Programming

I can remember the first time I sat down before a computer and wrote my first program.

It was my senior year in high school. The math instructor, how I never heard, had a real computer brought into the class and we all got a crack at it. It was a Digital Equipment Corp. PDP-8 mini-computer with a teletype interface. I wrote my first program (and my second) there (and somewhere I might still have the film canister holding the teletype tape output of one of them) and had my first experience putting code together and making it run.

I was hooked.

The whole process of logically defining a process, writing the code to match, and watching the result playing out before me appealed to me like nothing ever did, aside from writing fiction and nonfiction. This was writing, too, albeit in a more constricted form. It was creating in a manner I never understood before but now I knew this was what I wanted to do, what I wanted to know and understand, what I wanted to be.

This was years before computer programming became popularized in movies and television. In those days, computers were vast pieces of computing iron with panels of blinking lights and spinning tape drives and strange Lissajous patterns showing on video displays. But here was a computer, a real life computer that I could sit down before and compose a symphonic program of simple statements. Sure it had blinking lights and a tape drive (but no video display) but it was only the size of a large cabinet, and it didn’t require an advanced degree to operate it.

I was always mathematically and engineeringly inclined: I took three years of Math in high school, as well as English, Spanish and Vocal Music. I only had one year of an actual science, that being Chemistry, weirdly enough.

For example, I was one of four students the math instructor asked to participate in the Manchester College (now Manchester University) High School Mathematics Field Day: our team won second place while I took a first in the 3D Tic-Tac-Toe competition (for which I won a slide rule which I never learned to use: the year afterward they started awarding calculators instead) and a second in the Rapid Calculation competition to win the Highest Individual Score award. Those award certificates are still hanging on my bedroom wall. 

All of these various interests seemed to combine for me, there in front of that computer: the logic and precision of mathematics that matched the precision of music and the orderliness of such things in Spanish such as verb conjugation plus the creativity of English writing all combined into my sudden appreciation for programming. There was a logic and a pattern to all of this which appealed to me. It was the reverse of the adage “Garbage In, Garbage Out” where “Logic In, Logic Out” was the order of the day. 

The appeal of that logic and order reflected my own predilections and preferences for the same in my own life, which continues to this day.

In addition, I am actually driven to program at times, and this website is a prime example of that. Many were the times that I found a plugin or template that did almost what I wanted, but not quite. That is when I went inside the code and improved it to meet my specifications and my requirements. I found many years ago that I have a talent not only for creating original code but also for immersing myself in someone else’s code to understand it, pull it apart and put it back together even better than before. I enjoyed that just as much as writing original code.

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