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?