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Weekly Poll: When Did You Start Programming?

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People learn to program at entirely different times. For some, it's a hobby they picked up in their early teens. Others learned it at university in order to begin a career. Yet more learned as adults, as part of the job they already had.

So, how old were you when you first programmed? If you'd care to regale us with the tales of your early programming exploits, the comment thread is ready and waiting. And, as always, you'll get to review the results instantly after taking the poll.
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(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Lund Wolfe replied on Fri, 2012/11/23 - 2:20am

It dates me, but I was in an engineering program and had to take Fortran using punch cards and there was no textbook.  I promised I'd never work in any field that required programming.

Many years later I went back to community college for a degree in Digital Electronics and took BASIC and then assembly language.  That was empowering and I loved it.  I later went back to school for a BSCS and had to use non OO Pascal and ansi "C" but was exposed to C++ and OOP and GUI development (Visual Basic and Visual C++) which I really wanted to do.  I waited for a GUI job that used Borland C++ with a Delphi front end.  My third job was new development on a browser based app consisting of applets connecting directly to a database (a joke by today's standards) using Java 1.1 with some legacy Java 1.0 (all MS Java at that).  We were in way over our heads, but I remember it fondly.

Mike P(Okidoky) replied on Fri, 2012/11/23 - 2:51pm

Trash-80 in the store. VIC-20 at home. Had to first write an assembler to write assembly. Then wrote another assembler in assembly using the first assembler. Much of the time went into writing assembly and assemblers.

William Rouse replied on Fri, 2012/11/23 - 8:36pm

I was a drafter at CDC in Minneapolis and my manger sent me to learn programming to keep me in the company.  I went to work at the Education Company at Control Data Corporation and learned an in house language called Tutor, and then Micro Tutor.  At home I had an Atari and learned Basic and 6502 assembly.  When I moved to the system group I picked up C and C++ at work and Turbo Pascal at home on a then newly purchase IBM PC.  Somewhere there after I picked up Java for a paint company in Minneapolis called Valspar.  Lately I have fondness for the Web and work with JavaScript, PHP, HTML and CSS.  I wish I could spend a minimum of 4 hours a day coding to increase my knowledge.  I often wonder why I like being and engineer and the only clue that I have is that I like blinky lights.

Ralph Mace replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 6:39am

I'm not afraid of dating myself. I began programming professionally in 1970 and I'm still at it. Back then, the amount of formal education at college level was almost non-existant. The little amount of education that was available was usually taught by the math department.

I started off with FORTRAN and assembly language in school; I was miserable at both. It wasn't until the summer that I bluffed my way into an IT-related job and taught myself assembly language using IBM-provided courses. Naturally, back then, programs were punched into cards and compiled when you could get mainframe time; you learned quickly how to make the most of the small bit of time you had available.

I've been fortunate. I have always been employed in positions where I could advance my knowledge and pursue the career I wanted. And in that time, I have become fluent in more than a dozen programming languages. What more could you ask?


Farrukh Shahzad replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 6:57am

Started from "Turbo Basic" in first year of my bachelors computers science class in Dec 1999 and there was first assignment I am doing on my Pentium 1 200Mhz with 16GB RAM windows 95 computer and all the cold December night I am trying to making shapes, squares, triangle, circles in blinking different colors without knowing anything about For loop, and reading book of Basic commands and found a command to make  sound coming from PC speaker...

ohhh maaan!!! I couldn't sleep all night for that excitement like what should I write next...

I miss that excitement... new comers who starts from visual programming might never feel that black white screen programming....

Oh and I almost forgot, since Dec 1999 to 2012 I've been to FoxPro, Turbo Pascal,Turbo C, Boland C/C++, Prolog, Assembly, Visual Basic 4/5/6, Java 1.0/1.1, ASP, HTML, PHP, VB.NET , C#, Java 1.2/1.5/1.6 and now the most new additions Obj C/C++ (IOS) and Java for Android

Erin Garlock replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 7:57am

TI-99/4A in 1982 with the "Peripheral Expansion Box" filled with all 32k.  Cut my teeth on Extended Basic, and (re)typing all the sample code from the various magazines of the day - debugger?  What's that?

Per Hejndorf replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 8:05am

Started out on the Texas TI-57 programmable calculator in 1977 - hence the relatively ripe old age of 21 for the first programming experience. Then on to Commodore PET 2001 (and 6502 assembler) and from there I landed a real programming job with IBM S/370 COBOL, ASM and CICS. A lot of water under the bridge between then and now: C#, XAML, JavaScript, Web, Mobile - not to mention Scrum, Design Patterns...

Peter Kasson replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 8:14am

Ah, the good old days.  A Commodore 4032 with attached monitor and cassette deck.  Waiting for programs to load from tape, creating programs in Basic, beeps and chirps for sound ... 4K of memory ... why would we need more than that ?

Walter Walters replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 8:28am

I'd never set eyes on a computer before I applied for jobs as a trainee programmer in 1969. Thinhs have changed a bit since then :)

Gary Baren replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 8:49am

Apple basic on an Apple II+ in 1982. Wrote a special ed program catalog for my high school. Database on a floppy, ouch.


david hays replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 10:29am

I was in college, and learned FORTRAN as one commenter said with punch cards, we used an IBM 1401 for a while, then the school consolidated things and went to batch programming and you had to submit your cards for batch processing to the data center.  Later in the Air Force, I took a COBOL class, left beofre the class ended, still got a grade.  Later again I took a couple of BASIC classes, then later I took a class that required programming in Turbo Pascal for control ofelectronic circuits, even later I took a class in C.  More recently I took a class in Visual Basic (6)  just about the time that Microsoft came out with the Visual Studio family of languages.  We had the TI 99/4A and I did some simple Basic programming.  As with all skills, if they go unused your skill/knowledge gets very rusty.  I have been envisioning a program to help with the solving of newspaper Cryptograms, I haven't gotten far.  Many years ago, a friend had a Timex-Sinclair computer and it had a program that was used  to solve a cryptogram, you would input the puzzle and when you did your substitution, it would then find each occurrence of the substituted letter and place your guess below.  I have been trying to conceive what all that entails, but haven't put it into action yet.  I have tried to find the original program,hoping it could be modified to run on today's PC's no luck there either.  There are so many resources out there, but it takes time to use them.

I do not program as a job, so my skills are extremely rusty, and I just haven't mad it a high priority.

david hays replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 9:02am in response to: Peter Kasson

Sounds a lot like the TI 99/4A, unless you spent the money and bought the Floppy drive attachment (a big box).  Now you can't buy a computer with a floppy drive either, without paying more for it again.  My father-in-law might even still have a TI 99/4A in the box unopened.  He still has a couple of old PC's in his shop/former showroom (he used to repair TVs and sell new ones).

Matthew North replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 9:17am

My Dad had me on a computer when I was 4 (1979).  It was an OSI (Ohio Scientific) machine -- not sure what model.  I can still remember loading up Start Trek from a cassette tape via a standard audio cassette recorder.  And I remember the day my Dad got that recorder -- he returned 3 or 4 before he found one that had good enough quality to be usable.

I'm not sure exactly when I started programming, but it was well before 10 -- maybe around 6... One day my Dad showed me:

10 Print "Hello World!"
20 Goto 10

(not even sure anymore whether that syntax is right!)

I was floored that I could so easily make the computer do something.... Haven't looked back since.

Gregory A. Baryza replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 9:20am

First program as a freshman in 1966 on an IBM 1401 on punched cards in machine language.  Soon after that to Assembler, FORTRAN and COBOL. Wrote a BASIC compiler / interpreter while working in the computer center at University.

Jim Evans replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 9:34am

 Mom and Dad bought a TRS-80 (one of the first models) so that she could keep track of our Geneology.  I quickly moved in and started writing my own programs and then games.  Been hooked ever since!  Saved my first code to a cassette recorder plugged into that TRS-80!

John Moran replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 9:43am

 I started at GE Aerospace in 1966 just out of high school and the first thing I learned was FORTRAN.  Used both a dial up (110 baud) time share system and an a IBM 7094 using punched cards. 

P.S. Still at it.

Eric Bennion replied on Thu, 2012/11/29 - 10:28am

I'm intrigued that in a lot of ways, the stories are similar.  I myself had a similar experience with Basic on an Atari 600. I was amazed that you could type words on the screen, hit Enter and it would do something.  I was 11 or 12 at the time. Since then I've moved on through Turbo Pascal, LISP (for HP Calculators - 11C, 15C, 48sx), Borland C, Borland C++, RPG-IV, Visual Basic, Java, and C#. 

Doug Agnew replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 10:41am

 I started with college, like others through the Math Department (late 60's-early 70's).  My first computer course was in PL/I, but we started that with programming with a Turing Machine emulator, then in a pseudo-machine-code (absolute hexadecimal addressing), then in assembler and finally in PL/I.  So, I gathered a real appreciation of the power of programming languages.

Since then, I've always been in IT, moving from programming to analysis to database administration.  I can probably put about a dozen programming languages in my resume, but only one spoken language.

Some of my best programming experiences came with special projects at either work or school, such as developing a program for a Turing Machine Emulator and one for Von Neumann's 29-state cell automaton or a program for interpolating data for a air-pollution study for an NSF grant.

Some of my worst have been spending 100 hours in 6 days baby-sitting a software upgrade when I was younger, or now, doing the same thing for 24-36 hours without a break (us old folks DO need our rest).

Jim Graf replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 10:48am

Too bad this poll didn't correlate (somehow) the year that we started. I'm going to bet that the later starting ones, started much earlier in time then the younger starting ones. I sure didn't have a home computer prior to 1980s.


Thomas Murray replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:04am

Started programming in FORTRAN, which I taught myself, when I started college (Penn State) in 1969.  No computers in High School back then - the technical high school had an electronic accounting machine (wired control boards) that was their big "computer" system, but academic students didn't get to touch it (it was literally on display on a pedestal behind a glass wall).  FORTRAN and IBM assembly language were the first programming courses I took.  At Penn State they had a Computer Science department and degree, so there was a fair amount of courses and languages available.  Computer center was home for most of us CompSci students nights and weekends.  By comparison, both my sons grew up with a computer in the house.  Certainly a different world.

Keith Bay replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:06am in response to: Jim Graf

I agree about the idea of correlating when we started with how old we were.

My first real exposure to programming was a college course in BASIC in the mid-1970's. I don't remember the specific hardware but it was some GE mini-computer that actually let you type your programs on a teletype, save them to paper tape and run them (more or less) immediately. None of that Fortran & punch card batch programming. But since I was a Poli-Sci major my enthusiasm for this was tempered by not having any way to continue doing it after school.

After a 7 year detour I returned to school in the early 1980's and was taugh IBM-360 Assembler, RPG II & COBOL (no punch cards but still batch processing). But what fired me up was BASIC programming on CPM micros. I ended up staying on after graduation to teach in the newly created microcomputer based curriculum (PC-BASIC & Word/Lotus/dBase)

Since then I have been throught the usual Microsoft (and Borland) developemnt software cycles. Now I do SharePoint admin (and a little development), Powershell & SQL Server SSIS dev.

Bill Armstrong replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:12am in response to: Jim Graf

 That would have been clever. I'll see if I can't correlate them somehow after the fact, as that actually would be fantastically interesting.

Mike P(Okidoky) replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:29am

Holy moly, what's with the sudden influx of life stories? I love it! I'd host a party and invite everyone over for a beer and chat party. Slim chance most are in Ottawa Canada...

This FORTRAN thing goes back quite a ways.  1966 100 baud modem work from home? Lol.

As for my actual first "computer", it was a home brew, using 1K (4bit nibbles) memory chips (2114N? static memory, can't remember), binary counter, 4bit to 16 line decoder, and making each of the 16 "instructions" do something useful (trying to anyway), like reset-"pc"-counter, toggle LED, etc. I had this drive to make it become a calculator, but had absolutely no examples to work with. It was all from scratch. I almost had it do additions... Wish I had a picture of the thing. It was a wooden plank with nails, wires, buttons, switches, chips, resistors, it was just a mess. I couldn't believe how much power it drew. The power supply's output collapsed to barely workable voltage levels. And now these days they got those little all-in-one chips like those Atmel ATTiny and ATMegas - wish I had those to play with. I will definitely get my kids into soldering together little computer projects using those chips, and then making programs and do things like drive little matrix displays. The parts are dirt cheap these day (eg. $1 for a complete 8 pin computer chip with memory, clock, non-volatile memory, etc). And with all that distraction like Facebook and whatever other mindless crap out these days, I've got pass some of these inspirations off. How are our kids going to learn actually doing stuff with the computer. Things are becoming tablets now, with "consumers" just tapping on a glass pane. How to get them to make stuff...

Mike Lynch replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:42am in response to: Farrukh Shahzad

What I would really like to see is to cross reference the year you started programming with the age you were when you started programming.  Like, is it the case that if you started in the 80's you were a kid, but if you started in the 2000's you were a teen..

Mike Lynch replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:48am in response to: Jim Graf

Ha! I said the same thing below.  That's exactly right.  My random thoughts. 

70s: Not many will be kids, figuring most people were working to get access to the expensive computers.

80s: Lots of teens, commodore, TSR, Timex, Apple, Ect.  Many adults transition for work also.

90s: Lots of every age.

20s: Lots of every age, even younger kids, even more ways to access dev then ever before, scripting etc.

Steve Macewan replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 11:59am

I took a BSc in Software engineering and an MSc in Informatics in the 90's.  I've had computers from the early 80's, but it's not how long you have been programming that matters in IT, it's accommodation of new technologies as they become available and merging that discipline with the ones you already have.  Whether you were a teenager or middle aged when you started coding is irrelevant IMO, the theory and software life cycle are the same, its reference to language, RDBMS and all manner of methodologies that give the coder a firm foothold in IT.

Bruce Prior replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 2:51pm

Started in 1970 (age 22) - on a DEC engineering course for PDP8i system.  I "got it" so went for Machine code, Assembler, pascal; Fortran 77 etc etc etc.

For the above time I was not a "real programmer" but was always into data comms which always (1960's) has relied on computers to drive the network.

Now in my dotage(!) doing Java J2EE/Spring stuff

David Karigithu replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 3:35pm

I fell in love with programming at age 9 after seeing someone develop. Coming from Kenya, a country thats just coming out of the dark ages, my mother wasn't at all thrilled with IT cause she couldn't understand how the hell it could help anyone and did everything possible to deny me access to all things IT-related apart from the rudimentary basics. I'm working really hard on catching and applying my other disciplines all in the spirit of getting ahead. Very tough gaining headway but the reward of achieving explains itself.

I really believe certain passions and talents should be nurtured from a young age cause those are the two basic ingredients to achieving a happy, independent and successful life; resources available.

Tim Wilson replied on Wed, 2012/11/28 - 4:25pm

My oldest brother was an EE student when I was in primary school. He got a Motorola chip and a broken TV from somewhere and built something akin to a TRS-80 clone. I programmed in BASIC and then when I was 14 I got into a university program that gave me access to Pascal on a PDP-11. I discovered the best time to get a terminal was sneaking out of home after 11pm. The night sysop watched my progress, gave me extra space and privileges, and even tried to show me Lisp - but I still can't wrap my head around that! He said he'd keep my account active even after the program finished and I was able to keep using it until there was an account audit more than a year later.

Philippe Lhoste replied on Thu, 2012/11/29 - 5:00am in response to: Per Hejndorf

That's funny, we have a very similar curriculum...

I was 17 in 1978-79 when I started to code with a TI-57, then got a TI-59, continued with a PET-4016 (16 kilobytes of memory, it was comfortable at the time...), then Apple //e and lot of computers since then.

But I went the Java way (quite later, some 6-7 years ago) instead of C# (despite doing Win32 programming in C and C++).

I was fortunate not to have to code in Cobol, but I did lot of real-time coding, in 8-bit assembly language and C.

Now, indeed, it seems that JavaScript (or languages generating JS code!) is the way to go...

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