My Programming Journey

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Somewhat inspired by an old Jim Weirich post – yes, I’ve been meaning to do this for a while – here is a little history about my journey with computers and programming.

My dad worked with computers from before I was born, and we had home computers for as long as I can remember (at one time we had 12!) I’ll have to ask, but I imagine we had one from at least as early as 1982 (when I was 3 years old,) though there was no way on Earth I would even be allowed NEAR the computer at that stage.

No, my programming introduction began later. I’m not sure where it came from (possibly dad, perhaps the library,) but the classic series of books from Usborne on learning Basic, specifically aimed at kids, was pivotal for me. These books were mostly about programming games at various levels, but they introduced me to a wonderful world where the computer did what you asked. Soon I was also cruising Byte magazine for listings, really anywhere I could find more code. Everything I was doing at this stage was Basic, and while Dad had many other books, such as Peter Norton’s “Programmer’s Guide to the IBM PC”, these were largely impenetrable to me. It helped that one of my best friends in primary school was also way into computers. We swapped code, chatted on BBSes, and learnt a lot in the process (he now works for Pixar.) I loved coding, and created a lot of different programs, including a fairly rustic but workable text editor, a mouse based graphic program and a personal banking application. In fact, I’m convinced the banking application played a big part in winning scholarships to a couple of Sydney private schools.

Other random memories:

  • writing a column for the local paper about BBSes, winning an insane database package in the process. I believe it was called "Magic", and boy was it a nightmare.
  • creating a programming language (in Basic.) I knew nothing about lexers and parsers, but the general structure was there. It couldn't do much, but it worked.

During my teenage years I didn’t do a whole lot of programming. I was into the tracker music scene (though not particularly talented), and just general teenage stuff: sports, music etc, but I did build a robot controlled by my own code for a year 10 science project. The school computer teacher grilled me because he didn’t think I’d written the code myself, but after I proved I knew it inside out, he asked me to join the “programming team” for a statewide competition. Who even knew we had a programming team? I looked at the sort of things they had to solve, and they were so trivial and boring that I never joined up.

I still used BBSes a lot (I was a particular fan of Active BBS, and my friend Andre’s Mindflux BBS, both in Sydney), but when the internet first hit the mainstream I switched from BBS to internet and barely looked back. I built my first webpage in 1995. When I think back to the head start I had in that area, I really should rule the internet now!

I’d always had a general idea I wanted to be in business – for some strange reason I found accounting books fascinating – so when it came time to go to university, I decided on a Bachelor of Sciene in Information Systems, a combination of computers and business. I enjoyed this and did reasonably well – well enough that the computer people thought I was good at business and the business people thought I was good at computers. I took my first full time job as a consultant straight after uni, and was thrust into the world of corporate Java work. Despite my degree, I really had no idea what I was doing for a year or two, and it wasn’t till my second job that my learning accelerated. Now I can’t get enough of it, I devour every book in sight, and am constantly trying to plug any holes in my technical knowledge (though I wouldn’t swap the business and management training for anything.)

What a trip!