24 June 2008

When did you first realize you could get along with a computer?

You never forget your first time

In 1982, on a DEC VAX after I switched majors and began in a Computer Science coursework curriculum circuit. FORTRAN was my first programming language learned, though a heavier dose of PASCAL soon followed. PCs as such existed but were rare and nothing more than expensive and extravagant toys at that time. One of the fellows on my dorm hall did own one and he coded a simple BASIC two player football simulation game that was purely based on random numbers and no skill whatsoever, but still a crowd would cluster around him as he keyed in the plays and verbally announce each result.

My first "aha" moment came when my "Intro to Programming and Algorithms" professor presented the class with variable swap code (and yes, those were the exact variable names he used) and asked if it was correct.


    BARF = 47
    BEER = 2

Nowdays, all the nifty newfangled languages offer multiple assignment (i.e., BARF, BEER = BEER, BARF), thus rendering this a moot point, but at the time, the few folks in the class that had previous professional (and at that time, anyone who had programmed had "professional" experience) smugly grinned, while everbody else quickly assented incorrectly. And after that moment I was hooked — it was like a window had been opened where you could see axioms of logic instantly reconciled or shattered.

Soon after, tinkering with Conway's Game of Life, simple parlor games like video poker, blackjack, craps and my own baseball simulations, my path to programmer geekdom was sealed.

A few years later, mid 1980s, I worked as a computer operator and then "microlab monitor". The computer operator position meant dealing with line printers attached via telephone modems and bailing out infinite loop program executions due to idiotic instructors. The following year (or semester, memories of distant days grow hazier with each passing season ;)), I secured duty in the "Microlab" where I got to play with a brand new set of IBM XT machines, that were added to an existing row of DEC Rainbow CPM powered machines. And the shock of WordPerfect version 2, that came on multiple 360K floppy discs.

I did not own a PC until the end of 1990, as until then, they seemed underpowered toys at too high a cost. At least compared to the mainframe machines I worked on.

I didn't jump into to the internet programming deal until late 1990s, as hitherto, had been employed as mainframe application programmer, by that time, predominately on IBM MVS platforms, hacking COBOL, REXX, Assembler, JCL, CLIST, TSO Dialog Manager, Easytrieve, etc.… I really wanted to do web programming and plunged into the Unix realm, learning Perl and shell scripting (which was joyous after all the CLIST and REXX work, the equivalent Perl code size was geometrically smaller).

This moment in dinosaur computing is brought to you by AutoCad and Lotus 123…


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