Josh Holmes called me out me in the latest round of questions going around the blog world. This one is interesting, because it has the blogger answer questions about how they got started in software development. Here is the current stack trace:

Michael Eaton (post) -> Sarah Dutkiewicz (post) -> Jeff Blankenburg (post) -> Josh Holmes (post) -> me (answers below)

How old were you when you started programming?

This one is tough to answer, because I actually started twice. When I was 12 years old my friend Jim got a Commodore Vic 20 and I used to “program” on it. It mainly consisted of copied programs from the back of the computer magazines and sophisticated programs like:

10 print “My name is Larry”
20 goto 10

I lost interest in programming after a few months, mainly because we could never get any of those programs in the magazines to really work correctly. Or it also could have been all that Men At Work that I listened to.

The second time around I was in college and I was 20 years old and got started because of a required class in college. I went to school to study photojournalism, but had to take 2610 – Intro to business computers. I was scared to death to take a computer class, I figured I had to get an A in every other class that semester to make up for the D I was going to get in that class. Fortunately I had an awesome professor, Tom Marshall, who was a Phd student at the time, but now teaches at Auburn University. Tom got me totally hooked on the computer / information technology industry and eventually into programming.

What was your first language?

BASIC and then COBOL

What was the first real program you wrote?

My first inclination was to answer with a program I wrote when I was out of college, because that is the first time most of us write “real” programs, right? But I am actually going to answer this with some programs that I wrote my senior year in college. I went to the University of North Texas and they had a great program for Management Information Systems (although they called it BCIS). Their program was geared to teach real world skills, and they even had you writing on real mainframe systems. Those also geared their curriculum towards real world problems and techniques to solve them. The killer course back them was the database course, taught by Dr. Vanecek. After 3 or 4 grueling projects where there was a “right answer” (you were trying to write programs that produced an exact result), everything was take off the table and you had to build an entire system in 3 weeks (while taking 3 or 4 other classes). I learned a lot about time management in those 3 weeks.

What languages have you used since you started programming?

BASIC, COBOL, JCL, ADABAS Natural, DYL280, REXX, Smalltalk, Visual Basic (classic and .NET), Javascript, C, C#

What was your first professional programming gig?

My first job out of college was working for Mobil Oil at their data center in Dallas, TX. It was a neat first job because I actually worked for the data center and not on business applications. I got a real understanding of the operations side of the house that people who have only worked as programmers never get to see. Also I was one of the few developers that worked there, most people were systems programmers. So I got to write a lot of code for neat projects like replacing a quarter of a million 3480 tape cartridges, consolidating 2 data centers and performing disaster recovery tests (sometimes the tests are more complicated than the real disasters).

If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?

Yes I would, but I would do a couple of things differently. I will tell you what one of those is in an upcoming blog post (I was already working on it before I got called out).

If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

I have used this line (or one similar to it) for over 10 years when I mentor people new to the Industry: “Nobody ever became CIO by just writing code”. If you love to write code and that is all you ever want to do, please write code and perfect your craft (the world needs many, many more good developers). If you have other aspirations, you need to diversify. Learn about the database, learn about the infrastructure, learn about project management (I shutter when I say that).

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?

In 1996-1998 I worked for Compaq Computers in Houston, TX. This was a different time in the industry than it is now, hardware still ruled. While I was there we shocked the industry by releasing the first desktop machine that was priced below $1000 (and it did not come with a monitor). I worked on a project to allow consumers to configure and buy computers in the retail stores. We literally put the whole thing together in less than 6 months from bar napkin to full role out. I did a little of everything on that project : hacked database tables at night, troubleshot the Office Depot DNS servers (while in a store), created a caching system for images with ActiveX (along with J Sawyer) and even spray painted the prototype kiosk in my garage.

I did not do a whole lot of programming on the project, my role was what we would now call a technical architect. But I will never forget debugging some code on a Sunday morning so I could get the whole thing into production before I boarded a plane to New York for the press conference on Monday morning. The marketing people were calling me and saying “they are boarding the plane right now”, I told them I would catch the next flight. They told me 26 hours later after the whole thing was working that they thought I was seriously ditching them.

Who am I Calling Out?

I had a fun time answering these questions, so I would like to pass the meme on to the next round of folks. Looking forward to hearing from:

Dan Rigsby
Dave Bost
Brian Moore (post)
Damon Payne (post)
Chris Pietschmann (post)
Angela Binkowski (post)

Updated (6/10) The list was updated to include links to response posts.