How I Got Started in Programming

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How I Got Started in Programming


Brian Sullivan tagged me with the latest ongoing meme. I’m really sort of excited because I’ve missed out on all the other memes going around. Jeff Atwood probably wouldn’t even consider me a real geek because of that. (I haven’t updated a Wikipedia page either! Gasp!)

How old were you when you started programming?

I didn’t write my first “Hello World” until I was 18 in COMP 170. I created my first personal website when I was 15 I think, but my primary tools were Netscape Composer and Paint Shop Pro. :-) I think I had figured out by that point some very basic Javascript, but I really had no idea what I was doing.

How did you get started in programming?

I remember when my dad got a new PC with Windows 3.1 on it. Prior to that, I knew how to ‘cd’ between directories and how to run ‘dir’. All of these commands were, of course, to get to the directory where my games were installed. :-) I never really stayed in Windows at the time, because all the games were still DOS-based. I didn’t really have much to do with Windows (except for the Hot Dog theme), until Windows 95 came out. That’s when I started becoming more of a computer enthusiast. I remember troubleshooting Dial Up Networking so that our 14.4 modem would connect up. I also remember buying my first piece of hardware, the 3dfx Voodoo card.

As I mentioned, I started doing some basic web pages when I was in high school. This was the time of animated GIFs and tiled backgrounds, if you’re interested. This was also back when 56K modems first came out and there wasn’t yet a clear standard on how 56K modems would talk (you could either go with US Robotics or the cheap brands) and I worked as tech support at a local ISP. It wasn’t hard to do tech support because I had been troubleshooting my own Dial Up Networking problems for a few years already.

Coming from a tech support role, I didn’t really have any programming knowledge. I knew how to build a computer and I even knew about msconfig, but programming??? Nah… not really. Just WYSIWYG HTML.

When I graduated high school, I either wanted to be a musician or work with computers. Seeing as how I didn’t really want to teach high school band, I decided to go to school to learn about computers. I didn’t really know what Computer Science meant, but hey, my grades were pretty good so why not? So, I chose a major of Computer Science and the rest is history.

What was your first language?

Unlike the rest of the programming populace, my first language was actually not BASIC, but C++. I didn’t actually write a line of BASIC until my junior year of college! I would say that I currently prefer C# over VB.NET, but it has more to do with terseness than it does with braces. For the same reason, I’m a fan of Ruby as well.

What was the first real program that you wrote?

Are you saying Hello World doesn’t count? C’mon!

I’m going to define “real program” in this case as something that I could show my parents. I couldn’t show them “Hello World” or a command line application to create a binary search tree because they couldn’t relate to it. However, I could show them a GUI maze application that I wrote in Java. It had four players (one of which could be human controllable) and then each player raced to get to the exit. I also wrote a Solitaire program in C++, a networking Tic Tac Toe game in C++, and a Paint program in C++ (using the Windows API).

My first team application, like Brian’s, was created in the capstone course at Harding. We wrote a version of Othello that had to be networked with an AI. I wrote the networking code in C#. It even had threading code, which of course was written completely wrong. I’m still not entirely convinced that I can write threading code correctly today. :-)

What languages have you used since you started programming?

In college, I primarily used C++ and C#, but I also had some exposure to some Assembler, Java, VB.NET, Perl, and even LISP! My work experience includes a (thankfully short) period of COBOL and JCL on an IBM mainframe, but primarily has been in VBScript (both classic ASP as well as scripts), Javascript, PowerShell, C++, C#, and VB.NET.

In my personal projects, I’ve used C#, VB.NET, JavaScript, PowerShell, PHP, Python, and Ruby. I’m sure I’ve missed something in there.

What was your first professional programming gig?

I got hired out of college to work at Data-Tronics, Corp. where I still am to this day. My role has changed significantly now, where I’m trying hard to push out 40 years of IT practices with more modern methodologies (down Waterfall, down!) and technologies (down Mainframe, down!).

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

You bet. I’m a geek to the core.

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

I’d have to agree completely with Brian - get involved in the community. Do not let programming become just the job you perform. Like JP, get passionate about developing. If you don’t enjoy what you do, there isn’t any point in doing it. Start reading blogs and going to user groups. You’ll be overwhelmed at how much you didn’t know, but remember that no one else knows it all either. We’re all learning together.

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

I can’t think of any one specific instance, but I think one of the best feelings is, after having spent literally hours trying to debug some problem and then giving up and going home, waking up the next day and having the light bulb come on with the solution to this problem. I love solving problems with software.

Tag, you’re it!

Colin Neller, come on down!

Randy Walker, you too!

I’ve got other tags if anyone else is interested. I might even give some out!