Blog throwback: How did you get started in software development?

7 minute read article Leadership   Technology   Wisdom   Dotnet Comments

Back in 2008, I was only a couple years into being active in the software developer community. Twitter was still relatively new and fresh. It seems like there was a developer event every single weekend, at least in what Microsoft deemed the Heartland District: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee. It was a great time to be a developer, and I was making a lot of friends and expanding my network.

On June 4, 2008, I wrote the following blog post. It took on a life of its own and lots of people ended up writing their version and linking back to my post. We didn’t call it “going viral” at the time, but that’s what it did.

Note: The only changes I made were to remove some dead links and convert to markdown. Oh, and before you start reading, YES, I overused the :-) and seeing all of them now makes me cringe. I apologize in advance.

How did you get started in software development?

Update: June 5, 2008, June 6 and again on June 7, 8, 10 - Here are my tweeps that have answered so far.

I realized recently that while I know my tweeps (twitter friends), I don’t really “know” them. ;-) I know most of them were band dorks (I love my tweeps, so hopefully they realize I’m just yanking their chains <g>) in school and some still play some kind of musical instrument. I know some like to smoke cigars, some are vegetarians and some I know some have served in the armed forces. I know one majored in drama and communications and some like to drink beer. What I don’t know is how most of them got started in software development.

Ok, so here are the questions. :-) My answers are included. Like I said, this is mainly directed at my tweeps, but if you’re a non-tweep and still feel like answering, cool. :-) If you answer on your own blog, please link back and/or leave a comment so I know!

How old were you when you started programming?

Believe it or not, I was probably 20 (1992) before I first started programming. Prior to that, my only experience with computers was an “exposure” class in 6th grade! To go totally against the grain of most of my friends, I was 19 or 20 when I got my first computer (a rockin’ 386sx-25 with 2mb of RAM and a 130mb drive – yes, that’s megabytes).

How did you get started in programming?

I actually got started in programming after getting completely obsessed with that rockin’ 386. ;-) I spent every waking moment learning everything I could about DOS and Windows 3.1. I was totally into things like Stacker, Desqview and QEMM and wringing every last bit of performance out of that 386. I spent hours and hours on local BBS’s, downloading all sorts of programs and games (at the blazing speed of 2400 bit/s). There came a point that I finally asked the sysop of one of the boards about programming because I felt the need to make the computer bend to my will. He referred me to one of the BBS members. I contacted him and 15+ years later, we’re still really good friends. :-)

What was your first language?

Believe it or not, my first language was probably the batch language (batch files)…if that doesn’t count, then it’d definitely be qbasic. QBasic (think from back in the day) was a trimmed down version of QuickBasic, but it was enough to get me hooked.

What was the first real program you wrote?

Honestly, that was so long ago, I don’t really remember. I think my first DOS program might have been a front-end for the format command. I know for sure my first Windows app was a replacement for progman.exe. ;-)

What languages have you used since you started programming?

qbasic, QuickBasic, Visual Basic for DOS, Borland Turbo Pascal (for DOS and Windows), Borland Delphi, perl, a tiny bit of Powerbuilder, some C, pascal (in college), a tiny bit of COBOL (in college), C# and VB.NET. I suppose you could throw SQL in there as well. I might have missed one or two languages, but if I did, they were probably worth forgetting.

What was your first professional programming gig?

My first paying gig was writing a small, silly utility for the local gas/utility company. I don’t recall what it did, I just know I got paid $200 for doing it. :-) The cool thing is that this was probably only a few months into my programming career. ;-) After that small contract, I scored my first actual programming job after reading a posting in some CompuServe forum (probably VB related). Someone was looking for a developer to create some Crystal Reports for a commercial app they were developing. I remember being soooooo nervous driving up to the interview (Northville, MI), but being so happy when I landed the job! Of course, I ended up having a hellish time because we were working on Chicago, running beta VB4 along with beta Crystal Reports. Yuck.

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

I’m not sure. I’ve had some good times and made a lot of great friends, but damn, sometimes the pace of change makes me want to pursue my dream of playing in a rock band. :-D

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

Don’t get stuck in a cube farm. :-) Actually, to be serious, I’d tell them to focus on communications and interacting with other people. Programming is easy. Working with others is a bitch. ;-)

Ok, and finally, I’ll steal the question Sarah asked recently:

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

I’ll simply copy the comment I left on Sarah’s blog - “I don’t know that there’s one particular moment. I find those times when I’m in the zone to be the most fun. You know…when the code flows from your fingers and you lose track of time…yea, those are the times when I have the most fun. :-)”


Tweeps that have answered so far: Sarah, John, Jeff, Josh, Rick, Nathan, Marty, Joel, Nate, Matt, Mike, Bruce, Chris, JeffH, Rob, Jennifer, Objo, Corey, Scott, Jason, Maggie, Tim.

Thank God for the Internet Archive

Because I was curious, and because Sarah is awesome, we both spent a bit of time trying to fill in some of the blanks by looking up the original answers in the Wayback Machine. I’m sure we missed some. If you participated back then, drop me a link and I’ll update the list.

The people who responded back in 2008:

Final thoughts

I did write a follow-up post a couple months later, listing even more people, many of them high profile (like Charles Petzold!!)

I hope you enjoyed this post!

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