Monday, June 9, 2008

How I Got Started Programming

I got called out by Jeff in his post on the same subject. I believe this idea can be traced back to Michael, and it's a pretty good idea. It's nice to see how our friends and colleagues have progressed.

Fair warning, this could get long winded. I am, after all, talking about my favorite :)

How old were you when you started programming?

I think I was 12 when I first wrote some kind of program. Christmas of my 7th grade year, Ma and Pa Wingfield bought an Apple IIe, along with a couple games. However, I quickly got bored with the games and wanted to make that machine do the stuff I wanted. I talked mom into springing for the 128k upgrade card, and I got down to writing some BASIC programs.

Between the 7th and 8th grade, mom actually sent me to Ohio State to "Computer Camp." It was like Code Mash '83. A bunch of 12-14 year olds on OSU's campus for a week writing code. Oddly enough, at the time I was an "Apple Guy" because that's what we had at home, but all the machines at the camp were IBM's. So, I basically just focused on the BASIC code, and not all the screwy graphics stuff that only worked on the IBMs.

How did you get started in programming?

Through High School, I did very little programming. Females and football were my main focus, and after graduating I was off to OSU to get an Ag Econ degree. While at OSU I did take a beginning programming course, and it was one of the few courses I enjoyed. (Didn't take the hint, though.) In it, we were writing PASCAL on Macs...back to the Apple. (The irony is getting thick, here.)

After that class at OSU I let my programming gene slip again, and didn't really take it back up until I got a 486 in '93. After getting that, and with the web boom right around the corner, HTML and javascript were intriguing, so I hobbied around with them for a while. Then, got serious and went to Franklin to work on getting a CS degree. That's when it all started to come together and I figured out I really was a computer guy at heart. (At FU I did most work on a UNIX Apple this time, but no PC, either.)

What was your first language?

As noted above my first language was BASIC on the Apple. Lots of GOTOs in my code, too. Nothing brought my 128k expansion card to it's knees quicker than a nice infinite GOTO loop.

What was the first real program you wrote?

This is kind of a two parter for me. The first large program I got working was a Stock Market simulator I copied out of a magazine. I made a few minor tweaks to it to make the stocks move faster and change the companies that were traded.

But, the first real program I wrote from scratch was a farming simulator when I was in the 8th grade for the IIe. I grew up on a grain farm, and decided to write a simulator for planting, harvesting, and trading grain. I titled the program "Appleculture" which I thought was pretty snappy. The most difficult part of the game to program was the random number stuff to make the grain prices move, but not move too much. And to make them trend up or down, not taking huge jumps in the opposite direction it took the turn before. It got pretty involved. It also had a banking portion to it, so I guess I was staring my "line of business app" future square in the face there and didn't even know it.

What languages have you used since you started programming?

Hmmm...BASIC, PASCAL, C++, Java, VB 5, HTML, Javascript, ASP, VBScript, PHP, C#, VB.Net, Ruby (just getting started on that one)

What was your first professional programming gig?

First professional programming gig was at a small lighting manufacturing company near the airport back in about 1997, I believe. I was brought in to build the website, oversee the computer systems, and do some other things around the building. Turned out the guy that owned the company wasn't all that good at delegating, so it ended up being more of a production manager position than web position. I did get the website launched before I left, and it was still the web site up until about 18 months ago. (Which is really kind of sad.)

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

Yes. If I knew then what I know now, I would have started focusing on programming much sooner. My real programming life didn't start until I was about 26 or so, even though I was writing random grain price generators when I was 13.

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

I'll have to follow the crowd and say soft skills is a big one. Everything is a people problem, so to solve those problems you've got to deal with people. If you think fixing the problem is locking yourself in an office or hunkering down in a cube for endless hours typing away, you're mistaken.

Secondly - can't narrow this one to just one - and I read this in somebody else's post and heard it from Brian Prince, get a mentor or mentors. After leaving the small manufacturing place I've been lucky enough to have at least one person at each company that's been a mentor to me. At Quick it seems I'm surrounded by mentors. In this chosen career you're always learning, if you're not always learning YOU are the problem.

What's the most fun you've ever had ... programming?

Not sure I can narrow down a "most fun" time, but my most satisfying time was working on the MCCH project for the Attorney General's office. Simplified explanation, this was the web interface for the Amber Alert system in Ohio. My email address is still in the db for all Amber alerts in the state, and seeing, "Alert canceled, child recovered," come into the inbox always makes me feel good.

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