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Discussion on: What was the first program you wrote?

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Thomas Iguchi

Back in the 1980ies, people who purchased a personal computer were usually dealing with a primitive operating system that was often interfaced through a BASIC interpreter. So I guess at that time having a manual that explains BASIC was a necessity 😄

The Amiga was a step up though. It featured multitasking and a proper graphical user interface with screens, windows and a mouse, so no programming language knowledge was really required, but it still came with that manual

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Adam Davis Author

Yeah my first computer came installed with Windows XP, so definitely a different experience

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Thomas Iguchi

I've been actually wondering if getting started with programming is more difficult or inaccessible nowadays, because modern operating systems tuck away easy and obvious access to programming environments. Older versions of Windows and MS-DOS still came bundled with QBASIC. Today it requires more of a conscious effort to download something from the Internet, and even then, what to choose from? There is just too much choice.

What motivated you to learn programming on a PC?

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Adam Davis Author

That's an interesting point!

I guess it followed from toying around with simple programs on my calculator first. From there, I knew I liked writing code and wanted to learn more.

On my TI-84, all the programming commands were in a single menu where you could scroll through and figure out what the possibilities were. So while it was a far less capable device, it felt like it was designed to invite my curiosity.

I noticed a similar phenomenon when I taught elementary school students Scratch for a couple years. They didn't look up tutorials or read documentation, the language and interface were just designed to encourage experimentation and learning by doing.

The first few times I tried to learn programming on a PC, I remember getting caught up in the installation steps or not knowing how to compile or navigate the command line. I tried to learn C++ when I was 15 and I don't think I ever successfully compiled and ran a program I wrote myself.

But after a couple more failed attempts, I started writing some Java and Swift a couple years later.

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tiguchi profile image
Thomas Iguchi

That's great, so programming is part of the curriculum in elementary schools? I guess they actually do learn that programming is a thing that can be done on a computer.

Experimentation is definitely key, and it used to be more tedious and time consuming in the past, often leading to crashes and even complete system lockups. So next to curiosity for experimentation it was also necessary to muster up some courage to break things 😆

I also learned over the years that having a clear goal in mind is absolutely crucial for overcoming those initial hurdles while learning a new programming language. Did you specify any goals when you taught your students? Or was it more playful and they would come up with their own ideas?

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Adam Davis Author

I taught at an after-school program, so I'm not sure how often it's incorporated into the regular curriculum. Definitely seems to be happening more at magnet schools though. I live in an area that has a large engineering industry, and it seems like there's all sorts of STEM magnet schools popping up.

The program was centered around making games, so usually the goal was to replicate some pre-existing game. But they had a lot of freedom in how to implement it. It was cool to see how some of them would really into the logical aspects (interesting scoring systems, adding settings menus) while others would get the basic version of it working and then spend the entire rest of the time on the design or sound effects

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Adam Davis Author

And on the topic of how software has changed the way people think about computers, this article is pretty interesting:

theverge.com/22684730/students-fil...