So I have found this article today on twobitshistory.org where the author talks about regretting that they weren’t alive at 1983 and therefore had missed the chance of learning how to programm while getting into gaming, since it happened to be common having to type the entire code of games by hand into machines like the Apple II or the C64. The author points out that many famous programmers have learned how to code software during their childhood programming games for the platforms mentioned above.
How I got into gaming
I was born in a year a Wombats Song published in 2011 on their EP This Modern Glitch is about and got my first computer in 2004. So I grew up with computer games shipped on CDs and DVDs (and PSX games on CDs and Nintendo GBA games on cardridges of course), and never had to type code or the source of an entire game into my computer, so the most difficult cases were to use the windows compatibility mode spoofing the GetVersionEx to make games run or having to change registry values.
The twobitshistory.org article describes pretty much similar experiences during its authors childhood.
On a sidenote I am pretty happy not having to grow up during the 1980s but during the 2000s, mainly because during the 1980s woman in tech programs, and programs supporting girls getting into STEM fields haven’t existed, but around 2008 they did. That’s kind of important to me, because all the 1980s advertisments of home computers were targeting boys as their peer group, so I would’ve have had a hard time finding role models; especially without having proper internet access in the area where I grew up. I wouldn’t have known about all the amazing trans woman in tech like Sophie Wilson and Lynn Conway either. As less as I would’ve known about Rebecca Heineman who has ported one of my favorite video games, Another World, to the SNES and Macintosh.
How did I got into programming?
Modding-Scene of the mid-2000s
One of my first entry points to programming were actually Video Games. My two Cousins, one who would later become a Mathematician and one who got out of tech but into literary studies, have made it really easy for me to start becoming fascinated by all things tech. The first showed me Wikipedia and GNU/Linux back in 2005, which eventually leading to Debian becoming my main operating system for many many years and a fair-share of Wikipedia contributions. The latter got me into writing and story telling as well as into the modding scence for games we loved to play.
During my Childhood I hated Shooters but had a soft spot for role playing games like Icewind Dale, Planescape Torment and Return to Krondor. The Graphics were pretty unimportant to me as well as how old the games were, since all that mattered for me were gameplay and story elements. I also loved EcoSims like Sim City, Wildlife Park and Whatever-Tycoons. Since I somehow also had a spot for all things nature and biology in mind I stared looking out for a garden simulation game, where one could buy and sell plants, but ended up not finding a game fitting my needs. So we, my cousin and I, took a pretty generic EcoSim game and started modifying the text elements stored in the .ini files and the textures of that game making it about plants.
A year later we started working on a comic mod for one of our favorite role playing games, since we thought it was funny to take the darkest and scariest game we had in our collection and remake its textures in trashy comic aestehtics.
All of this helped me figuring out how programs were created, how good design worked, it took away my fear of messing around with source codes and I started to love tinkering with tech, but it didn’t thought me a basic understanding (pun intended!) of programming. That started to shape a year later when we got our TI calculator at high school.
(TI)-Basic Programming Skills
During the summer of 2008 our school placed a bulk order for calculators as every year and a few days before summer holidays they gave me mine. It was a TI-84 Plus powered by a Zilog Z80 CPU at 15MHz, 128 KB RAM (24kb user acciseble) and 480KB of 1MB user accessible ROM.
I got the calculator during a time where smartphones weren’t that common yet, barely a year after the original iPhone was released and iPod Touch weren’t that common either (I had a Sandisk Sansa e280 running RockBox, a Linix distribution back then, being able to run Doom which made me the queen of our library squad).
It doesn’t took that much time until I’ve found out that I could code own programs for the TI-84 Plus using a BASIC dialect called TI-Basic (I later learned that it was possible to use Z80 Assembly for that as well, which came handy for 15 y.o. me trying to use headphones with the calculators I/O port developing some cheesy holiday season songs for my math course back then).
Eventually I discovered a repository called ticalc.org and I spend my entire holidays learning all the basics of TI-Basic and got into programming my own games for that calculator real fast.
(Sidenote: If I’m able to find my old backups from that time, I’ll share a text RPG and a rock-paper-scissor game I made back then with you!)
What was the good thing about starting to code in 2008?
The reason why I am so happy that I was able to start coding in 2008 was, that learning TI-Basic and Assembly, getting simultaniously into python as well on my Toshiba Tecra Laptop starting a year earlier, helped me building knowledge on other programming languages quick and easy. I bought a HTC HD2 and a iPod Touch around 2009 or 2010, and immediately started writing software for both devices.
Without having had that access it would’ve been overwhelming and frightening kick-starting programming for Android or a jailbroken iOS without even know a basic thing about programming in general.
We even founded a extracurricular work group for tech and programming at my school as well, where we build the schools local network, messed around with fibre cables, hackintoshes, solar panels and some other fun things. After having graduated our school had to hire a full-time system administrator to maintain all the digital education projects we have build during our teens.
another awesome side note on this:
To talk about projects I had I fired up a simple blog to share ideas and projects with those who are interested, and being a cliche artsy lesbian person, I started to love UX design and all things Frontend as well. I would say that if I haven’t messed around with Wikipedia pages, WordPress and Tumblr themes that early, I wouldn’t have had enough courage to apply for Jobs as a developer focussing frontend (but I try to get into other tech areas from time to time as well).