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Why Programming?

atxrenegade profile image Harleigh Abel ・5 min read

Home computers, programming, technology and web development are industries that grew up with my generation. There was no such thing as the internet or cellphones when I was a child, and I am still under the age of 40. (Here I am incriminating myself, in an industry where no one is over 25). We were the first generation to have computers in school at all. Software engineering and web development didn't exist yet, therefore they were never offered as career tracks. In school we were taught Basic 2.0. and learned to move a large blinking lime green or burnt orange cursor twenty steps across the tube tv sized screen of a bulky metal machine. Most of our work was completed in the terminal window, none of the peppy user interface windows you see today had been dreamed up yet. Everything about early computers was cold and industrial. Programs were loaded with cassette tapes, and gaming options were limited to primitive versions of Frogger, Avengers (Space Invaders) and text based games.

I was eight years old around this time and my dad bought our first home computer, the Commodore Vic 20. My Mother was furious. She thought it was a complete waste of time and money, and couldnt imagine what we'd need one for. Shortly after we upgraded to the Macintosh Lisa II. These are the machines I spent my childhood days at, locking myself in the basement, writing my own texted based choose your own adventure games (living the stereotype!). I was hooked, and I've been using computers every day since then. Computers were natural for me, I understood their clear, linear procedural ways, and black and white "thinking", but it was still years before I'd find my way back to it as a chosen profession.

As a young adult, I tried a series of promising professions but found that I was disappointed in them all. I didn't feel challenged. Very few of my career choices satisfied both my craving for technical, science and logic, and my creative, artistic, literary side. I was bored easily and was looking for something that really pushed me and kept moving like I did. It didn't occur to me to consider programming. From the outside, computer science appeared to be an overcomplicated, and dry, isolating profession, that surely no one without a masters in advanced mathematics should consider. I believed in a stereotype, as many outside "the world of programming" bubble do. I imagined that software engineering and web development was limited to young male basement dwellers with pocket protectors and coke bottle glasses, awkward anti-socialites who had chosen programming over accounting. Nothing about the stereotype appealed to me, nor did I think at that point it was within my abilities.

My journey back to programming really happened by accident. One day I fell down a bottomless rabbit hole. It started with photoshop in photography school, and eventually evolved into web design in my graphic design school. I was still not satisfied with just making images, I wanted to "make computers do stuff" but was still convinced programming was out of my reach. Meanwhile, on the side I was becoming the go to computer repair person among my family and friends picking up side work by spending hours diagnosing and debugging their broken and virus infested machines. One day while digging through one of the countless web resources online, I stumbled across the "Hour of Code" campaign. It was short and sweet but shattered my illusion that programming was limited to rocket scientists, and rekindled my passion for code.

I'm not sure I could count the number of desktops and laptops I have personally owned over the past 30 years. My current household of two people consists of four laptops, an Ipad, an Imac, an android tablet and two smartphones. I can no longer imagine going back in time to not being connected in some way. I grocery shop online, all my classes are online, I socialize through an online meetup I have created, and use technology to stay in touch with my friends and family all over the world. In contrast, my other half grew up in a remote village in Fiji without power or running water and didn't see his first computer till he was twenty. He has owned two laptops throughout his entire life. While intelligent and mechanically inclined I see that his computer illiteracy often becomes a challenging hurdle in his career and in managing his personal life. This is by no means an attempt to belittle those who are less than proficient with computers, there are many days that I feel like switching off the virtual world to be more present in the physical one, but I do believe that fluency in technology has become a mandatory skill for modern life, and at the very least in Western Civilization and the business world.

Quality of life, I have decided, best sums up what stirs within me a desire to become a developer. Both the opportunity to improve my own quality of life through a respected rewarding career, but also to use this skill to improve the quality of life far beyond those I am close to. Programmers are the modern day rockstars and superheros of the future. Imagination and technical skills give developers the superpowers to affect the daily lives of the entire planet, whether through the creation of social media tools, smart home security systems, personal banking, embedded systems in lifesaving medical equipment, or government surveillance, just to name a few. Computers touch every aspect of our lives from personal to politics. Even toddlers these days effortlessly navigate an Ipad to their chosen games and shows with frightful expediency. Where else is there a skill such as this, that is so widely able to access any field and all aspects of life. Then there are the obvious perks as a developer: decent pay, employability, positive job growth outlook, plus it looks great on a business card, but to me, there is so much more to it. Programming is the art of solving tangible problems through effective abstract algorithms. What could be more creative than that? It's a way of thinking. How can I solve this problem most effectively, with the least amount of effort while incorporating the knowledge and tools of my predecessors?

The Tech industry is limitless, constantly evolving, challenging our ideas about ourselves and the world, improving our lives in one way or another on a global scale and I'm happy to say that with these qualities I've finally met my match.

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atxrenegade profile

Harleigh Abel

@atxrenegade

Software Engineering Student, Graphic Design School Grad, South Austin Arduino and MicroController MeetUp Organizer

Discussion

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Reading your post is slightly eerie in that in it feels like I'm reading my own history!

I'd always enjoyed working with computers, but when I didn't understand a programming book at age 10. I too thought I didn't fit the stereotype of a programmer (the only "code" I'd write would be the command to run "Castles of Doctor Creep" on a Commodore 64). We owned a Macintosh LC in my younger days which I used lots.

It was only in my mid 20's where my wife pointed out to me how I always answered our family/friends' computer questions, and suggested I should look into technology as a career, to improve our quality of life (too).

I used similar web sites and the new (at the time) online Stanford SQL course as a start. Then began studying for a degree, got a job in Software Support, and 3 1/2 years later I was a dev.

Honestly it was so weird to read your post due to its similarity, but certainly glad I'm not alone in my realisation later in life that programming was for me!

 

I'm really glad I read this article and your comment. I discovered a love for programming in the last year after having studied nothing but humanities in undergrad, and I was worried I'd missed the boat as far as getting a degree in computer science and having a career in technology. I'm not a mathematical prodigy or anything so it almost felt like I shouldn't even bother trying. It's great to see other people have followed similarly winding courses towards computer science and have found success- it's very encouraging!

 

Ahhh, you were lucky I didn't discover it until my thirties. I started with Harvard CS50 on Edx. I worked my way through the usual sites Codecademy, Treehouse, Coursera, Khan Academy, various textbooks, countless hours scanning over Stack Overflow questions, weekend coding workshops, programming meetups, and graphic design Bootcamp before settling down at Flatiron online for their full stack dev class. I am in my third and final year of self directed study and ready to make the big jump! According to StackOverflow 2017 survey statistics, 3 years seems to be the average time for self-learners. I wish somebody had told me that when I started, I would have felt a lot less frustrated that I didn't master it in a month like so many sites and schools claim to be able to teaach. I bet you don't regret putting the time in to make the transition!

 

I loved this post because it is frighteningly similar to my story. I'm twenty two and I just made the switch from Digital media to Programming and Software development. It's been extremely challenging but I'm still trudging on because I want it for myself.
And thank you for dispelling myths about the length of time for self learning. I enrolled in a software dev bootcamp and I've felt terrible because I don't seem to get JS, even though I just started about a week ago.

 

Try a 30 day code challenge, challenge yourself to code a little bit everyday. If this is your first language you are not only tackling a new syntax but the foundations of programming as well. It takes awhile to get comfortable with this new way of thinking, but it's a muscle that will get stronger with practice. I believe three of the most important skills as a programmer/developer are patience, (trust me you will need it for the learning and debugging process, which you've probably already discovered) perseverance, and resourcefulness (the ability to find the answers when you don't know them, because many times you won't.) It takes time, if you stick with it it will come. I think one of the most helpful things for me in the beginning was handcopying programs and code snippets until the syntax became second nature. Nothing is more frustrating than trying to right a book when you can't remember the alphabet or how to use punctuation. Programming is the same way. Yet we have this expectation to become fluent overnight.

 

any chance you were like me and thought logo was a computer game?

 

Lol, best game ever!

Do you remember this one?..."You are in a dark room. It's pitch black, you can't see anything. What is the first thing you do?"

 

I think everything to do with computers was a game for me then!

 

I'm really glad that people were able to relate to this experience!