One of the main reasons I’m sitting here right now, writing *this* story, is that my father is a programmer.
I remember drawing with crayons on punchout cards and this funny endless paper with the lightgreen lines (this must have been the early 80s or so [as an aside: I'm actually a '77 model, a fact many of my friends can't wrap their heads around ] ).
Due to my father’s job, we always had a computer in the household. At first they were so expensive he had to sell the old one after buying a new one. Once they got cheaper, my brothers and I always got the old one.
We played Zak McKracken on the C64, and King’s Quest on the Atari. It did wonders for our English
I’ve always been interested in programming.
Let’s face it: the 80s and early 90s were an awesome time to grow up as a nerd
After all, the Enterprise and the seaQuest were *built* for a crew of nerds to swan about and explore space / the sea.
And Angelina Jolie in Hackers. Damn, the very idea that nerds could actually be beautiful women that took shit from no one!
But for some reason, I didn’t become a *programmer* until much later.
Several times I asked my father to teach me to program, but for some reason that never took off. One year, he gave me a disk with “Programming Class” written on the label for my birthday.
I was ecstatic.
The disk contained – as far as I recall – a set of beautifully crafted programming excercises I could do.
I was crushed, because apparently my father didn’t intend to sit down with me and teach me programming.
Only recently, literally decades later, I understood what he tried to do. Today I know that programmers don’t learn by having knowledge spoonfed to them, but by tackling a problem.
I wish I had kept the “Programming Class” disk…
I took programming classes where ever I could.
BASIC in fifth grade. TurboPascal in eleventh grade.
Once I signed up for a computer class during the summer holidays (if *that* doesn’t get me nerd cred, I don’t know what will ). The teachers had no clue, so we mostly played games. But I found a training program for the Macs(?), and I “played” that instead.
Looking back, I *was* a programmer in my larvae stage at that point.
I remember the TurboPascal class in 11th grade. The teacher would give us a task, and the wander around and have us show him the solution.
Only, whenever he was standing behind me, I usually couldn’t show him a working solution of the given task. I usually solved the problem quickly, and then thought “yeah, but what happens if I do *this*?”
So, by the time the teacher checked up on me, I was usually several iterations further and had pieces of code spread out all over the place.
During my last years of high-school I knew I wanted to do something “with languages”. I applied to the German Foreign Office and was crushed when I washed out after the first round of testing.
I decided to go to university, because one could apply again for a higher career at the Foreign Office with a university degree. So I considered several language-related majors like Translation/Interpreting. And then I found an article about Computational Linguistics and decided to do that.
At Potsdam University, four women signed up for Diplom-Computerlinguistik in the Wintersemester 96/97.
That was it.
Not four women and $number of men.
So, for most of my university time I had something close to private tuition
Surprisingly enough studying Computational Linguistics involved more grammar and maths than I expected m)
But I enjoyed it, even though I was still not a *real* programmer. I was still doing small programming exercises and I simply couldn’t imagine how this should be a skill that someone would pay me for.
The first time I started to feel like a real programmer was shortly after I started my thesis.
I wrote about “The Causal Connectors of German and Their Representation in an XML-based Lexicon”. In those days, the IE was the only browser that could process XSLT. For a while I spent my time writing my thesis in LaTeX under Linux and doing the actual coding on Windows, because IE :-/
It sucked bad.
So I wrote an XML editor / XSLT processor in Java.
I had a problem, and I damn well solved, and I learned more about programming in those few months than ever before.
I broke out of my chrysalis and spread my wings.
Yes, there will be sequels.