How I Got Here: Developer Edition

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This week’s blog post comes from the Development team, setting aside programming for prose to provide some insight on how they each caught the bug — and proceeded to kill it.

 

Ace

I don’t think I have an “Origin Story”, more of a slow evolution (devolution?). I started on the whole development thing later than most of my peers. I made my first “real” website in 2000 and it was built entirely in Dreamweaver and hosted on Geocities. I always sort of knew I was a hack, too, but I was a hack with loyal friends. I made crappy websites for people and when someone told them they were crappy they would say, “ACE IS A GOOD DUDE, PISS OFF YA HOSER”, or something along those lines. Clearly they were British, too. When I was bumbling my way through college, somewhere along the way I got the idea that I should be a web DESIGNER. Thus began several years of subjectivity hell as my career made me miserable and my designs were sub-par at best. Then in my late 20s I realized a key fundamental truth that has since improved my life exponentially: everyone thinks they know how to design, but everyone thinks the developer is a magical fucking wizard. All I had to do was fake my way into the dev field and then less people would know that I was just a fraud! Thus began the “fake it till you make it” period of my life. And at some point I realized, “wait, I’m actually not that bad at this crap!” So for now, my career is enjoyable, I make things that no one can touch, taste or smell and once the mega solar flare hits and all of my years of work is wiped from existence (if it ever REALLY existed), I’ll ride off into the lawless apocalyptic wasteland knowing that, in the end, I wasn’t that much of a fraud after all.

 

Adrien

I made up this idea but didn’t submit anything.

 

Dan

I started programming when I was around nine in my er, uhm… parent’s basement on the beautiful beast of a machine that was the IBM PCjr. This machine, when not being used to create our own “professional-quality design projects” (ASCII art birthday cards and dot-matrix banners) using printshop, or playing any manner of text-based and 16 bit video game was always covered with a sheet (you know, to keep out the dust).

No one really taught me to program. I don’t remember the specific moment but it must have during summer break, when I was home alone and had grown tired of Space Invaders, Q*Bert and Dig Dug (my favorite), that I somehow stumbled upon a cartridge (yes, a cartridge) with the magic word “BASIC” printed on it. I found a book and booted up DOS and I was off. I still remember the GOTO statement, learning the basics of input/output and control structures, and creating my own crappy text based games.

If you’d like to experience the awesomeness that is BASIC firsthand, you can! Here is a “game” that you can paste in to get you started. My 13 year old inner-self still finds hilarious:

10 PRINT "WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY GOD OF THE OBVIOUS"

20 INPUT ANSWER$

30 PRINT "YOU HAVE ANSWERED " ANSWER$

40 GOTO 10

Greg

My earliest memories of personal computing are scattered, at best: typing green letters on a black screen, carefully applying labels to 5 1/4″ floppy disks, and consistently hunting more buffalo than we could carry. In the mid-90s, my Mom’s job at a Boston College library afforded me the chance to get comfortable with Netscape Navigator and WebCrawler. (Who knows what I was googling back then… probably something about seaQuest or The X-Files.) But what really laid the foundation for my future in web development was a program from my elementary school’s computer lab called HyperCard. This application allowed us to create pages with custom layouts, add them to various “stacks” of cards, and link them together with buttons as we saw fit. I loved it. At the time it wasn’t so obvious, but we were essentially feeling-out and implementing basic information architecture for ourselves. A couple years later–and lacking a copy of HyperCard–I finally turned to HTML to reformat my illegible 7th grade class schedule. That simple HTML table would turn out to be the earliest instance of coding for me as I know it today.

EDITOR’S NOTE: When Greg first arrived at our shores he: 

a) Wore a tie to his interview (the one and only time that has ever happened in my nine years of interviewing dozens of people) 

b) Spoke of how he was basically a theatre actor and lighting A/V nerd and wanted to do that for a living but would maybe be a web developer if we were really nice to him. Which we were, and he is now a mobile and web development ninja of the highest order. 

 

Heayeon

I never expected ‘coding’ in my life. I was more like computer illiterate and had an art background during the whole school years. Unlike me, my brother always sat in front of the computer. So, whenever I encountered  some computer related issues, I have to beg him for help. After graduating from college with a photography major, I decided to study abroad. One of the majors tempting me was ‘Computer Art’. I thought I could learn some computer language and apply it for artworks and there would be no more begging to my brother. I spent two chaotic years in school to understand the whole different concept. As a result, my output for the thesis was ‘Same Bed, Different Dreams’ using PHP, MySQL and Flash. It was a data visualization project. After collecting users’ answers under the same question, it visualizes them to show how people think in different ways.

 

Jeff

My grandfather had worked for IBM for nearly 25 years, sporting Southwestern Bell hardhats while working to modernize the public telephone network in the 1970’s and 80’s. He was the kind of tinkerer who made sure there was always a machine or 2 within easy reach, just in case. My earliest memories involved monochromatic screens of orange and green, ASCII art, learning games (made for the 8088, dual 5 ¼” floppy disk-based bohemoth that marked the pinnacle of IBM “personal computers”), and hours-upon-hours of text-based adventures.

It was my early exposure to computing in general, and development specifically, that made me “fearless” when faced with a new problem. Grandpa acquired a VGA graphics card in about 1993, and I realized that I wanted to have all of the conveniences of “modern” computing. The lack of Microsoft Windows wouldn’t stop my desire to develop fully-baked, beautiful applications.

I discovered that I could hotwire Interrupt 13 in QuickBasic and handle mouse input. By flipping pixels directly into the VGA buffer, I rewrote the native graphics functions to achieve a 5-10x performance to draw my GUI. Then I got bored and started taking apart 3D projection-mapping routines in Turbo- and Power-C (RIP, Borland). I copied thousands of lines of Basic and C from books – yes, I had to re-type code from a book in order to get a piece of functionality that I wanted for my growing graphics-laiden empire. Hours melted into days with only breaks for “nourishment” – cheetos, mostly. I had no sense of what fundamental skills I was acquiring: data management, code organization and maintainability, algorithmic understanding and creation, strong boolean and binary literacy.

And one day my grandpa and I sat down to port all my special sauces to the Apple IIe’s I had to use in my middle school Computer class: we used some very clever nested For loops to launch a space shuttle on the screen in BASIC. 4 years later, my career followed-suit when I was hired straight out of high school to join the rank-and-file of “Y2K”, “DotCom”, Microsoft SQL DBA/Network Administrators, and, finally, media/game developer at the most rewarding little shop I’ve ever seen.

 

Josh

I had a rudimentary understanding of programming in middle school, but never really did much with it. In high school, I used my knowledge for evil, playing around with little tricks and exploits to annoy and confuse people over the network. When the computer teacher finally caught on to what was happening, he stomped over, popped out the 3.5″ floppy that I was using to run HexEdit, broke it in half and threw it in the garbage.

It wasn’t until after high school that I really sat down with the intention of learning how to do something useful — building a website from the ground up. One night, I was suddenly possessed by a powerful hunger to learn how it all worked. I already had a firm understanding of HTML, but knew very little about actual programming and server maintenance. Over the next several days, I crammed all of that into my head, setting up my own web server and building an entire blog (sans CMS; this was in the pre-WordPress days) from scratch in PHP. During that time I only got about six hours of sleep, driven through the night and well into each morning by a need to make something.

 

Matt

Out of a swirling vortex of flying toasters, alpha-numeric faces, red and blue pages, and stickybear bops, the Install Wizard appeared.

“Son, it’s time to stop clipping out your friends’ heads in Microsoft Paint and attaching them to other bodies,” he said.

“I will never stop,” I replied.

“Well, you’re going to at least have to know how to put those jpegs on the internet,” he sighed.

“I guess you’re right,” I agreed. So I made a local .html page with a gray background, some green text, and one photo of myself. “This is lame,” I rightly thought, so I put the kibosh on that for a while.

A few years later, when I was in college, the Wizard approached me again. “What’s that you’ve got there?” He asked.

“Oh this? This is a giant html table with a bunch of images inside of it, kid.”

“I hate you,” replied the Wizard.

Before long I had learned how to make web sites, applications, and games, all terribly. Over the last 10 years, I have continued to become slightly less terrible.

 

Tanveer

My first ever experience with a Computer was back in middle school. I used to make up excuses to go visit my cousins who then had then most “powerful” computer running Intel Pentium II chip. We’d mostly spend time playing Doom, listening to Iron Maiden. It was a magical time. Shortly after I had my first taste of computer programming with BASIC in school. (It was ‘Introduction to Computer Science” – which read as an open invitation to skip actual classwork and instead spend time playing with computers for an hour. However, BASIC with it’s simpler commands and go to line number instruction won my heart. I quickly we progressed through the class, from BASIC to FORTRAN to ultimately some rudimentary C. At one point as a final assignment I made a library check-out application in FoxPro 2.6. I was quite proud of that achievement. (Unfortunately the 1.44 Floppy Disk I had my assignment on had other plans. It refused to boot when the time came to “show”. In the end it didn’t really matter: I had a whole stack of paper with printed code, plus it turned out the whole thing was option – to my dismay.)

It wasn’t until the later years in college, I realized how quickly you could type some text in a simple text editor, save it as .html and see elements on a page take shape that I decided to become a “Web Designer” and started learning the craft in earnest. The sense of empowerment I got from building a website for someone (my friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s uncle) in Macromedia Dreamweaver (with some timeline animation in Flash 5.0 thrown in for good measure) was thoroughly addictive. That was a long time ago and I’ve come a long way since those days of ‘cobbling together disperse piece of technology with little understanding’ – the experience of making something (or help make something of late) that didn’t exist before in the realm of the digital, is no less thrilling or satisfactory.