Why I'm a programmer

I don't know if you can say I'm a programmer solely because of my dad(by training a physicist and by profession an engineer), but he was a big part of getting me there.  I had my first experiences with a computer when I was very young, no older than 4 or 5- my dad would write small games games for me on the TRS-80: One of them was a spelling game: a word would flash for a moment on the screen, and then I'd type in the word, and the program would say whether I'd spelled the word right-this was obviously cool for both of us.  He also showed me how he could tweak the game-add new words, adjust timing, etc.  When I was just a bit older, my dad got me a kids' book on BASIC , and I went through most of the programs in there, running them on that TRS-80 by repeatedly listing them out to look over the code, and editing by individual line. vi would have been full-screen luxury, but the line editor was all I knew, so it was great! (Yup, one of those programs was a choose your own adventure game). 

Aside from the actual programming, my dad's interest in computers kind of infiltrated the house-there were occasional cassette tapes labeled with program names and printed program listings lying around in drawers near the computer, and we tied up the tomato plants in the backyard with tape from spools of old reel-to-reel that was being thrown out at his office.  (We also tied up the dog with some aircraft carrier deck emergency barricade line, but that's another story)  Later on, when we finally replaced the TRS-80 with a Gateway 486 and the new computer's CPU turned out to be defective, I remember him replacing that chip while I hung out nearby. (It seemed perfectly normal to crack open and poke at the insides of a computer on the coffee table, though I'm now pretty sure Gateway would have done it for him, had he wanted to ship the machine back)  Not to mention tons of hacking that autoexec.bat together once that computer was finally working...I of course helped through all these things!

By the time I was in middle school or so, my dad had made his way to management.  I have many memories of the walks my dad and I would go on together, when he'd tell me about what he was learning for work at the time.  He spent many walks telling me about Total Quality Management(a blatant generalization might be to call it a second cousin of Lean), and how they were trying to use it in the Navy.  I remember him telling me that when one stepped back and looked at results, TQM looked like a better way to do things, but a lot of people were resistant.  I asked, "but if it's better, why don't they want to use it? Why won't they at least give it a try?"  (heh, a question I've asked myself about all sorts of things again many times later on.) He said something like "some people get comfortable doing things the way they've always done them, and they don't want to try things another way."  This answer frustrated me-it seemed so absurd, it couldn't possibly be true.  I believe it now; it still frustrates me, but I understand it better.

I can't say my dad ever *tried* to make me a programmer-he just showed me things that interested him.  My experience growing up is not unlike those of many other programmers I've met-if anything, it may be notable that my dad didn't differentiate at all in showing me and my brother these things up to our individual levels of interest. I never got the idea that I should be any less interested in computers, in airplanes, or in helping to build furniture, than I was in my ballet lessons or drawing.  I'm very appreciative of that-I didn't have any idea that some of my interests were perhaps "boy" things, and I don't think I really understood that my perception was maybe not the norm until I was older.  By that time, well, I liked what I liked, and I'm glad things worked out as they did.  Thanks, Dad!

FEELING INSPIRED?

I believe one of the best kinds of introduction you can give a kid to something you feel passionate about is to just *show* them you love it.  Not necessarily by (just) teaching, but by example. Showing then that you genuinely think something is a blast is so much more inspiring than saying it would be a useful skill, or even claiming that it's fun (but not appearing to have fun yourself), regardless of the subject matter. Those things aside, if you are interested in directly teaching your kids some programming, here are a few resources I've run across, though I haven't personally checked them out:

(Edit: Added Scratch)


Posted 06-19-2010 12:23 AM by Anne Epstein

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Comments

Carsten wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 12:12 AM

Hi,

I guess my "history" is similar. My father is/was never a technical guy (he's into administration) but I too can remember playing those games (in my case it was a simple form of Hangman).

But unlike you (don't get me wrong I still love it to be a programmer) I more or less got into programming because I feel I failed in my real "calling" - you see I programmed since my early teens (can't remember the acutal age anymore) but I really wanted to be *more* - I studied mathematics but I guess I am just to stupid for a *real* career their so I ended up beeing a programmer anyhow ... well that's life (but still I somewhat feel I could have been where I am years before without my math training and I pains me from time to time thinking about).

Greg Kats wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 12:58 AM

Anne,

Thanks for the tribute to your father.  My father didn't understand all these new fangled gadgets like computers.  He was a carpenter by trade, but believed in education and made sure each of his 7 kids excelled in the class room.

Similar to your experience, what my Dad did teach me was to love whatever it is you do and put your whole self into.

Thank you Harold Kats (R.I.P.)  Happy Fathers Day!

Mortaza Doulaty wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 9:16 AM

Anne,

Nice story! My father was not a computer specialist, when I was child, he insisted that in order to use computers, I should learn math and English very well (I'm a bilingual), so I listened to him. After some years of learning math and English, when I was 10, I started to learn programming, started with Pascal, nice days...

Happy Fathers Day...

Dave wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 9:55 AM

I appreciate  your comments about how you and your dad interacted, and how that formed who you are today. My dad was an old-school machinist, who NEVER used any machine without modifying it in some way. I think that taught me to always question how things were made, and to keep looking for ways to improve them. I got into electronics (at his prompting) and ever since then I have been modifying whatever is in front of me (I have tried to remember not to do that with people!).

He passed 2 years ago at 88, and up to his last day on earth, he was figuring out some fix for a tractor, or how to machine a part faster, etc!

My love of computers and programming grew out of that constant questioning of things, and having the ability to actually make my own programs has become my passion (I started late in life programming, but don't ever plan to stop learning)

Thanks for the great article!

Roger wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 10:01 AM

My passion for programming came from my high school teacher. I began my  programming career in 1979. I went to college but it was to slow. After a year and half I went to sic month technical school. which my  dad paid for and the rest is history. I still programming 30 years later.

Crap that's a long time.

Bruce CLegg wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 10:03 AM

My father was a Navy musician, and started Musical Electronic Service when he retired.  I grew up helping him trouble shoot electronic orans and amplifiers. The troubleshooting helped my stint as a technician in the Navy and civilian world, and easily migrated over into programing. I define it as thinking logically and abstractly at the same time. I attribute my skills and passion for programming, misic, and God to the influence of my father.

Dave Ihnat wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 10:04 AM

Interesting.  I'm more of your father's generation, I suspect--I fell into computers in the mid-70's, transferring from an experimental engineering program.  I carried my engineering with me--and especially the emphasis placed on being a *problem solver*, not just an {engineer|programmer|whatever}.  I slung code almost exclusively--in almost every area--for nigh on to 20 years, then expanded out.  Now, I've probably not slung any serious code for several years.  Do I miss it?  Some, but not nearly as much as I would have thought--because I'm still problem solving in the tech arena.

My son grew up helping build machines, set up our network, gaming, etc.  He doesn't show much of a tendency to codeslinging, but *is* tech, and is pretty good at networking and advanced use of Windows and Linux--oh, and built his own machine from components, with little help from me.  I've used him on contracts, as well, installing network wiring (in-the-wall stuff, not just plugging things in.)  I hope he's picked up the problem-solving key.

I think your father and I fell into an aberrant period of time--when computers were so new that there was an entire career available in just working on the system and software; today, far fewer can make a career out of that--computers have become commodities.  As they should; they're tools...

Chris wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 10:13 AM

Nice article. The only input my father gave me about my interest in computers was "SHUT UP!!!' when I was blasting a sampled explosion on my stereo throughout the house. He has never used a computer and never will. Your father sounds awesome, want to trade? Oh I love my old man, but I wish he at least pretended that anything I do is worth a second of his time.

My mother, on the other hand, bless her soul, she took a computer course when I was 12 years old - and brought home a Commodore PET. She showed me a few things about it and sparked the fire.

Doc Phil wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 10:16 AM

I read your story with great fondness. Mine is a slightly different story. My dad is a boilermaker by profession, and is still too scared to ask where the on button on a PC sits. But I am forever indebted to him for the day he pitched up with an ATARI 286 XT, with operating system that plugged into the keyboard. I wrote my first game from a manual and copied it over his Jim Reeves tape, and the rest is history.

I never studied a single IT thing in my life, and still firmly believe that google is my greatest textbook. I am passionate about what I do, and couldnt think of any other profession than the one i am in, even if some mornings at 3AM i question my motives.

Thank you for a thoroughly enjoyable article

Andy wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 10:23 AM

This makes me feel better about myself. I became a computer programmer totally on my own. My parents had nothing to do with it. Except that my Mom had a nack for shopping for educational toys for me when I was a kid.

Amir wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 11:07 AM

My dad bought me my first computer, a C64; he was never a tech-mage himself, nor a mathematician or anything, in fact he never even went to university or had a proper trade. But  he knew enough about life to understand that I have to be better than him and he supported me with whatever crazy endevour I took, much like I know my daughter will be better than me [she's already smarter at 3 years old].

I'm a programmer now because I love the craft for better or worse, the long debugging sessions AND the euphoria I get from getting a program to execute beautifully.

I owe the freedom I had to pursue my passions to my mom and dad. Thank you for a heart warming article to remind me of it... Maybe I'll just go and call them to say it.

Denson Hamilton wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 11:45 AM

What a nice article.

My dad passed away a few years ago and I sure do miss him. He was a wonderful man.

As far as missing him? I wouldnt have it any other way.

Jim Parzych wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 11:55 AM

I went to work in a frozen foods warehouse in 1976.  4 years later, I looked around, saw my future, and knew then that I had to choose a different path.  Attended a 6 month school, Computer Processing Institute, and have been programming ever since.  

Anne Epstein wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 12:16 PM

For those that have left notes so far, thank you all for your comments, but more importantly, thank you for sharing your own stories-they are wonderful!

Andy, congratulations on your accomplishments.  I respectfully beg to differ, however, at least a bit, on your becoming a programmer totally on your own.  We all have influencers, colleagues, teachers, role models, or at the very least, the accomplishments of those before us that we build upon.  For good or ill, in encouragement, or perhaps even as obstacles or things to rebel against, those things come together to help make us who we are.

Edson Valle wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 12:26 PM

Hi Anne

Very nice post. As a suggestion for teaching kids some programming, I send the link from Scratch. It'a a MIT "framework" to teach kids some programming rules and techniques (if, while, for).

It's graphical, very intuitive and we can do anything, from games to presentations. As soon as my dautghter get older, I will show her :) .

http://scratch.mit.edu/

mayjune wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 1:08 PM

Really touching. Felt so nice. My dad didnt know anything about computers, still doesn't but he always gave me an open space to go wherever I want to. Thanks to him im studying Engg when i thought it won't be possible.....

Thanks dad...

PS - thanks a lot for your story...

rxantos wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 1:52 PM

I started programming when I bought the Color Computer 3. It came with the best manual to learn programming. A pity that more books didn't use the same hand approach.

Scott White wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 2:33 PM

Great Fathers day story.  With very few female programmers in the industry I've often wondered what the driving force is with the few that I have known.  I would speculate that their relationship with their father is a big factor.

It makes me think of my daughter and how her experience will affect what profession she ultimately decides to pursue.  If 'Fathers Day' is about anything, it's not just being a father but being an involved father - such as your own.

Andy P wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 3:02 PM

I've been programming since 1969 (when I started a GCE A level computing course). I got into computing because of my school physics teacher who was brilliant and got me interested in electronics - I meant to get into electronic engineering  (hardware) but I guess I found programming (software) just a little too much easier :).

I'm still at it in my 59th year!!!!.

I am also deaf and recently had a Cochlear implant - I think its probably the ultimate in electronics & software.

I have programmed PDP8 Assembler (akin to m/c code!),  pdp11 assembler (macro-11), Z80 Assembler, Cobol  (a language that shares the destinction with C for world-wide use), fortran, CORAL, pascal, C, C..... C(!) and more C(!), ADA (ugh!), JAVA and of course now C++.

My main language is C, followed possibly by English :).

I've worked on apps ranging from stock-control, thru telephone logging systems, Command & Control to Air Traffic Control.

Device Drivers, Networking (hey man we were using the Cambridge Ring before anyone heard of Ethernet or the Token Ring!)

I was at a uk co. that was one of the first to use & port UNIX XENIX on the PDP11 and I've been using LInux since Slackware - 0.99.

I'm knackered!!!!! - (Only joking - actually you cant beat software for variety even if it is a bit mind numbing now & then).

Doppelganger Lee wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 3:04 PM

My father passed away when I was 1. My uncle briefly showed me a motorbike racing game on a beige box PC when I was in kindergarten.

And now I want to be a programmer. Weird, eh?

Rick Z. wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 4:12 PM

Hi Anne,

Thanks for the nice Father's Day post.

It doesn't look like my sons will want to be programmers, but I encourage them in all their other interests, mainly math, art, horticulture, and golf. What could be better?

I've been programming since the late '70s when I read that there was a huge demand and a shortage of programmers.  I didn't know what programming was but figured I could do it and I was tired of running a printing press. I took three evening classes and then a 30% pay cut to get an entry level job. After thirty years I'm still writing code and loving it.

Erica wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 4:16 PM

I'm not really programming currently but did to get my integration gig. Do I still get to comment? :)

My dad, jokingly, told me he wanted me to be a hacker after we watched War Games when I was a little girl. He also knew all the patterns for Pac Man and Ms. Pac Man and got the kill screen in the original. I'd say he was a bigger influence than I imagined at the time.

He was killed my senior year, so it's always stayed with me he never got to see me play with code or game with me like he'd always hoped. Sad, but bittersweet. As I get older, I wonder what he'd say.

:) Good post, Ms. Annie.

E.

Darren wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 4:20 PM

Nice Story Anne, I'll tell you mine…  Bit long though.

I guess I'm similar, except it was a combination of my brother and dad.  My dad was a math teacher and in about 1981 (little fuzzy as I was 6) he decided to tackle this whole teaching computer programming in high school thing in what was called "computer math".  It was taught on TRS-80 Model 3.  One of them went bad and my dad brought it home and my brother started tinkering until he fixed it.  Me and my brother were big fans of the original Battlestar Galactica (which I was watching in reruns) and my brother decided to write a game on the computer while it was still there.  It was cool, because it was a viper game from the cockpit.  He spent a long time on it and just when he had it working, he just erased it.  That was the first time the computer bug bit me.  

After that came the TI Model 4A, a tremendous luggable and finally a PS2 Model 30.  I did the "program adventure" books, but that was all until Jr High when we had our first computer class.  I'm a huge science fiction/space fanatic, so my final project was actually an Enterprise class ship firing a photon torpedo at a satellite and destroying it.  

I ended up taking my dad's honor's compute science class, but we never talked about it outside of school.  I aced every test, and I'm sure everyone thought I was able to do it cause my dad was coaching, but I just enjoyed Pascal.  During our Lab time, I'd make my programs far more sophisticated than anything my dad taught, by going to the back of the Turbo Pascal manual and finding neat features of the language.  He never took off points for sophistication as long as it produced the output that was required and used the correct algorithms (ie no cheating by hard coding stuff).  I loved solving problems creatively, so getting to be free with the solution made the entire thing fun to me.  I ended up leading our UIL Computer Science team, and considering my dad refused to have a second year of CS, we did really well.  In fact in most competitions, I only scored lower than one person and he was a CS 3rd year student and had been programming since he was 9.  I took the Computer Science AP exam that spring, and after getting a 4 on the AB, my dad said he was proud of me.  It was the first time I'd ever heard him say that.

I worked for 3 years as a developer for a small corporation and then went on to my true dream, which was space.  I'm now an aerospace engineer working on NASA interplanetary missions.  I still program, but not for other people, only to solve problems, which is just fine by me.

Roger wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 6:16 PM

This is almost a perfect representation of my growing up...except that I started on a CPM based machine, then a hard-wired Z80 before scoring a TRS-80.  My maths teacher at one point wrote "Roger is an enigma, if he keeps wasting all his time on computers he will never amount to anything..." Thanks for the nostalgia...and Level 2 basic was cool 8)

Smarty wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-21-2010 7:09 PM

I was born and brought up in India. During my year 9 at school I just had the oppurtunity to type ONE line of a basic program and then shift myself so that the other guys could also share the computer.

In the same year 9 of study, computer lab instructors downloaded the beautiful pics of Mars beamed back by the PathFinder... Enough inspiration, I am now a programmer.

Muhammad Safwat wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-22-2010 3:58 AM

Thanks Anne for this very nice article

you really took me back to my early days when I started programming with basic on my old computer

programming is really about passion and love for this amazing machine and getting your ideas done and live on it.

Nemo wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-22-2010 12:32 PM

Though my dad wasn't any way related to computers, he never forced me to do something else. He saw I was passionate about computers and he provided me as much as he could so I could learn. Wish he had the means to get me a computer, but it didn't matter since I made up by spending more time in the lab. Will always be thank for to my mom and dad for letting me do my thing :)

I was in my 7th grade when I first saw a computer in my school. We had one class every week when we used to go to the computer lab and play games. We used to take turns to play Paratrooper on DOS.

When I got into my 8th grade we had a BASIC programming class every week and that's when I was introduced to the world of programming. At that time what fascinated me most was being able to solve math problems like LCD, GCM etc., using a computer rather than solving it by hand... from then on I was hooked and there was no turning back! Used to go to my teacher every night and ask him to give some problem to solve and the next morning I would give the solution. Wonderful times! Mind was always on computers, nothing else mattered. Then went on to specialize computers in my 11th and 12th grade. Bachelors in Computer Science and Masters in Computer Applications. And happily programming ever after!

Arvin wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 06-23-2010 3:34 AM

Nice... Great article. I am inspired about that.

Although I was not influence by my father, I was influence through  my Computer subject in 4th Year Highschool. Since then I love programming and I love learning more about programming or anything about computers.

It's very nice...

crorkz matz wrote re: Why I'm a programmer
on 08-06-2014 1:06 PM

h6I7rS Very neat article.Much thanks again. Want more.

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