How did I get started in Software Development?

12 Jul

I’m such a slack – just now responding to this meme after being tagged by Derik.  Normally, I can’t stand these things, but there are some I like – and this is one of them.

How old were you when you started programming?

I was about 10 years old when Dad came home with a Tandy 1000EX.  We played some games on it (Zork) and used it for homework (Mom loaded all our spelling words each week into a program that would flash the word and we would have to type it in).  One night, I watched Dad use BASIC to send escape codes to the printer, getting it to change settings and that was all it took – I was now curious about the secret language of computers.

What was your first language?

BASIC was where I started, and stayed for most of my time in school.  I checked out books from the library and back then, Family Computing used to publish a BASIC program in each issue.  I tried to teach myself assembly, but only managed to reboot the computer every time I ran my programs.  I didn’t know anyone else into programming, so it wasn’t until college and the military that I learned about C.

What was the first real program you wrote?

The first program would be a BASIC program that played songs from Les Misérables while drawing images on the screen (the Tandy was known for its 16-color display and 3-voice sound).  The first program I was paid to write was for the military, and it was a series of automation programs in C to move weather radar and satellite imagery from proprietary systems to an Internet website (note: I probably violated all kinds of military regulations and vendor contracts doing this!)

If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?

Without a doubt, and I would have looked into C much sooner!

If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

This is hard, but if I must limit myself to one thing I would stress to remember that technology, languages, platforms, etc are not that important.  Software is only a tool to accomplish another task, and the less of it involved the better off we all are.  As a developer, seek to understand the real problem you are solving for someone and then only apply your programming skills to solve that problem.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?

Back in the military I was going to night school and met another programmer named David.  David and I both loved programming and games, and did many of our programming assignments together – often going way beyond what was required.  One night we had been trying to crash each other’s program with bad input for a few hours, when finally we felt we had achieved indestructible code.  We then proceeded to call our wives into the room, and show off how manly our programs were – programs that could never be hacked.  David’s wife sat at the keyboard, and at the input prompt hit Crtl-K and caused his program to crash.  She then repeated the same on my program, and it crashed as well.  The wives shrugged and left – not understanding the look of horror and shock on our faces.   We then spent the rest of the night trying to figure out why that one combination caused a crash and all the others were fine.

I don’t think either of us have claimed to write indestructible code since.

Who am I calling out?

Knoxville, represent!

Nathan Blevins

Alan Stevens

Dylan Wolf

Wally McClure

Walter Lounsbery