In Part 1 and Part 2 of How I Got Geeky, you learned how I bought a CB radio for $5 at a garage sell and through a series of buys and sells ended up getting my first computer for $150 when I was 14 years old.
Playing with Computers
I had a lot of fun with my x386 computer. Although limited with what I could run on it, I mostly tweaked around with settings and such to learn how it worked. There were a few games I could play on it but most of the time I was doing things other than playing them.
I eventually bought and installed a modem (2400 baud, remember?) and started a BBS (Bulletin Board System) called “The Hard Drive”, powered by RemoteAccess, which ended up being lots of fun. It had some games and file downloads mostly. In the pre-mainstream internet days, BBS was your way to “connect”. Since I didn’t have a dedicated phone line I could only have it running at night while my folks were sleeping. I don’t think I ever told them about that!
After having a blast with my x386 computer for about a year, lightening struck our house and zapped it. With some insurance money (and probably some extra $ thrown in by my parents that I didn’t know about) I was able to get a custom built (by a family friend) x486 that had decent specs. It had a 200MB hard drive, 4MB of RAM, and a VGA monitor. I was now able to use AOL, play games that had decent graphics and other cool things I hadn’t been able to do with my older x386, because it had the very limited CGA monitor.
Awhile later, toward the end of my 8th grade year, I was hanging out with a guy I knew from church, Travis, and he mentioned something about how he knew how to program computers. This immediately got my attention because I had been very interested in learning how to do that but had no idea where to start. “Computer Programmer” had the coolest connotation for me. You know, the geek equivalent for something like “Black Stealth Ninja”.
At my request, he began to walk me through the nuts and bolts of programming with Borland’s Turbo Pascal. He got me setup on my computer and showed me the basics. He then started to give me programming “assignments”. Some of them were simple logic algorithms and others were mini-applications. I made screen savers, a magic 8 ball, computer password utilities, and a Tic-Tac-Toe program. Check them out on GitHub! It was seriously fun to me.
My first “professional” gig as a programmer was to create a screensaver for the full service car wash I worked at when I was 15. I was friends with the manager’s son and he knew I was computer savvy. He said he would pay me $20.00 to build a screen saver for the company computer. Admittedly, the screen saver I ended up with was rudimentary but it did the job. I was getting paid to be a programmer!
So, it was obvious I liked computers. And it was more than obvious that I liked to program them. One day my sister Becky placed a print-out about a degree program at The University of Texas at Austin called Management Information Systems. I read the blurb about “Is This Right For You?” and it sounded right up my alley. I liked the idea of being in the business world yet knowing technology deeply. I didn’t just want to be a coder locked in the backroom but a savvy business person that had development skills that could be applied to business problems.
Fifteen years later, here I am. After graduating from UT, I entered the professional world as a developer and have had a variety of roles and responsibilities. I’ve had the opportunity to work in quite a few industries and see some pretty fascinating technology. Through and through, I’ve never lost my love of programming.
So there you have it. That’s How I Got Geeky.