loading...

FounderQuestFounderQuest

What Sparked Our Fascination With Computers?

FounderQuest Play Button Pause Button
play

Show notes:
Links:

Kathy SierraSeinfield – Vandalay IndustriesMinnesota FatsLemonade StandPhrack
Honeybadger Developer Blog

Full Transcript:
Starr:
We are on uncharted ground. We usually record on Fridays, but I was out on Friday, so we're recording on a Monday now. We just had our all hands meeting. I had a meeting before that, which means this is my third Zoom call of the day. I've got another Zoom call after this one.

Josh:
Wow, that's a lot of meetings.

Ben:
That's impressive.

Starr:
I figure if I have enough meetings on Zoom, I'll become a Zoomer and I'll like have found the fountain of youth.

Josh:
Is that how that works?

Starr:
That's how it works.

Josh:
Cool, okay.

Starr:
That was a terrible joke I'm sorry.

Josh:
We're all Zoomers now.

Starr:
I apologize to our listeners.

Josh:
I think no, the joke proves that we're Zoomers, I think. They're funny, right?

Starr:
It's fine. I'm going to learn Snapchat this evening. I have an hour booked into my schedule.

Josh:
Very cool.

Ben:
Speaking of Snapchat, so I don't know if you heard the news over the weekend, by Microsoft is in acquisition talks for TikTok.

Josh:
Yeah, which is just like, I did not see that coming.

Ben:
No, no. Not at all. But someone made a funny joke on Twitter, and I just had to share it, and it was basically, "Now Microsoft is going to have a cradle to grave experience. Social networks from birth until death." And so they had TikTok, and then there's Xbox, and GitHub, and then LinkedIn. Right? So, it'd have you covered, right? From cradle to grave.

Josh:
See, I thought the cradle to grave experience with Microsoft was what happens to the social networks after they acquire them.

Ben:
Oh, oh.

Starr:
Oh.

Ben:
Sick burn.

Starr:
Sick burn, yeah.

Josh:
Thanks, thanks.

Starr:
Does anyone still used LinkedIn?

Ben:
No.

Starr:
It just seems like, I don't know, I had to go on or... I don't know. I was there for some reason, probably not a good one. And it was just like, "This just looks like..." All social networks end up looking like a... I don't know, like a strip mall eventually.

Josh:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). That definitely describes LinkedIn.

Ben:
Yeah, that's an apt description. Yeah.

Starr:
It's just like, what random crappy wares are you hawking? Is it shitty articles about synergy, or is it conspiracy theories about masks and mind control?

Josh:
Although, I don't know. We looked at people's LinkedIns when we were hiring, in past hiring sessions, so I guess HR departments obviously still use it.

Starr:
What if you had no LinkedIn? Would that be a detriment?

Josh:
I don't know.

Starr:
I can't imagine I would hold that against anyone.

Ben:
No, I wouldn't, but I would expect there to be something out there, right?

Starr:
Yeah.

Ben:
A personal website or a GitHub profile that has some stuff in it, or something. I would expect that if you were into tech, that you would be doing something online. Somewhere.

Josh:
Right, but as far as... I mean, LinkedIn, having an active LinkedIn or a Twitter account or something. I would understand why people would not have those for a variety of reasons. Yeah, I regret both regularly, so.

Starr:
I mean, because if you wanted to hire Kathy Sierra, she's not going to have a Twitter account. Right?

Josh:
Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. And I'm sure there's plenty of people out there that would not want to put themselves into the environment that is Twitter.

Starr:
No doubt.

Josh:
Very similar reasons.

Starr:
Definitely.

Ben:
Exactly.

Starr:
That's me lately.

Josh:
Yeah, which is unfortunate, yeah. Really? Is it, Starr?

Starr:
Oh, yeah. I was just like, "This is just making my unhappy every time I look at this. Why am I looking at this?"

Josh:
Yeah, I stopped reading the newsfeed because that's the thing. If I stop with Twitter, it sucks you in and then it just makes you sad or mad or another negative emotion.

Ben:
Doomscrolling.

Starr:
Doomscrolling. Yeah, it's like, I know the world's ending. I don't need to be reminded of it every two minutes. Give me a couple hours in between. So, what should we talk about today? 

Ben:
So, one of the topics on our list is a question Ben put together for us a while back was, "What sparked each of the founder's interest in computers?"

Starr:
Oh, a nostalgia episode. 

Ben:
Yeah, yeah. And you talked about that person who was looking to get into tech, and I'm like, "Hey, we could do that. We could do some nostalgia.

Starr:
Yeah, cold, hard cash. In 25 years, I want to be making a typical engineer's salary.

Ben:
What I'm curious about though is what... Like Starr, you mentioned you had a non-traditional path, but I wanted to find out a little bit more about what y'all wanted to do when you were kids, before you ended up on the whole, "I'm going to be a developer/tech/person, whatever."

Starr:
Oh.

Ben:
Like for example, I wanted to be an architect. That's what I wanted to be.

Starr:
I can see that.

Ben:
At least one of the things when I was a kid. There were some other things in there, but one of the things I really wanted to do was to be an architect. I thought that was a super cool career.

Starr:
Wow.

Josh:
Yeah, I'm trying to remember. I know-

Josh:
journalist was always one for me.

Ben:
Well, that's cool. That's cool.

Starr:
You do value the truth.

Josh:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Fake news.

Starr:
My dad was an architect, so I can actually see that, Ben. I think you would make a pretty good architect if you ever want to go back to school. But-

Starr:
Ben I think you would think a pretty good architect if you ever wanted to go back to school. But let me tell you, architects make shit money. Of all the professions that people know about, architect's the least paying.

Ben:
It's like a beige collar... it's not a white collar job, it's a beige collar because they get paid a little.

Starr:
Yeah. And I think it's just because it's, I don't know, game development or something, so many people are like, "Oh, well I like art and stuff. So I'm going to be an architect." So it's this prestige thing. But you don't actually need that many architects.

Josh:
There's only so many buildings and so many unique buildings.

Starr:
Yeah. For a while I worked doing drafting in an architect's office and that was one of my many careers and you just need one architect in the office to sign off on the plans. Everything else has become very specialized. So it's like you need your HVAC engineers and you need your plumbing people and all that stuff. So in terms of architects, they don't make that much. The engineers on the other hand, seemed from my limited experience, seemed to make a little bit of money. Can I tell you a story?

Josh:
Please.

Starr:
Okay. So there's this engineer who I guess had a firm, and this was in Arkansas. This was not in a big city. He always acted like he was this high roller when he came into the office to discuss... Like he wore suits, he had... you know those aluminum cases that have foam in them that people use to carry around weapons to assassinate people?

Ben:
Right.

Starr:
Yeah. It was one of those, but it was full of cigars. Yeah, it was that kind of guy. It was that kind of guy. Oh my gosh, so I don't know, I guess he was making some money, but I don't even know how much that was. You don't need much to be-

Josh:
He's making enough for a briefcase full of cigars, that's for sure.

Starr:
You don't need much to be a baller in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Starr:
So anyway, go into architecture for the love Ben, if you're going to do it.

Ben:
Yeah. I think that idea has pretty much floated by. The thing I thought of after I got past the architect phase was I wanted to be a writer. I really enjoyed writing. I enjoy English. I'm a kind of a grammar stickler. And so actually, when I went into college, I started as an English major.

Starr:
Oh, I didn't know that.

Ben:
Yeah, yeah. Until I realized just how little money you make as an English major. Because if you don't become a-

Josh:
There's no path.

Ben:
Yeah. If you don't become a famous writer, then there's really not a whole lot of great stuff, outcomes, from that.

Starr:
That makes sense.

Josh:
English teacher.

Starr:
How young are we talking about, by the way.

Ben:
Sorry?

Starr:
When you said younger, I just realized that this is a lot at this point in my life.

Ben:
Well, so younger for me, architect I think I was like, I don't know, 8, 10, somewhere when I decided that's what I wanted to do. That, yeah.

Josh:
Yeah. By the way, before we get off the topic of architects, do you remember what was the name of the... You know on Seinfeld, George, that was his dream career. Have you watched Seinfeld? Oh you froze.

Starr:
What's up? What's up?

Josh:
I was like, wait, you haven't watched Seinfeld Ben?

Ben:
Oh plenty, plenty of times.

Josh:
Okay your video froze. Do you remember George's dream career was always architect and so he always wanted to be an architect and he had this character when he had to pretend to be someone else that was more successful, he was an architect. And I think his name was like Vandelay or something like that. I think it was Vandelay.

Starr:
Oh I remember that, yeah.

Josh:
Yeah. And it would always be the thing he would go to if he had to make himself impressive.

Starr:
Like you do, you just make up a whole new life.

Josh:
When you have to... you know.

Starr:
Yeah. This is what your podcast is for, right? That's what most podcasts are about.

Josh:
Right.

Starr:
Yeah. I got into computers when I was maybe 12 or 13, so before that, around when I was 10 years old, I really went through about a year of wanting to become a pool hustler or a professional pool player.

Josh:
Nice.

Ben:
That's cool.

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
Yeah. I had a book by, I think it was my Minnesota Fats. I mean, you go into pool hustling just for the names, right?

Ben:
Sure.

Josh:
I could totally see it by the way, I could see you being a pool hustler.

Ben:
Oh yeah.

Starr:
Oh thank you.

Josh:
Yeah. The approach that you would take to becoming one would be very systematic, so I think you'd have a high chance of success.

Starr:
Oh, well thank you. Yeah to this day, I know exactly where to hit the pool ball to make it in. I just can't physically do it.

Josh:
Right. You've got all the math in your head.

Starr:
I know exactly what to do, though. Yeah. So that was pretty cool. I found or rented an old copy of The Hustler with Paul Newman and what was it, The Color of Money? Which was that remake with Tom Cruise. But the funny thing is pool hustlers as a career option didn't even exist anymore at that point. Nobody told me this. I feel like my career counselors let me down because nobody told me this. It was from like the '50s and '60s and stuff where there were pool halls and people would go into them. So I don't know, I don't know where I thought I would find my marks.

Josh:
Yeah. Like the smallest towns in the US, you could just tour them constantly and make like 5, 10 bucks here and there. Adds up after a while.

Starr:
I might as well be a musician.

Josh:
So card hustling on the other hand, some people make a living off of poker and stuff like that, I know still. And that's probably largely because there's still big casinos and things where you can go in to hustle people, I would imagine.

Starr:
Yeah, I guess. I don't know. It seems like in casinos there's not the level of trickiness though. Where you're just like, "Golly, what's this? It's like some sort of stick. What does that do?"

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
That appealed to me. I always wanted to be a ninja too, as a child.

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
Yeah. So then getting into computers, my parents had an actual little computer store. It's called a store, I don't know what they were doing. It wasn't an actual store, it was run out of our living room.

Ben:
It was just a front. A money laundering operation.

Starr:
Yeah. I think they figured out basically somebody wanted to buy some computers and they had to become a wholesaler or something to do it, so it didn't last very long. But we always had these Apple II clones, we weren't even a nice enough computer store to have bonafide Apple IIs, they were Apple II clones. It was called the Franklin ACE 2000, they got sued and put out of business because they just copied Apple's firmware. They didn't make a compatible one, they just copied it.

Josh:
The physical act of copying it? They just...

Starr:
They just got, what is it an EEPROM reader and just dumped it.

Josh:
Just dumped it directly, nice.

Starr:
And just copy it. Yeah.

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
And let's see. So yeah, I grew up playing these video games and stuff and then fiddling around with BASIC and stuff when I was maybe 12. And then my parents took pity on me and got me a 286 when I was 13 or so.

Josh:
Nice.

Starr:
Yeah.

Josh:
Yeah that's around the same age that I really started to get into computers, I think. For me it was-

Starr:
That's a great age to exit society and move into some sort of realm of pure logic and predictability.

Josh:
Agreed.

Ben:
I think my first computer memory was a TRS-80.

Starr:
Yeah? Yeah? The old Trash-80?

Ben:
Yeah, loved it. My brother got one and we would spend hours and hours typing in programs from computer magazines. And that's where I learned the difference between an O and a zero. Because I would say, "O," and my brother would type that in and be like, "No, it didn't work. You told me the wrong thing." And get all mad at me and stuff. Yeah, that was pretty awesome. That was-

Starr:
That says something to y'alls strength as brothers to be able to get along while typing in program listings from the back of a... That's just maddening by yourself. I can't imagine having to be nice to somebody while doing that.

Ben:
Maybe it speaks to how little we had else to do. I don't know.

Starr:
There you go. Well, that's an item for your LinkedIn. You were an early proponent of pair programming.

Ben:
Oh, there you go. Yeah. Maybe that's why I hate pair programming today. I have to dive into that one with my counselor.

Starr:
We're going to have a... Yeah, that's going to be-

Josh:
We're getting pretty deep here-

Starr:
We're going to have a buyer ... Yeah, it's going to be ... Yeah, all the serious programmers are going to stop listening to us now. Yeah.

Ben:
But I love the Apple II, so we had that in my elementary school. We had a computer lab back in the day, when they were still computer labs because not everybody had a computer, not every classroom had one. And yeah, I remember going in there and we would play Lemonade Stand, and again type in computer programs from magazines, and that glorious BASIC. Oh that was fun times.

Ben:
What was your first computer-

Josh:
I don't remember what the first ... Like our family ... Like we had family computers. I remember like ... Because I was like ... My first computers would have been like mid '90s, I think. Like I got my first computer, I want to say ... Like I remember having the Pentiums, obviously. I want to say I remember 386 and something like that. But yeah, I don't recall.

Ben:
Yeah, my first family computer-

Josh:
I remember my Pentium II.

Ben:
Yeah, that was a cornerstone. My first family computer was an IBM ... Well no, it was a Hewlett-Packard 8086 processor with a 30 megabyte hard drive. It was wow, that was huge.

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
That was living.

Ben:
Yeah.

Starr:
Oh man, what a weird ... It's weird. It's like people used to be drawn to computers because they were like these little self-contained things that you could kind of understand, and play with. And now it's like you go into computers and it's the least self-contained thing that man has ever invented in the world. It's just such a-

Josh:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Starr:
I don't know. I think all the time about the contrast between how things were and how they are now, which I guess makes me old. I guess that's just like reminiscing about the sock hops or something. So-

Josh:
The thing that really got me into computers though was not ... I don't want to say it's like the computers themselves. I mean I remember I was pretty into playing MS-DOS games and stuff. I guess that was pre ... Like before the Internet really became a big part of my life, but the Internet was really what got me into ... Like what I really got interested in. Like I never wanted to do game development or any ... Like I didn't care about the hardware. Couldn't care less about computer hardware, to be honest. It was always the Internet and then I got into the software, like scripting side of it, but yeah-

Starr:
Well this was a little bit pre-Internet, but did you guys know that I ran my own BBS?

Josh:
That's awesome.

Starr:
Yeah, I ran my own BBS.

Ben:
Which software did you run?

Starr:
VVBS.

Ben:
Oh yeah that was good-

Starr:
Which was written in like Visual Basic, I think. And by a guy who seemed to be a wizard. And I bought a ... Like I saved up my 30 ... It seemed like a huge amount of money back then. I save up like 20 or 30 bucks to buy a license, and I sent it to him, and he emailed me back and it was like some celebrity was emailing me or something. It was like, "Oh this guy's like oh." Like I tried looking at the code, because it was like ... I don't think it was compiled, and I just couldn't understand it, and it just seemed very ... I realize now I think it wasn't the best code, but also I didn't really know Visual Basic that well. But it just seemed magical.

Starr:
And one funny thing about that, though, is I started my BBS ... Like my parents had a couple of houses and in one of the houses they rented out a room to this guy, who's a longtime friend of theirs, and he got into trucking as a profession and so he started being absent for like a month at a time. And in one of the other rooms of this house is where I had my computer. It's back when you had-

Josh:
I was going to say-

Starr:
... a room for the computer.

Josh:
Yeah, so this free phone line, right?

Starr:
Yeah. Yeah, exactly, free phone line-

Josh:
I know this story.

Starr:
Exactly, yeah-

Josh:
I mean from my own life.

Starr:
And so I'm picturing it now. I haven't even pictured this for years, but I had ... It was an empty room and I had a desk in the middle of it with a computer on it. It was very much like ... I don't know. Sort of like hacker's aesthetic, where-

Ben:
Totally. Yeah.

Starr:
Yeah. And I had my piles of cola ... Like they didn't sell Jolt in Arkansas, so I couldn't get it, but I had my Mountain Dew cans there. Yeah, and so I started BBS on this guy's phone line. And then he came back and his phone was just ringing constantly. It was-

Josh:
That's awesome.

Starr:
... modem sounds and nobody knew what that was back then. So I got in trouble and ... Yeah. But I got my own phone line out of it, so that was nice.

Josh:
There you go.

Ben:
So how long did you run your BBS?

Starr:
I don't know, like a year or so.

Ben:
That's cool.

Starr:
It was definitely shutdown by the time I went to college. And these two jerks like socially engineered me, and hacked it, and it just really ... Like that just ... Like I am still mad at them. I went to a computer store years later to buy a SATA cable and the guy there was like, "Oh yeah, have you heard from Ty," or whatever his name was, "He's doing this. Blah blah blah." And I'm just thinking, "I hate that guy. I will never talk to him."

Ben:
So BBSs are what really got me hooked into computers, so-

Josh:
Okay, so the social aspect was big for you all too-

Ben:
Yeah, the social aspect. Yeah.

Josh:
I think ... Yeah. Yeah that's ...

Ben:
Yeah. The first piece of software I bought, shareware, was the Blue Wave mail reader, right? FidoNet and-

Starr:
For FidoNet? Yeah.

Ben:
Yep. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah that really got me, the BBSs. And then, of course, later the Internet and ridiculous phone charges because I didn't have a local point of presence near me and ... Yeah. That got me into coding really hardcore too, because I wanted to write Unix programs, after I got into that scene, so that's what got me on the path.

Starr:
Well cool.

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
Yeah, I was really big into Turbo Pascal.

Ben:
Love Turbo Pascal.

Starr:
Yeah. Like to this day I really wish I could put all my variable declarations at the top and just have like everything in this pre-defined order. That was part of the language, you couldn't do it any differently. But it doesn't really work that well-

Josh:
Well we could always ...

Starr:
... these days.

Josh:
We could make a RuboCop for that.

Starr:
Yeah. And to this day I've never used any sort of programming language that had as good of documentation as ... But, I mean, granted I don't use static type languages now. But yeah, you just like ... It was like you hover your mouse over it or ... Actually not even a mouse. This ran in DOS. You go over to it, and you press F1, and it pops up the exact documentation you need.

Ben:
Yeah. That ID man, that was the best.

Starr:
It was so good. It was so good. People actually still use Delphi, which is a variant of that. It's a descendant of that. Like at that first MicroConf we went to I met a guy who had just sold his business, like doing some sort of Delphi component-

Ben:
Oh yeah, I remember that guy. Yeah.

Starr:
Yeah. I don't know. So I don't know, maybe when I retire-

Josh:
It's niche.

Starr:
Let's go back and make Delphi components.

Ben:
Stellar plan, I like it.

Starr:
Yeah.

Josh:
Yeah. Well I wasn't into the BBS scene really but I ran a number of my own Internet forums, so back when forums were the thing-

Starr:
Oh yeah.

Josh:
... like forums were my thing. I ran like phpVB, and ... Actually I mean I've written my own forum software, because haven't we all?

Starr:
Yeah. For our younger listeners forums are what we used to call Reddit.

Josh:
Yeah. Yeah. Forums, that's how we communicated between BBS and Reddit, I think.

Ben:
Well, and then Usenet was in between there, too.

Josh:
Still going.

Ben:
I ran Talkers. So those are Unix daemons that were just chat servers, basically. Like a MUD without the game. But MUDs were big when I was doing that sort of thing, and so I got into programming. That's what really got me hooked to C and Unix, and Linux, and all that.

Starr:
Oh, neat.

Ben:
Yeah.

Josh:
I wish I'd gotten into Linux or into Unix earlier.

Starr:
I really got into Assembly for a while because Turbo Pascal had Inline Assembly.

Ben:
Yeah, I forgot about that.

Starr:
Yeah. So I learned that. Then there was this little tiny codery of programmers who were hobbyist Assembly programmers in my town, and they seemed very old but I'm sure they were like 26, they took me under their wing because I was much younger. Yeah, so I actually wrote several programs in Assembler. I wrote a... So I read Phrack whenever it came out.

Ben:
Oh, love Phrack.

Starr:
Yeah. Phrack stands for phreaking and hacking magazine. I don't know what it stands for, but that's the gist. So one month they published, it was called a TSR program, it's called Terminate and Stay Resident, which means it can stay running while other programs on your computer were running, which is like magic.

Josh:
What?

Starr:
Yes. Yeah. This was before anything had multi-threading or multi-processing or anything like that. Like-

Josh:
Multi-user.

Starr:
Yeah. Like DOS was a single process-

Ben:
We had one core and we liked it.

Starr:
Exactly. Exactly. But TSRs, they were essentially little... They were bits of code that loaded the memory and they terminated, and they stayed resident like a, I don't know, some sort of zombie. It sounds a lot like a memory leak now that I think about. So you made this memory leak program and it had a little handler, a little call back, where you could register with an operating system and it would call back and let you know something happened.

Starr:
Anyway, so in Phrack there was a key logger that somebody had written and I was just like, "This is shit", like you do when you're learning to program. Kind of like, "This is the most disgusting garbage I've ever seen." So then I had to write my own key logger program in Assembler... It was much better.

Josh:
Nice.

Ben:
Naturally.

Starr:
Naturally, and even would, before saving the file to disc with the keys in it, it would XOR it via constant. So they would be not quite as visible to anyone who was snooping around.

Ben:
That's advanced encryption, right there.

Starr:
I know.

Ben:
Ah, those were the days.

Ben:
So you have elite hacker credit there, Starr.

Starr:
Oh, yeah. Definitely. Definitely.

Josh:
That's, yeah.

Starr:
And now I make middle man sites.

Josh:
Yeah.

Starr:
It pays a lot better.

Ben:
That's funny. A while back you mentioned, when you were talking about the pool hustling, and you were like your counselors didn't teach you that that wasn't the career option. And I was thinking back to I really got started in my professional career as a web developer in the year 2000, and that career didn't exist, what, just a few years before that, right?

Josh:
Yeah.

Ben:
That's a pretty new thing. So no counselor when I was growing up would have said, "Yeah, you know what you can do this computer thing." Because it just didn't exist yet. I just think it's cool that the world has changed that much that that happened.

Starr:
Yeah. That's true. Oddly enough when I took my assessment test in Junior High it was computer programmer. But that was before there was web developer. It was just like, "Do you like people?" "No." "Do you like being alone?" "Yes." Okay, computer programmer.

Josh:
Little did they know that the profession would grow into the collaborative experience that it is today.

Starr:
Yeah.

Josh:
Where if you... Yeah, you don't succeed really if you can't communicate with others.

Starr:
Yeah.

Ben:
Not so much the-

Josh:
We got totally scammed. That's what I'm trying to say.

Starr:
Yeah.

Josh:
What the hell?

Starr:
We still get our pizza and our Mountain Dew.

Josh:
Right. Yeah. But I guess we have hacked the system a little bit. Yeah.

Ben:
Well, that was a fun walk down memory lane.

Starr:
It was. It was.

Starr:
Well, if you guys don't have anymore BS to bring up. I'm sorry. I thought that would be witty but it just sounded mean. If you guys don't have stuff, any... Oh my God, what is wrong with me? I can tell that this is my-

Josh:
You're so mean, Starr. You're so mean.

Starr:
I can tell this is my third Zoom meeting today. I'm dragging. I'm dragging. I used up all my good material in the all-hands. So yeah, are y'all good?

Ben:
Good. But if we have listeners who have a favorite Usenet group that they remember, they have to Tweet at us and let us know that what that was so we can share the memories.

Starr:
That sounds great. I want to know what your favorite Interrupt was from Intlist.

Ben:
Nice.

Starr:
So just Tweet that at me. @Starrhorn. So yeah, if y'all like the show please go leave us a review on Apple Podcast. If you would like to write for us go to our blog at honeybadger.io/blog and look at the... There's a link that says "write for us", look at that. Read the whole thing because I will question you. I will test you. And yeah, until then, too-da-loo. 

Episode source

markdown guide