My road into computing

DRAT! Matthew manages to respond to DJ’s piece about how he started computing in the good ole days before I get around to doing it…. ;)

(Oh, wait – Matthew was refering to Nat Torkington… my bad…)

If you have read Matthew’s story, you already know most of my story as well – we shared about 7 years of high school to start with. It all started with programmable calculators (in my case, the Texas Instruments TI-57, later the TI-58c). In breaks between classes, we programmed the calculators to prepare for exams. We had competitions about who could solve quadratic equations with fewer programming steps (23), and the teachers tried to outsmart us by (unsuccessfully) learning how to erase the memories of all the different programmable calculators.

Not being able to afford the Commodore PET that our friend Holger had, I talked my parents into buying a Sinclair ZX80. Programming games was impossible, as it switched off the screen when computing! Sinclair even tricked me iinto buying the 4k ZX81 ROM update, which I thought would allow the screen to stay on, as it did on the ZX81. Well, this was the only functionality that was not included in the ROM. Still, I think the Sinclair ZX81 is one of the most beautiful home computers ever.

My next step was also the VIC 20, which was something of a revolution – color, a real keyboard, a whopping 3.5 kB RAM (27 with the expansion card). We had hours and hours of fun typing off the basic code listings of ‘Your Computer’, then trying to fix the errors we had made.
I basically knew the ROM listing by heart and soon started coding 6502 assembler, re-mapping the character set to create some kind of ‘hi-res’ graphics.

The Apple ][ Europlus at school introduced us to floppy disk drives and ‘proper’ programming languages, something that has indebted me to my computer science teacher eternally.

We spent countless hours in school, even after classes, and waited for the janitor to throw us out at night. We even got special permit to use the computer room key in absence of teachers.

After school, during military service and university, I dabbled on an Atari ST, but the huge amount of RAM and complexity introduced by new programming languages, windowing APIs and the like never really made me want to be a programmer.

It was only when I got introduced to Nantucket Clipper (a compiler for the dBase database programming language) during internships that I enjoyed creating software again. In fact, some of these programs are still in commercial use today and have never failed their users.

Nowadays, I’m far far away from any kind of programming and travel the world as a SAP Security Consultant. Quite a nice job, honestly, but sometimes I really do miss those good old days…

UPDATE: I uploaded a flickr set with pictures of my small ‘obsolete computer museum’.

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