How old were you when you started programming? I’m another late bloomer. I remember having access to an early edition Macintosh for a short period when I was 13 or so, but it didn’t take. I didn’t really start programming until after I made my first web pages (I don’t count HTML as programming, sorry) and wanted to add some functionality to them. That would have been when I was 24 or so.
How did you get started in programming? I like to tease my father that he could have saved a lot of money if he’d encouraged me when I first asked for a computer (shortly after the aforementioned school Macintosh). Instead I ended up getting a degree in International Politics and starting down the researcher path. Then one day I realized I was having more fun maintaining and modifying the FoxPro relational database that went along with the research than doing the research itself. I eventually decided to switch careers, first into web site design (it was all the rage in 1994!) and then into development.
What was your first language? The first language I had any proficiency in was Perl. I had the great luck to be friends with Nat Torkington and got him a short gig helping out at the Web 1.0 site I was writing HTML for. He inspired me to look into the language and discover what it could do.
What was the first real program you wrote? The first useful program I can remember was an overtime tracking system, written in Perl with an Informix backend. I still shudder at the memory of the sorts of loops I wrote.
What was your first professional programming gig? I lucked into a position as the developer for a tech support intranet at Adaptec, which became a proper programming position as I developed the skills.
If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming? Yes, and earlier, and with more rigor.
If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be? Write more code. There’s no substitute for writing code and seeing what it does. Just like anything else, it’s practice that makes you better.
When I first started, I suffered from perfectionists disease, which often lead to the dreaded paralysis by analysis. I wanted to write the most elegant code possible. But I didn’t have the skill and experience yet to know how to write that code, and ironically held myself back a bit by not just writing code and seeing what worked and what doesn’t, and why.
These days, I write code at the drop of a hat. My folders are chock full of 5 and 10 line classes that do nothing but verify my understanding of basic concepts in the language. If I have a question, I write a program first to see if I can answer it. And then I truly understand how the language works. The result is I write better code.
What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming? Completely refactoring an existing program. We had a Perl program that let customers submit tech support tickets into our tracking system. It was a typical example of spaghetti code, most of which I’d inherited and then made worse through my youthful bumbling. I had enough downtime that I could slowly work through the program, end to end. It was a great feeling of satisfaction, evidence of how I was learning. It wasn’t the most sophisticated program I’ve written, but it’s one of the most successful. As far as I know, that program is still in production, 10 years later.
So, how did you get started in programming?