I grew up in small town New Zealand. I was a geek from an early age.
At the tender age of 10 years my first experience of “programming” was typing out “huge” BASIC programs from old magazines into my Atari 800XL’s BASIC interpreter. At the time I didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted to play the games described in the magazine. They sounded great, but they rarely worked. My first “debugging” experience was pouring over long dot matrix print-outs of these programs comparing them line by line with the original magazine source code and correcting my typos.
After years of playing video games on my Atari, Sega and then PC, I decided I wanted to learn how these magical things were made. Being pre-Internet at the time, I had very little access to information about how computer software was made.
I came upon the idea of asking Sierra Online, my favourite games company at the time, for help. I did this by sending many letters and faxes to Sierra customer support. Every time I just got back a standard “thanks for being a fan” form letter.
Undeterred, I tried again and again. Eventually deciding I should address the letter to an actual programmer at Sierra. I found the name of the Lead Programmer from the credits of one of my favourite Sierra games and addressed my letter directly to him. I even stamped it “confidential” in bold red lettering with one of my mum’s office stamps.
I got a response! Not from the programmer I had addressed my letter to, but his replacement.
I thank that now forgotten programmer from the bottom of my heart for answering my letter. In his long and detailed response he told me exactly what I needed to know. Learn C/C++ or Pascal.
By reading magazines I went about discovering what these mysterious things were. I learned that I needed a compiler and a book to teach me how to use it.
At 15 years of age I began saving my paper route money as fast so that I could buy Borland C++ 3.1 and the book Mastering Borland C++ by Tom Swan. Even at the academic discount, it required a whopping $600. Not exactly chump change for a teenager in the early 90’s. After months of saving I had my treasure in my hands. Only then did I discover my lowly 286 couldn’t run the compiler. Oh the heartbreak.
So after further furious flogging of my cherished video games, consoles, and even my existing 286 I could afford to buy (with more than a little parental help) a brand spanking new 486SX with 4MB of memory and a 512MB Hard Disk. Four thousand dollars down on some flash new gear so I could run my expensive new compiler.
In Tom Swan’s gentle care I ventured forth into the uncharted territory that was C++. I’ve never looked back.