Software Development Meme

I’m a sucker for an interesting meme. I picked this one up from a programming blog that I stumbled across. It’s apparently made its way around several blogs that belong to programmers. It’s kind of like those questionnaires that kids post in their MySpace bulletins.

How old were you when you first started programming?
I was 12 years old when I got my first computer, a TRS-80 with 16K of memory and a cassette player. Back in 1979, you had to program the thing to do anything with it. I think I spend most of the summer of 1979 locked in my bedroom typing in BASIC programs from magazines. The fascination with computers lasted until college. Sometime in college, I decided that even though I enjoyed technical problem solving, I thought I would become bored with it and would hate my life if I decided to become an engineer or programmer. I gave up programming, got a history degree, and went to law school. I practiced law briefly until I realized that I couldn’t stand most of my clients. At some point in there I got my first geocities webpage and enjoyed learning HTML and JavaScript as just a hobby. I then went back to delivering pizza for awhile, and then did some customer service work for a phone company and a life insurance company. Finally in 1998, at the age of 31, I got an actual job as a programmer.

How did you get started in programming?
I worked for AT&T as a customer service rep in 1996. It was a union shop and the union offered some really sweet perqs. I took the union’s career planning class. They gave me three tests: an interest inventory, a Myers-Briggs personality test, and a skills test. The “job coach” analyzed the results for me, and told me that I ought to be a computer programmer. It was one of those V8 moments where I just wanted to hit myself in the middle of my forehead with the heel of my palm.

By this point, I had a mountain of debt from law school and a job that didn’t pay very well. There was no way I would be able to go back to school to get a computer science degree. I ended up trying to teach myself enough programming skills so that I could slide into a technical job without a degree, and then I got the opportunity of a lifetime. DST Systems had an ad in the paper for their LOGON program. They were looking for people who wanted to change careers and become programmers. They had a five-month training program, and if you made it through, you would work for DST as a mainframe COBOL programmer. I got the job and my career has been a source of pleasure ever since.

What was your first language?
I started with BASIC on the TRS-80. I learned more BASIC for the Apple IIe in high school. In college, I had a semester of Fortran which I quickly forgot. When I actually got a job, my first language was COBOL.

What was the first real program you wrote?
I can’t really claim to have written it, but I did put cheat codes into a TRS-80 Lunar Lander program so that I could change the gravity settings and give myself extra fuel. But the first real program that I wrote for someone else to use was actually in JCL (that’s mainframe job control language). It was a long script for a batch job on DST’s mutual fund accounting system TA2000. I think that it was supposed to calculate the quarterly 12(b)1 commissions for the brokers. It sounds boring, but I was pretty proud of how it turned out.

What languages have you used since you started programming?
In order, they are BASIC, Fortran, HTML, JavaScript, COBOL, JCL, SQL, Easytrieve, CL, Java, XML, and RPG IV. I’ve also had to learn enough CLIST, Rexx, SAS, C, and C++ to debug other people’s code even though I probably couldn’t code in any of those languages today.

What was your first professional programming gig?
I was a COBOL programmer for DST Systems from February 1998 to June 1999.

If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?
Yes, and I actually would have started much sooner. I wouldn’t have wasted those years being a lawyer and recovering from being a lawyer.

If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?
If you don’t like what you’re doing, then you need to figure out what you do like and go do that instead. People with a passion for their work are much more valuable than people who are just there for the paycheck.

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?
I love coding and debugging and I get to have fun doing that several times a week, but I think in terms of sheer wonder and pleasure, I’d have to go back to the summer of 1979 that I spent hacking the games that I had typed in from the magazine articles, and when I learned to use the PEEK and POKE commands in BASIC to change the graphics region of the TRS-80 memory.

Who’s next?
Shoot, I’m a 41-year-old family man. I don’t know any programmers with blogs that I could pick on. I guess I’ll just have to leave this one unanswered.

Life just isn’t fair

Jill watching the Last Lecture

I was cruising around StumbleUpon this evening and came across a video of a lecture that Douglas Adams gave at the University of California – Santa Barbara several years ago. It was a long video, so I got up in the middle to have a snack, and as I was walking back to my desk, I walked by my daughter Jill’s bedroom. She was just coming the end of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture video.

This gave me pause and made me think. First, I thought, “Like father, like daughter. Nerdy little goofball is watching lecture videos on the Internet.” Second, it made me think how sad it is that some of best examples of humanity don’t get to live to old age. Douglas Adams and Randy Pausch are just two examples, and I don’t dare to start listing all the other fine people that died too young or I’ll be here all night.

Life just isn’t fair. We can try to bring some justice to our lives, and effect always seems to follow cause, and in the long-run sometimes karma will win out, but sometimes bad things happen to good people.

So what lesson am I supposed to take away from this? I guess the lesson is that I should try to be a good person, eat right, and exercise, but even then I could still get hit by a bus tomorrow. I will try to live a fuller life because I can never really know how much time I have left.

I think my first step will be to pay more attention to what’s going on around me and to try to appreciate what I have.