Recently a friend of mine sent along an article i found quite fascinating. Normally i’d have read it and moved on. But this one really caught my attention. The basic synopsis is the author talking about a young kid in the 80′s who got his first computer and became a self-taught programmer. (Sounds a lot like me). Then the author goes on to state how he tried to become a self-taught programmer and failed miserably time and again. This article is his analysis of how he finally succeeded.
But the part that really resonated with me? It’s how he describes this young man getting into computers in the first place. It was like i was looking into a mirror while i read this.
When Colin Hughes was about eleven years old his parents brought home a rather strange toy. It wasn’t colorful or cartoonish; it didn’t seem to have any lasers or wheels or flashing lights; the box it came in was decorated, not with the bust of a supervillain or gleaming protagonist, but bulleted text and a picture of a QWERTY keyboard. … On the whole it looked like a pretty crappy gift for a young boy. But his parents insisted he take it for a spin … And so he did. And so, he says, “I was sucked into a hole from which I would never escape.”
It’s not hard to see why. Although this was 1983, and the ORIC-1 had about the same raw computing power as a modern alarm clock, there was something oddly compelling about it. When you turned it on all you saw was the word “Ready,” and beneath that, a blinking cursor. It was an open invitation: type something, see what happens.
That’s also how my adventure began. When i got my first computer, i sat there for hours going through the old manual, making blips and bleeps, and little guys running across the screen. Humble beginnings – but hey – it paved the way for my eventual career in computer science.
The rest of the article is worth reading too. It talks about the author and how he came to learn the ins and outs of computer programming (and more generally – basic logical problem solving).
His first several attempts consisted of buying a big fat textbook – you know, one of those “teach yourself in 21 days”. The 1500 page dry boring texts that even _I_ can never get through – and i’ve been a programmer for decades now. Finally he discovered an online ‘teach yourself programming’ course that was put together by a now grown up Colin Hughes.
What’s interesting is how he goes about it. Learning doesn’t have consist of dry, boring, sterile sets of facts, rules, and procedures. It can be fun, engaging, interactive. Almost gamelike. The majority of the article talks about the procedure of making learning fun for the student so that they WANT to explore a little more, and then a little more, and then before you know it, they’ve mastered something along the way.
If you’d like to check it out, you can read it here
My mom sent along some pictures of our 2nd computer (she’s right – the first was an aquarius, soon followed by an Atari 130XE – which is where i really started to program).