got time to play on the computers.

I can remember booting from the five and a half inch floppy disk and seeing DOS for the first time. The first really animated thing I saw was a program called dancing demon, where a graphical demon came out and started dancing on the screen. Given the time period it was a fantastic application written in hybrid Qbasic and assembly language. Listing the program used to make my crusor jump erratically all over the screen. This made me wonder how he did and drove me to want to learn.\

Soon I was a regular in his room as he talked to my other teachers and made the same arrangement. I had my assignments done and was getting out of classes with a half hour to spare almost every day.

When summer break had come my science teacher convinced the school to order ten more newer TRS-80's and I don't fully know why dropped one off at my house for a week as they came in. All summer I had a computer that I spent almost every waking moment on. By eleventh grade I had a good understanding of BASIC, Pascal, FORTRAN, COBOL, and Assembly.

I owe a lot to him, he was my mentor and my friend.
May 30, 2012 17:44
I was an English Lit major in 1975 when I ran out of money for university. My wife, a nurse, and I moved back to her home town and I got a job at a record store to accumulate the funds to resume my education.

I spotted a news story about the need for computer programmers and a chance at a year long boot camp for training. I thought, what the hell. I wasn't doing anything anyway.

It turned out I had a talent and a love. I learned Assembler, Cobol, PL/I, RPG and Fortran and landed a job right out of the school. No PC's in that age, but I bought one when they came out and became one of the first Mainframe/PC bridge programmers.

I stopped mainframe programming altogether in 2007.

It's been a wonderful 36 years. No boredom. No insecurity about my skills.

I can go another 10 years, I think.

May 30, 2012 17:52
Originally, I wanted to specialize in electronic hardware design and development. After a year of struggling with this they had us take a course in programming. The teacher kept asking me if I was sure I had no background in programming. (I had never had any exposure to that.) During the final exam he looked over my shoulder for awhile and then told me to go home since I could not get higher than an A. The course made me realize that I could continue to struggle with hardware and be mediocre to average, or I could switch to programming and be stellar for the same amount of effort. So, I switched to digital engineering and ultimately earned four degrees along those lines. The resulting career has been most satisfying.
May 30, 2012 18:22
I've been a developer for 20 yrs. I started in GW-Basic for DOS in the late 80's now I'm doing development with C#.
My career started when my older brought home an IBM 8088 computer and I started programming with it. I went on to study computer science in college. The rest is history.
May 30, 2012 18:50
My junior year in High School, the school got a teletype with a tape reader/punch that we connected to a GE time-sharing system via a 110 baud acoustic coupler.

My first program was a baseball game written in BASIC. We were each allowed to spend $X/month on computer time and storage. We'd write our programs on paper, type them on the teletype to create a paper tape, and then dial in and log onto the system. We would then upload the program from the punched tape and run/debug the program. When we were finished, we would then produce a new paper tape with the current version of the program. The old paper tapes became our source control system.

One could save a program to disk on the system, but that cost real money, which was charged against our monthly budget. Only when your program got very large was the monthly cost to store it on the system less than the connect time charge to load/save it on paper tape over the course of the month.

While in college I managed to also have two part time programming jobs. One was COBOL/PL-I on an IBM mainframe and the other was BASIC-PLUS on a DEC PDP-11. When I graduated I had to make a choice; mainframe vs. minicomputer. It was pretty much a no-brainer; punched cards and batch processing on the mainframe and 64KB address space or interactive terminal on the minicomputer with 8KB address space. I said goodbye to the mainframe and never looked back.
May 30, 2012 19:25
Great story! I absolutely love how much emphasis your family puts on the importance of family. My family is the same way and I absolutely love seeing people that put family above all else.
May 30, 2012 19:27
OMG, when I was in 5th grade my school principal let me take home the only computer the school had. I was also one of 5 students to be taken off campus for computer programming classes and hour a week.
May 30, 2012 19:36
Thanks Scott for the nostalgic look-back. I'm guessing we're close in age - in the day, I was the Sinclair Spectrum 48K kid to your Commodore 64. I too liked the notion of lifting the hood to see how it was put together. There could be no magic - something had to be connected to something. To my parents credit, they patiently listened to me justify the (astronomical) cost of an IBM PC which thankfully was bargained down to the Spectrum.
After an initial period of game-trading at school, I turned to entering page after page of hex to 'make' a game. A week-long computer summer course in a nearby city cemented the interest and so laid the foundation for a career in computing when this was far from the 'done thing'.
You're right to remind us of the forbearance and sacrifice that parents often give us which gets lost in the outlook of a child and the passing of time. Even today, with things like this far more accessible (though perhaps time isn't so plentiful), I wonder if I'm as accommodating of things I don't understand or value. Were it not for that Spectrum, might I be doing something completely different and now looking over the fence at what might have been? Who knows? But parents when at their best are selfless creatures.
May 30, 2012 19:50
It was the summer between 7th and 8th grade and, as it typical during the summer months, my friend and I were bored without some sort of activity to keep us occupied. One day, he said "let's go up to Western and use their computer."

A little geography here. I grew up in Bellingham, WA which is where Western Washington University is located. Actually, I grew up a little over 10 miles south of Bellingham and, being that my only mode of transportation at the age of 13 was a bicycle, a trip to Western to "use their computers" was not just a casual trip. Walt assured me that it would be fun though so off we headed.

Arriving at the computer center, I had no idea what to expect. The room had a series of cubicles with desks and terminals - no actual computers here. We found two desks next to each other and he told me to type "bug" on one of them. For the next hour or two, I spent my time making a "bug" walk around an ASCII maze on the screen. Eventually tiring of that, I turned to see what my friend was doing. I saw a screen filled with words like "PRINT" and "INPUT" and "LET". Whoa!!! What's that? A few hours later, I had my first program - one that would choose a random number and allow the player to guess it giving "higher" or "lower" hints along the way.

After that first foray into the world of computers, I didn't really pursue it very seriously (after all, it was a 10-mile bike ride to indulge). When I finally got to high school, I was encouraged to find that the school had two serial lines connected to the Western Terminal System that could be used for creating programs so I took a Computer Concepts class. I found I had a knack for programming eventually taking a total of twelve high school classes.
May 30, 2012 19:53
Mr. Blue let me "attempt" to teach the freshman programming class when I was in high school.

I'm pretty sure that wasn't allowed but it gave him more time to work with the students who had trouble with the material.

My experience with teachers has been the same as with programmers. One teacher in twenty is 10 to 100 times better than the other teachers.
May 30, 2012 19:55
But -- I should say, bless anyone willing to be a teacher.

It is a super important but often thankless job!
May 30, 2012 20:06
Here is my photo story:
Me being 1.5yrs/Me being 24yrs

The first photo was taken during my first encounter with a computer - I was playing a game that my dad had written.

The second photo was staged during my visit in my parent's house.

I've been working as a Software Engineer for 6 years now.

May 30, 2012 20:43
I still remember the day when my parents came home with the new Yamaha MSX computer, I think I was 5 years old or so.
I got hooked up with the whole idea of programming, I was so young that I couldn't understand the English command since English isn't my first language, my elder sisters used to study BASIC at school, so I was spending hours copying character by character each program they study and try to run it, I was 6 when I was introduced to the word "Syntax Error".
My parents noticed my passion about programming, and they found a localized version of BASIC & LOGO in Arabic, which was a great thing, I finally understood what I was writing.
Couple of decades later, I got a Bsc in CS, and I work for MS.

Great ride so far.
May 30, 2012 20:53
I'm another one of those TI-99/4A kind of kids. I was in third grade when we went down to my aunt and uncle's house for a visit. I was about 8, maybe a little older. They had an old IBM 286 that I'd do Print Shop and Keno on for a bit, and my cousin had the TI in his bedroom.

I had gotten so hooked on the thing that for Christmas my aunt and uncle gave me the TI (my cousin wasn't using it anyway). It only had two games (Mash and a Grammar game) so I looked into the TI Basic programming book. The fact that I could make this thing do what I wanted (bounce a simple ball on the screen and let it beep) blew my mind. I didn't get to use color, all we had was an old B&W TV for the monitor.

Having filled my obsession with the TI, I wound up taking a summer school "honors" class in 4th grade for programming. All the other kids my age were taking the "beginner" class that was about how to turn the thing on. I wanted to make programs! 8^D

I'll admit my programming waned a lot when I finally convinced my parents to get a 386 SX machine for me, but through that I discovered the early years of dialup internet, and I was doing fun stuff like setting up my own ZModem batch download script for the local BBS.

I could babble on and on... I love reading these stories! Thanks for bringing it up Scott!
May 30, 2012 21:09
My start began with Super Mario Brothers. Insisting on how the heck it worked I started taking computer classes when I was in fifth grade, from there it was classes offered for kids from EDS (When Ross Perot owned it) and finally at 15 to 16 and using layaway for 9 months I finally purchased my Packard Bell with state of the art 80 meg hard drive and the Pentium 90mhz chip :) That and Excel and I have been programming for almost 20 years since.
May 30, 2012 21:12
Great story! Your teacher and parents were really kind and awesome.

As for me, typically of an Asian kid, I got sent to a cram school in early 90's; I was just starting junior high. To my delights, they had 6 computers there for teaching us Basic; I enjoyed the lessons and the play-time. We had Prince of Persia, and a few other games.

Though, it didn't occur to me at the time that I loved programming. I actually forgot about it until I went to a university and enrolled in a Pascal programming class; my classmates either hated it or excelled in it, however, for me it brought total joy and excitement. I was simply your typical good student who excels academically but with no real passion. That was when I found my passion. =)
May 30, 2012 21:20
I wanted to learn to do 3D animations while I was in school, I was 13 if I recall correctly... I saw a street dealer that sold pirated discs, and one of them was Visual Basic 6. Due to the VB6 logo, I thought that it allowed me to create 3D animations...
When I installed that software, I learned that it wasn't made for that, but I learned to code because I wanted to give that hard earned pirated app a spin. Nowadays I just kept coding, I found it more interesting than designing 3D stuff.
May 30, 2012 21:25
my experience was much the same as yours.. except for some reason the Apple ][ did not really interest me.. I mean it did kind of.. mine was orange screen too I think...

I had to buy my own commodore 64 though.. and programmed a ton of games on that.. and later an Atari 130XE which I did bulletin boards and games on.

My first computer could be considered pong I suppose. :). I also had a TI/994A with Basic cartridge.
May 30, 2012 21:47
Same age - 5th grade. My teachers let me stay in the computer lab all day rather than attend the regular class. Blogged about it here:
May 30, 2012 21:52
I've always had the "tinkerer" gene. One of my earlier memories is at the age of about 6 taking apart our old D-cell powered radio which I'd had handed down to me to convert it for use with an AC adapter. I also had early exposure to typewriters, in my case a big old mechanical monster with a huge all-caps typeface. I was well-versed in the arcade games of the time, spending huge chunks of my one week a year vacation time shoveling 10p coins into games like Sprint 2, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Breakout and Pole Position and I knew that at the heart of each of these machines was a computer.

On one of those vacations in July 1984 the camp we generally vacationed at every year had just introduced a new feature for that season: a computer lab, consisting of several dozen networked Atari 800XL systems arranged in a semi-circle with an instructor's station at the center. I signed up immediately for my 1 hour lesson which consisted of the instructor leading us, line by line, through a more than usually colorful version of "Hello World". It wasn't much really, barely a taster, but I...WAS...HOOKED!

That Christmas I got a computer of my very own; a Sinclair Spectrum with a generous 48KB of memory. It came with 6 games on cassette tape, which of course I tried first. They proved entirely resistant to loading with the ancient tape recorder I had, so I did the next best thing. I opened the manual at chapter 1 and began working my way through it, tinkering and experimenting as I went along and gained understanding of how these different instructions worked together.

A few weeks later, my dad came home one evening and handed me issue 1 of "Input" magazine (tagline: learn programming for fun and the future). Where the manual left off they picked up, with games, sound and graphics being a major focus of many articles. A friend loaned me a copy of a book about programming games; I liked it so much I actually scraped together my pocket money to buy my own copy. Later on I discovered the joys of type-in listings in the computer magazines and what Z80 machine code could do for me. One of my closest friends and I would send each other regular "message tapes" and try to out-do each other on making this simple computer do really cool stuff.

Before very long I became certain that at last, I'd found my true calling. Almost 30 years on I still get a kick out of solving a problem with lines of code and am lucky enough to have a job where I get to do that every day without too much of the related BS which seems to go along with the corporate programming environment these days.
May 30, 2012 22:08
Hey Scott and all,

Great stories I read here and decided to share mine too. Although not so exciting as the rest I read here, I hope you find it interesting: How did I get started on computers and programming.

I noticed that, almost all of have started in 5th grade. Maybe, the technical part of our brain gets activated :) or we just get sick of painting, nature and history?
May 30, 2012 22:21
My story is posted here:…as-a-developer/
May 30, 2012 22:34

I recognize most of what you wrote. The curiosity. The compulsive desire to open things up and tinker with them. The 'geek outsider' (hardly surprising at that time as no one knew much about computers). In a nutshell I learned BASIC on a Commodore PET. I was at a Britisch boarding school and there were 2 such machine accessible day and night. As I also stayed the weekends I had a lot of time with the PET. All they did was put a teach-yourself course beside it. I was happy as could be. I'm not sure if I ever had that feeling of excitement since reading a block of BASIC lines. I remember being made fun of by the older geeks (I think in all we were no more than 10) as I was trying to POKE a ROM address. Haha. Very funny ... ahum.

Now to something different. I know very well how I got started with computers. Now, as a parent, I'm scratching myself on the head wondering how to create a similar environment for my daughter (now 9). But computers have changed! They're mostly in the form of laptops/tablets. And there's not this amber screen waiting with just an input line. It's all windows, icons and mice. Even though I can offer her a really simple programming environment (Logo, Simple Basic, etc) there is no immediate need to program. After all, she just surfs to Google and finds what she needs. Java/Flash games, cartoons, etc. When I switched on the PET it was in dire need of instructions. That at least forced me to think like a programmer right from the start. I'm curious to see how my kids will fare in this landscape. I'm going to try robotics this summer I think (Mindstorms).

May 30, 2012 22:40
It was 8th grade and it was the math class from hell. That is how I got into programming. It was one of the "new math" classes. They wanted us to write essays about our experiences and feelings. I spent the time instead programming my calculator after figuring out the equations, to answer all the questions. Then I wrote games. God I hated the TI-83, it would leak memory like you wouldn't believe and crash. Every bad programming habit I learned from dealing with the TI-83's shit. I'm so glad they have since overhauled the hardware, I would not wish my experience on anyone.
May 30, 2012 22:59
My uncle had a tool shop (hardware store for US readers). Back in the late 70's he got himself a Commodore Pet for the business. He let me have a "go" on it by playing some games like chess & I was immediately hooked.

I worked my paper round in order to afford a Sinclair ZX81 in 1981. I wrote a few games, moved on to a Commodore Vic 20, then a C64. Went to a Tech College in 86, learned all about databases (dBase 2 anyone?), Office apps like Lotus 123. This is where I first encounted the Amstrad PC1512 "IBM clones".

Eventually got a job operating mainframes aged 18, IBM Sys 36, 38 and AS/400. Moved in CL programming. Moved jobs a few times & ended up writing MS Access apps for the PC.

Finally went solo and have been writing Windows apps for healthcare since 1997.

(Quickest CV I ever wrote)

Thanks for listening. G'night, stay safe :)

- Stu
May 30, 2012 23:25
I mentioned the following in a larger blog post I wrote about INETA:

The bug got me in the mid-70s. My math teacher in junior high, Mr. Blumenfeld, introduced us to a fascinating contraption on a tall stool that appeared, at first glance, to be an adding machine of some sort. But the thing was programmable, and came with this very nifty manual showing all the instructions you can program into it. I was mesmerized. He’d pull out the machine once a week and give a lesson on it. But an incident by a couple of students led him to punish the entire class and terminate those lessons. It was pretty devastating, especially since it had triggered a passion that has stayed with me through now.

It wasn’t until I entered high school two years later that I got my first taste of a “real” computer. I was introduced to BASIC by my programming teacher, Mr. Saperstein, on the Wang and Olivetti desktop machines. I strongly preferred the Olivetti, because it was a lot sleeker than the Wang, which was very “terminal” and plastic looking, and just looked a lot older. If I recall correctly, the Olivetti machine had a brownish casing, and seemed more modern. I made sure I started my projects on that machine so I had to be allowed to continue using it every class, since the disks where my projects were saved couldn’t be swapped between machines. We also had a Commodore Pet, but although the keyboard with all the strange graphic characters was interesting, students pretty much ignored that machine for some reason.

The first real program I wrote for class, of course, was a baseball simulation game, since I was always a huge fan. I spent hours at home creating dice games using stats from books, crunching numbers on the $100 calculator I got as a gift for my Bar Mitzvah (and which I STILL have to this day). That first programming project gave me an unbelievable feeling — to be able to create something out of nothing was so empowering!

I desperately wanted something to program at home. I wanted a home computer, but nothing was really available yet in the mid to late 70s (at least what I was aware of). But one day I noticed at a Consumers Distributing store that they were selling a programmable Texas Instruments calculator (TI-45?). When I finally saved up enough ($200?), I walked two miles to the store to buy it. I still have this somewhere. I came across it, along with its manual as I was cleaning out some old junk recently, but I have no idea where I placed it since.

In January 1980, a couple of months after I started dating my future wife, Lorri, my parents gave me a choice. I can either go to Disney World with the rest of the family, or I can have my first real personal computer — a TRS-80 Model 1, with 4k of RAM and Level 1 BASIC. It was a no-brainer. First, the computer lasted a lot longer than the trip, and second (and more importantly), I had just started going out with Lorri, and I didn’t want to go away. This was one of the easiest and best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve never looked back from either benefit.

In the early 80s, the vast majority of my time was spent with Lorri or the TRS-80. One day, while working as a keypunch monitor / programming tutor at Brooklyn College, a friend (and fellow TRS-80 user) came over to show me the 80-Micro magazine he subscribed to for the TRS-80. As I started skimming through it, I was shaking so strongly from excitement, it must have been visible to all those around me. This brought my little computer to a whole new level. I was introduced by the “community” of users to so many things I didn’t realize the machine was capable of.
May 31, 2012 0:41
My story borders on TL;DR...

How I got into computers
May 31, 2012 0:45
I can relate to this story. Back home in the Dominican Republic, there was no such thing as a computer. We used type writers in high school. I was also fascinated by electronic devices, so i would break the radio at home just so that i can open it up and mess around with the board and "fix it".

One time i really messed up the radio and spent a month looking for the problem. I had my little tester to test where the electricity was flowing etc. It turned out that half the board was toasted. I end it up soldering a wire from one end of the board to the other and the brought the radio back to life. So i though to myself, huh, maybe the board didn't need all that other extra parts... Ohhh, and there was always an extra screw after you tried to put things back together. Good times!!!
May 31, 2012 1:24
I am blown away that your parents would sell the car to give you a computer. I started to cry when I read that.

May 31, 2012 5:21
Love this! Also very impressed with parents selling a car to buy you a computer. Very cool.

Reading this inspired me to blog my own story. If you're interested.

Love reading your stuff, but have never commented. If you read my blog you'll probably understand why! Haha.
May 31, 2012 5:35
Same as Mr Putz, my story is a bit long, but it was great walking down memory lane again. Thanks for a great post Mr Hanselman!
May 31, 2012 7:29
That's pretty much my story too, only mine took place in El Paso, Texas, over the summers of 1990 and 1991 with a Macintosh LC from my science teacher Mr. Cromwell. Most awesome science teacher ever, for so many more reasons than just the borrowed Mac!
May 31, 2012 9:15
It was basic on my fathers commodor pet for me in the 80s... then quick basic on a x86 system.. later C/C++ Java .net and so on...
May 31, 2012 9:27
Like this, I am very much impressed.
Really very interesting that you've started so early.
I was born in 1990 at Tehran,Iran.
I've started working with computers at age 14.
May 31, 2012 12:29
Ok So I was from Bengali medium and first saw computer back in 1991 in a computer class in our school. If I recall correctly it was a IBM PC XT with two 5 1/4" floppy drives. The class use to be very boring with loads of English blah blahs describing a lot of computer theory. I immediately started hating it, and use to think "why oh why". Among all other things in the world why did my dad wanted me to learn computer. BTW just wanted to mention that my dad himself learned operating a computer back on 70's on a IBM mainframe. And that was his first and last experience ever working on a computer.
So as I was telling one fine day I just quit the class on my own. After couple of months I found a book in our computer lab. Which was written entirely in Bengali. It described a lot about computers and gave some idea about how to write programs in BASIC. So since then I was really exited about programming in computer. I use to write pages of program in BASIC. Sadly I had not computer to run it on. I again saw a computer face to face on 1997 in one of my friends house. As I also had a lot of interest in electronics. I convinced him to open that PC for me. What I saw inside there really kept me baffled. I was expecting a lot of circuitry and a lot of wires going from here to there. Instead I just saw one single board with some chips on it. And that is where I got actually curious. I asked him how the heck does the computer works with so less circuitry. He said it works for the processor which is having a lot of registry. So I asked what are the registry's? he said those are just memory locations. What??? All these things happening just for memory locations???? And voila. Now I am deep into programming. I took my passion as my job I still feel thankful to the author of that Computer Book and of course my friend Pradeep who allowed me open his pc. Thanks buddy :)
May 31, 2012 9:42
My sister bought me darkbasic when I was 14 as a birthday present. I thought it was some kind of drag and drop game creator only to find a black screen with a blinking cursor when I launched the application. It was a game engine with a basic language on top of it so I started learning myself basic from the manual. Build some cool games back then, it’s a big shame I don’t have the source of those games anymore, would love to see it! Been hooked on programming since then.

I still have the original box at home on my desk :-)
May 31, 2012 11:15
My first computer experience was when I was about 4... I am not sure where it was... it was either in a garage while my fathers car was being fixed, or in his work, but the only thing i did was type my name at the keyboard... Nothing really happened with my life and computers till a couple of years later when, I was probably about 9 or 10, a friends brother got a Commodore Amiga... I don't know which one it was, off hand, but it was, to me anyway, a "proper" computer... at the time i had games consoles... this one had a proper keyboard and mouse, and not a TV screen, but a real screen! About a year later, I got my hands on my first programmable computer, a Commodore 64. I got it with some games on tape, but, being the lazy git i am, i hated having to wait for the games to load... so i cracked open the C64 manual, and my love of programming has not stopped since... About 2 years of C64 later, i got my first PC, and to this day I can still remember the specs: A 486DX2/66, 8MB ram and a 200MB HDD. it ran Windows 3.1, and there was a basic interpreter in there. it was completely different to the C64 basic, but I started learning and programming and all was good. I moved to Delphi a while later (got a free copy on the front of a magazine) and then C++, VB, VB.NET and now C#. Now I am going on year 19 of my computer life... I have spent more time working on computers than anything else. Glad I did!
May 31, 2012 12:51
Darn, when you got to the car missing, I started crying before I read the rest of the sentence. Nothing can beat that. On the shoulders of giants, indeed.

My story starts in 1969. I was in the 3rd year of psych grad school, my 1st year in the PhD program, and was getting a little bored. In the back of the personality theories book was a rating chart: all the theories in the book ranked on 20 or so dimensions. I figured maybe the bright young stat prof (PhD, Stanford, age 20) would have an idea. His response: "yes, we have just the thing. Veldmann's Hierarchical Profile Grouping Analysis." Great, say I, how do I do it? "It can run on our computer," says he. We had a brand-new IBM Model 30-8: that's 8 as in 8K of core memory, and that's core memory as in wires wrapped around little magnets by the quilting ladies from the hills around Tullahoma, TN, where IBM had a plant for making core memory.

"The only thing," he adds, "is that the program will have to be rewritten into sub-routines, because our computer can't hold it all in memory at one time." OK, I say, who could do that for me? "You," he replies. Me? "Sure, go over to the bookstore and get the IBM self-teaching Fortran books." I'm figuring, age 20, PhD, Stanford, under Lee Cronbach, everything looks easy to him. But it's better than being bored, right?

Two weeks later I came into the computer lab and said "OK, I'm done with the books. Uh, how do you use a punchcard machine?"
May 31, 2012 14:22
To keep long story short, most important thing in my childhood (I'm 30 now, btw) was that my dad didn't want to buy me new computer, while other kids were having new shiny and expensive computers where newest games can be played. I was stuck first with ZX Spectrum 81, and then PC XT 8088, where only thing i can do is program Basic and Pascal. So, I suppose it's important to guide your kids, but in the same time give them freedom to explore by them self.
It was fun time, full of learning and exploration. Now I'm full time developer, MVP, and who knows what future will bring! Just have to watch out somebody don't move my cheese;)

Also, I'm very happy that my small town Rijeka (Croatia) has great museum of old computers, "peek&poke", biggest in this part of Europe ( I always get a tingling when I visit it. Then, when nobody watching, i write on first computer 10 PRINT "Hrvoje was here"; 20 GOTO 10
May 31, 2012 14:33
I wish I had teachers and parents like that. Now, I'm the parent, and your story is inspirational. Hope my son will write a similar post in 20 years.
May 31, 2012 16:09
"I'd spend the weekend programming, reading the massive spiral notebooks of Apple internals and generally staying away from trouble"
So what you call "trouble" is just the outside world? The other kids?
May 31, 2012 17:38
When it comes to programming and computers my father is my inspiration and the main reason why I started programming. He got interested in computers in the early eighties after finishing Faculty of mechanical engineering. We live in Serbia, former Yugoslavia, and back then our country was a communist country and computers where hard to come by. So in the 1985. (I was 2 years than :) he went to Italy and bought Sincler Spectrum 48k. And than he had to smuggle it back to Yugoslavia because it was illegal to import a computer. So he took apart the car door to put the computer inside and fortunately cross the border safe! After that he quickly started learning Basic from a book in English and a English dictionary since he didn't spoke a word in in English! Now he is 58 and using Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4.0, unfortunately writing software in Visual Basic, but we are working on fixing that :D
May 31, 2012 18:05
For me, it started in 1981 (like a bunch of others it seems). At the time I had a big brother ( and he had a TI-99/4A and I would go to his house and spend hours playing with it and learning BASIC. One year, for christmas, he just gave me the computer and that was the beginning of my career.

From the TI I moved on to the Atari 800XL and kept learning to program in Atari BASIC. Then I got a Commodore Amiga and taught myself C. Back then, the C compiler came on like 6 or 8 floppies, and to compile a program actually required swapping in and out all those floppy disks. It was a real experience!

After that I moved into the PC world, taught myself C++, a bunch of DBase languages, Visual Basic, etc. Now I live in the .Net framework and C#.

Now I'm Sr. Software Engineer at a large software firm. Sometimes I wish I could find my Big Brother, I doubt he has any idea what kind of impact that "toy", to him, had on my life.
May 31, 2012 19:06
I was taking chemistry in high school and got tired of doing linear interpolation by hand. I had a TI-85 and started looking at the owner's manual to see if I could program it to prompt for my input and give me the answer. I've been programming in some capacity ever since.
May 31, 2012 19:20
My story starts in about 1976. My dad is an electrical engineer, and before the days of Heathkits, he designed an built his own computer. We're talking drawing schematics, handwrapping circuit boards, building cases and power supplies -- everything.

Actually, it was a series of computers built over the course of a few years. He was always rebuilding and upgrading. They were Z80 based, running CPM. Various monitors, 8" floppy drives, etc. His work deserves a story of its own, perhaps a good blog article with some pictures!

As for me, I remember starting out playing a few games -- The Original Adventure, some text based Star Trek thing, etc. He bought be a couple of computer books, 101 BASIC Computer Games and How to Program BASIC From the Ground Up. I read them over and over. I started writing games, and other useful things like a program to help me study my spelling and vocabulary. I learned to tear apart the source to the Adventure game and its successors to learn to cheat.

Eventually the PC came out, and dad's computer became a thing of the past. We learned C from the original K&R.

I'm a .NET developer now, and thank my dad every day for giving me the love of computers and the opportunity to start working with them at such an early age.
May 31, 2012 20:06
Hi Scott, great story. I'm currently working on a lesson plan for schools to get kids (age 10-12) into programming. I plan to use Scratch (have you tried it?) as I think it's pretty awesome as a learning tool. Just wondering if you had any advice on where to start - I don't want to dive right into Scratch without first teaching the basics of logic/conditionality.
May 31, 2012 20:07
Aaaaand, goosebumps.
That's amazing.
May 31, 2012 20:35
Very cool post. I convinced my parents to buy me a Vic 20 back in the day. We had a computer shop on main street that you could go into and swap programs, hack on hardware and talk shop. The old dudes running the place were so cool. I wrote some games in basic and then sold it to buy an Atari 1200. That thing was awesome! Wrote a ton of games on that beast. Then I discovered girls and completely dropped computers until my early 20's when I picked up an Amiga 500. That was when I decided to make a career in IT. 25 years later, that was the best decision I ever made. Just wish I hadn't wasted those years chasing girls instead of coding.... wait, no I'm not! LOL
May 31, 2012 21:46
My parents moved a lot. Not military, just... running, I think. I never made friends, always just read. Grab backpack, walk to the library, fill backpack, walk home, read all day, repeat type read.

I was diagnosed with diabetes at 8 (October, 1984) and my parents were struggling with the diagnosis, and my sudden needs. We never had much money, but I came home one day to find a Commodore Plus/4. Not sure if you remember them, but there was no commercial software for them. I didn't care.

There were these books at the library that taught you machine language, or Pascal, or some of them had programs that you'd type into a more "conventional" computer like an Apple. You could then enter secret messages from the book and get the results. Or you could check out computer magazines with source code in them from the library. None of these items worked for the Commodore Plus/4 - I had to make them work. I had to dissect what they were trying to do and make it do that on my machine.

I had found a new love, an interactive, programmable book. We got a modem for it a bit later, but I had to write my own terminal program for it. I learned how to navigate the local BBSes and made friends online that - even though my family kept moving - I could finally keep in touch with. They were adults when I was nine years old, and they treated me like an equal.

A few years later my Dad cut his thumb off at work. (He was an offset printer. They reattached it, but it's a bit traumatic.) My Dad used his settlement money to buy me a Commodore 64, used, with a 1541 disk drive and 1670 modem. I was in heaven - a real computer. We could've used the money to buy a car (we needed one), to pay medical bills (I cost a lot of money), or even just buy food. We weren't well to do. But he got me a Commodore 64.

Later, he brought home a Compaq luggable computer from United Van Lines. They let you check them out to train yourself. Instead, I played games on this tiny 4" green CGA screen that weren't available on the C= 64. And I learned how to work it. But we didn't get a PC - not yet.

My friend gave me a copy of PowerC for the C= 64 and I started learning C using Herbert Schildt's books. Same situation as the Plus/4 -- things were never "quite" right -- but I made it work. I had to. My Dad bought me some books on programming as a gift, but I told him I couldn't use them because we didn't have an IBM. (The C= 64 was on its way out now, circa 1988 or thereabouts.)

One day my Dad said "let's go buy you an PC." He made no money.. I can't stress that enough. My parents were divorced by then. He made $18k a year, if that. (When he died in 2001 he made $24k a year at the Fed Reserve Bank.) But his employer had given him a loan to purchase a PC. I got a 386, 4MB of RAM, AST from Circuit City. It was incredible. And I could use the books he gave me. Finally.

I kept that computer for years. But one day it just went poof - smoke and sparks from the back. I was devastated. I had decided I wanted to do something with computers with my life, but that possibility had just been removed.

I was living with my Mom then, got bounced quite a bit. My Dad wasn't doing well, and I thought I was totally screwed. But my brother - who worked at Ponderosa for minimum wage and tips - loaned me $2,500.00 out of his savings to go and get a new computer.

After that I just kept plugging away. I created a grade tracking program for my Geometry teacher in high school. I had previously been published in Compute!s Gazette. I was asked if I knew how to setup a network and my reply was, "Nope, but I'll bet I can figure it out." That weekend I set up a Novell Netware Lite network. I can remember the argument I had with the gentleman who hired me. "You don't need terminators!" Me: "Yes, we do!" Got to his office, nothing worked, back to Radio Shack, couple terminators, bam, everything worked. :)

NetWare to VINES to NT. Wanted to program though, not be a system administrator, so I wiggled my way into programming through automation and creation of needed hole fillers.

I met my wife on the Internet eighteen years ago. I'm a bit screwed up - face to face interaction isn't something I do well, even today - but I can type really fast and I love computers. I love C# and .NET, but 6502 assembly will always have a special place in my heart. :)

Thanks to my Dad, and my brother, and all those folks who were willing to treat a kid like a peer.
May 31, 2012 23:44
My story starts even further back.

At school in the early 1960's rural southern England one of the schoolmasters was interested enough to start a computer club. He arranged with one of his mates for us to get 15 minutes a week on an ICL 1900 mainframe in one of the local companies.

Most of our programming time was punching the cards for jobs by hand - debugging a program meant working out which of the card codes you got wrong.

It still hooked me and 50 years later I'm still programming like mad for my own company and have had a very profitable career!
June 01, 2012 2:30
Excellent History

I live in Colombia, where, in the mid 80s computers were reserved for Banks and that was it.

My father was resources manager at a large bank here in Colombia and I remember going to his office when I was a little kid....

I remember the fascination (not surpassed even by my brand new Imac)of IBM PCs XT's with those cool orange monitor screens..... and chessmaster on them... I also remember the Num Lock, Scroll Lock & Caps Lock leds on the! But that was office lunch hours... I couldnt really do that much with those computers....

By the time, My Father, who was very strict with his budget, understood that my life would be going by and with those machines, and bought with too much sacfrifice an EPSON EQUITY II+ (in those years buying a computer was a big deal, like buying a luxury car or something), carried it to home, and with it handed me a GW-BASIC manual IN ENGLISH!! I was a 7 years old colombian kid, there was no way I knew English, nevertheless I started punching keys trying to figure out how the hell the DOS worked and how GW-BASIC worked and It was my toy for four years!!!!!

So I learned English (not that well u know what I mean) and Basic programming, played Sierra Games, played bootable PACMAN, baby, centipede, digger and frogger.... this was PC golden age, pure PC golen age .... it was Fantastic, pure magic!

June 01, 2012 5:20
I honestly (almost) think I went into programming because it was in my genes. I mean, I'm a programmer from father to son. while I never tought of that at the time, Shurly, it has something to do with it.

My father use to work at Bell Canada, programming these big IBM machine and feeding them with punch card.

However, my first experience was with a Vic20 from commodore. I think is had 5k on memory with a bit more than 3,000 characters of free memory.

To write a "big" program you had to groups statements on the same line to save memory space. It was one byte for each line. No place left for indentation nor for programming style.

...but it was so simple back then!
June 01, 2012 8:53
In 1983, when I was around 12, I went off with my Dad and we returned with a Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48K. I learned to program by writing simulations of sports game and leagues. My big breakthrough was when I tackled the chapter on arrays, and was able to convert my soccer league simulator from keeping all the data in individual variables (good grief, the typing it took)to keeping them in arrays. That's when I understood the power of software.

Other memories: I learned about pseudo-random number generators when my simulation produced the same results every time I ran it. I learned about limited resources when the machine beeped at me instead of accepting one more line of BASIC. I learned that hitting the tape recorder would not make the erase head work again.

Looking back, I'm amazed at the hours and effort I put into those programs at that age.
June 01, 2012 13:14
Very similar to mine!

I also started because a teacher had a computer, a Sinclair ZX 81 in my case, with a whopping 1K of RAM. :-)
June 01, 2012 20:53
Very nice one, Scott. Here is mine:
June 02, 2012 18:20
When I lived in New Your in 1965 I worked at the Downstate Medical Center. I was an engineering technician and had a chance to program an analog computer.

Then after I moved to Maine I saw the writing on the wall in 1976 and took a course in computer repair.

My wife bought me a single board computer with a 6502 processor on it. It had minimal memory and you had to write in assembly language and save code on a cassette recorder. I wrote an article about a program I wrote that basically paid for the computer.

Later I learned how to program in Basic and added memory and other stuff to that single board computer, but blew it up trying to make a UPS for it.

I started writing a lot of articles then.

So I got a Radio Shack TRS-80 and learned Forth. I designed an interface that used an IBM Selectric terminal typewriter as a letter quality printer. I wrote an article on it and it was bought by a Radio/Electronics magazine in England.

The rest is pretty typical, I worked at Maine Medical Center and wrote a lot of programs for our Clinical Engineering department in FoxPro. Of course I now use Visual Studio and still program in Basic.

At age 69 I'm looking forward to retiring in September, but can't stay away from programming. I'm now into writing apps for android devices. I'll probably go to my grave with a tablet in my cold dead paws.

June 03, 2012 20:22
It was the summer between my 9th and 10th grade. That would be 1981. Our library had 2 TRS80 Model III computers that no one was using. They just sat there with their little BASIC books. One day I sat down, turned on the computer and opened the book. I spent hours a day every day for the rest of the summer, working my way through the book and then creating games and tweaking them and making them better and better. It was the most fun I had ever had and I was hooked.
June 05, 2012 4:29
Cool story!
Funny I had posted a ~1hr video blog the day before this posting on my Apple II exploits. Similar minds think alike! My post also includes a tear-down, repair, history on the hardware and demo action. The posting is a write-up summary of the two 30 minute videos because who want to watch an hour of blab blab right ;)
June 05, 2012 18:30
My Dad bought a Commodore 64 when I was 10, and used to have me read him code from the back pages of COMPUTE Magazine. When he later upgraded to the Commodore 128, he sold be the 64 for $50.

I thought, hey I have read enough of this code and started to write my own text based RPG Games. Now they weren't anything crazy, but they did similar things to the very popular Zork series games.

I also remember playing the EA Game MULE, which Pete Brown sent me a screen shot of his ported to Silverlight Commodore emulator.
June 05, 2012 20:24
My interest/obsession started when a sleek black Sinclair Spectrum 48K appeared magically in the house one Christmas. It was actually my Dad's, but when he wasn't playing Manic Miner (and I wasn't thrashing everyone else in the family at Chuckie Egg) I started reading the BASIC manual that came with the machine. I was soon coding away, and years later, now get paid to do my childhood obsession. Thanks Clive Sinclair, and thanks Mum and Dad! :)
June 05, 2012 22:57
Hey I am a entry level engineer and not matured to write about my secret. World you have to wait for it...
June 06, 2012 0:20
Using pocket money bought a c64 in 1987 in a small computer shop that used to sell camera's. The first program I wrote was a vocabular trainer. One little problem... The character set of a c64 does not support accents. Later learned assembler.

After the C64 I used Amiga sytems. I was late in getting a PC in 1998. It was a Dual processor PIII with 1Gb. It ran.. Redhat 5.2. Later ran it clustered with some VIA C3 systems and a P90 using Gentoo. Did most of it away when I had to pay my own electricity bills ;)

At university I stayed away from Windows for several years because one day ms-word 6.0 ruined a report, hours of work, beyond repair.

Now using a "normal" pc. Best investment my wired mac keyboard. Works even with windows. almost as good as Sun or old IBM keyboards and a deskspace saver, Cheaper than a happy hacking keyboard or the likes.

Currently interested in functional programming, nodejs,coffeescript, LINQ, Rx.
June 06, 2012 20:38
I got started with programming when I was 6 or 7 years old. My dad had an 8088 laptop from work (by Zenith) that he'd periodically bring home. I was fascinated by it, and he was petrified I'd accidentally delete his work or otherwise break it. He asked people at work how one might keep a young child occupied on a computer, and programming was recommended. Back then it was BASICA, an early BASIC interpreter provided by Microsoft or IBM as part of early DOS versions. If they'd known how dangerous it is, in fact, to let someone loose on a computer with their *first introduction* being a programming language, I'm certain they wouldn't have done it, but nothing went wrong, and I dove into programming with a passion (I didn't have much of a social life, being ostracized for the strong British accent I had at the time), "borrowing" books from the school's library. When I was 10, my parents bought a 486 desktop minitower, which I still have to this day. I was still using that system nearly 10 years later, and as the rest of the world's computers got faster and faster, my programming got more and more efficient -- because I needed it to run fast not only on my friend's Pentium 150, but on my 33MHz 486 as well. It was a great way to get started. :-)
June 08, 2012 17:08
What a wonderful homage.
June 08, 2012 18:46
I actually started programming fairly late compared to most of the people I've read on here. I always had a love for computers from a young age. I would always open up my old computer and just look inside out of curiosity. My friends always used to go to me whenever they have a problem with their computer so I could help fix it for them. In college I realized I didn't like many of the majors at my school. I was convinced by my parents to do a CS degree, and ever since I took my first class I fell in love with programming. Just writing the code and then running it to see it work right before your eyes is amazing.

Michael, - Show your coding talents to top tech companies
June 10, 2012 20:15
A little late to the party, but here's my story:
June 16, 2012 18:28
Great, touching story. It even has a striking resemblance to my own history ;-)

My teaecher (Mr. Zyskowski) also made quite a brave move that influenced my later (and present) developer career. I and one another 15-year-old were given our own copies of the keys to the school's computer lab.

It was 1990, computers were Polish Z80-based ones but that was quite a treasure, newly acquired by the school and protected by hardened doors, steel gate and bars in the windows...

We had also an unlimited access to the new computer library and were taking at will manuals to read at home. That soon made us able to pay back and help because due to our enthusiasm and avaliable time we two were soon much better acquainted with the hardware and software that our teacher that had only some training during the preceding holidays.

July 23, 2012 19:51
I have posted my story to my blog:
August 02, 2012 19:13
I don't think I was even born when 48Kb of RAM was the peak. xD
October 15, 2012 21:17
My youngest brother won a raffle for a VIC-20 at his workplace Christmas party.

I happened to be at the family home that evening when he brought it home and we plugged it in. Except for calculator I had never seen an electronic computer before.

I experimented with it for a few hours and then made an announcement to the family: "this changes everything".

November 09, 2012 7:08
Thanks for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I will be waiting for your further post thank you once again.
December 28, 2012 9:58
There have been some great stories told on here, and they all brought back a few memories.

I do not have much programming experience (more on that later), but had an affinity for computers beginning some time around second grade (1982?) when I first was able to use one at the small Christian elementary school that I attended. It was an Apple II, and the school had a pretty decent selection of fun, educational software. As time went by, they added some Franklin Apple IIe clones that were quite nice machines for the time period.

In 1984, Daddy was making plans to start a doctoral program, and he made what was for us the huge purchase of an Apple IIc. While it was primarily meant for him to type and research, when he was not using it, we kids were allowed to use it. Daddy was a school psychologist, so we always had access to tons of educational software and games. Not too long after Daddy brought the new computer home, my younger brother and I got enrolled in a computer class for young users at the community college taught by Anthony Fabbri. It was fun, and different than being in school. We used Applesoft BASIC, and Mr. Fabbri had written a book full of fun programs to type in and try out.

As time went by, Daddy added a 1200bps modem to the setup so he could dial in to the university mainframe and library during his research. We also found out that his brother was running a pretty tech-heavy BBS, and we got to visit that from time to time. Daddy finished his doctorate around 1990, and the IIc was used for our homework, games, and my visits to local BBSs. I remember thinking it was a very exciting thing when my brother and one of his friends were conversing by computer one evening. Nevermind that the kid lived a block away and a phone call might have been easier. But something about talking on the computer seemed more exciting.

By 1993, the IIc was quite long in the tooth, but would still dial into a BBS, and plenty of them still existed in my area, though their days were numbered. I do not recall using the WWW or email before my sophomore year of college in 1995, and at some point after that, I made my final attempts to dial into some of the BBSs, most, if not all, of which were now defunct. Later in college, I got a work study job helping to maintain a Macintosh lab for the Communication department. I got the job due to my confidence with the computer and willingness to learn new things. I was always amazed by how many people my age would come in needing to use a computer, but barely knowing how to turn one on or get it to do anything.

Even though I enjoyed Applesoft BASIC, sometime between 1984 and the rest of my life, I drifted away from the notion of becoming a programmer or any other computer-related career. It really surprised me that my younger brother did not become a programmer as he seemed so good at it, but he told me this week that he was always interested, but never wanted to be too tied to that as a profession. Our youngest brother rarely showed much interest in how the computer worked beyond what it would do for him.

Now, after discovering things like the Raspberry Pi, and thinking how it seems like such a back to the basics way of learning programming, I am going to get one and see if I can teach myself a few new tricks. Even if I never do anything professional with it, there seems to be something very personally satisfying in gaining that new knowledge. Daddy will probably get a kick out of it too.

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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.