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How I Got Into Programming - cellophane
the story of an invisible girl
renniekins
renniekins
How I Got Into Programming
In my "introduce yourself" post, I opened the floor to questions. Here is another question that could make for an interesting story. (See, and you probably thought I was ignoring your questions!) "How did you get into programming?"

My dad has a PHD in physics from Yale, and he always encouraged me strongly to get into maths and sciences. I also had a natural tendency toward mathy sorts of things, and science too although to a lesser degree. At the same time though, I was imaginative and artsy. I loved to read and write and imagine, and had a zillion different interests. My childhood dreams for my careers span the gambit from astronaut to first woman president to hollywood stunt artist to novel writer.

My dad wanted me to go to the best college I could get into and major in something that had career potential. (basically, something concrete - like science.) Although he claimed I could do whatever I wanted, he would get very uncomfortable when I brought up ideas like a philosophy major, for example.

Anyway I really liked math in high school. I especially loved geometry. I liked the puzzle-solving aspect of it. Given this set of assumptions and tools, how can we make this happen? My junior year when I was college-shopping, I tentatively declared my plans to major in math. This continued right until I started taking advanced placement calculus my senior year. There it all fell apart -- partly it was the teacher, and partly it was just that calculus (calcuseless, I called it) wasn't my thing. (I did fairly well in the class, but I didn't like it.)

Meanwhile my senior year I also took a computer science class and learned to program in Pascal. I had a very good time in that class, learned a lot, and it was fun. I didn't really think about it much though, because I already knew my plan was to do either math or science. At the same time I found that I really enjoyed writing, so by the end of my senior year my vague plan was to some something sciencey until I wrote the Great American Novel and became famous enough that I could write full time.

So I applied to a bunch of good colleges, and went to the best one that accepted me - Amherst College. Building my schedule for the first year, I didn't really know how to choose college courses. I just figured it was supposed to be like high school, so I signed up for math, english, and something social-studies-ish (I've forgotten what). The math class was Calc II, and I hated it. I passed, but not with a great grade, and not with any further love for mathematics.

Then I found myself a bit lost. I was supposed to be a math major, but I hated math (well I hated calc, and didn't think about the fact that there might be other kinds of math). I took a variety of random philosophy, sociology, english, and psychology classes. I decided maybe what I needed was a philosophy degree -- after all that was kind of logic and puzzle-solving, which was fun. My dad pointed out all of many types of nothing one could do for a living with a philosophy degree.

At the end of my sophomore year, still directionless, I found myself with a hole in my schedule. Looking for something which would fit, I stumbled across the computer science part of the course catalog. It was in the math department, which might explain why I hadn't thought about it prior.... "Huh", I thought to myself. "I had a lot of fun with that compsci class in high school. And it fits my schedule, so what the heck."

I started that class, and I was hooked. Why had it taken me so long to remember computer science? I don't know. I had forgotten how much fun it was figuring out computers, and telling them what to do. Look at this - technical, puzzle-solving, logical thinking, fun challenges, and it's something that people make money with! Right around the same time I started working in the computer lab , and I got to know some of the computer people on campus. I felt good, I'd found a niche that I fit into. I understood how computers worked, and I liked the challenge of making them do stuff. The coursework was interesting and the people were fun to hang out with.

I declared myself a computer science major. At Amherst the CS degree was part of the Mathematics and Computer Science department. This meant that there were a bunch of math courses required - including two calculus classes. But I hated calculus! Fortunately, my freshman decision to take math because I just thought that's what you do at school meant that I'd already taken and passed Calc II (or Math 12 they called it). My high school AP calculus had been enough to pass out of Calc I (Math 11). So the two classes that could have made my CS degree a lot more painful were already out of the way. Hooray!

Two more math classes, several more computer science classes, an AI honors thesis, and a hodge-podge of liberal artsy classes that I still enjoyed, and I stumbled down the hill, sheep-skin degree in hand, looking for a job as a Professional Computer Scientist. But really what I wanted to do was computer programming, because it was neat. It took some searching and false starts and some spiraling in on my goal, but eventually here I am.... a Senior Software Engineer. What is that? Somebody programs, who writes software, for a living. I made it!

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encorecrazay From: encorecrazay Date: March 31st, 2008 02:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Shdn I was an undergrad at Oregon, all the programming courses were in the math department, computer science wasn't even a discuessed. The year after I graduated Computer Science becamce a major within the Math department, the courses still had a MATH prefix becuase I took a grad course in COBOL!
(Deleted comment)
pstscrpt From: pstscrpt Date: March 31st, 2008 03:27 am (UTC) (Link)
Meanwhile my senior year I also took a computer science class and learned to program in Pascal.
Me, too. I probably would have taken it much earlier if it wasn't for the bone-headed after school "programming" class I had in elementary school where we typed printed programs into Commodore PET's. Naturally, I didn't understand a thing, and decided that wasn't something I could do until I started developing a serious interest in computers in general around 16.

I caught up quickly, though. I had finished enough assignments to get an A in the Pascal class for the year by January and then started taking the new C class as a directed study (it conflicted with something else I needed), giving me eight classes (including two computer and three music classes) and no lunch for the end of senior year.

Even so, I was intending to be a computer engineer until I'd had a full-time programming job for nine months, Adrian was born, and my parents talked Mel out of giving him up for adoption like we were planning (I'm glad they did, but I still think that was a lousy thing to do). At that point, it was basically apparent that I had a viable career I didn't mind too much, and I should stick with it because I couldn't afford to quit and go back to college full-time.

Now, I'm realizing I probably wouldn't have liked the engineering as much, anyway.


The math class was Calc II, and I hated it.
I was just telling Adrian a couple hours ago that parts of Calc II were the only math I've ever dealt with that was anything like as aggrevating as what he's doing right now.


My dad pointed out all of many types of nothing one could do for a living with a philosophy degree.
If you look at the philosophy communities on LiveJournal, you'll also notice that they have major self-esteem issues about any lay people taking an interest in their subject.
specialagentm From: specialagentm Date: March 31st, 2008 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)
*chuckle*

I'm a programmer for two reasons:

1) My degree (chemistry) is basically useless if you don't go for a PhD. I was burned out on school after 5 years (damn sci-fi club, making me a slacker who only took 12 credits a semester), so that wasn't going to happen.
2) I needed money in my junior year, so my friend Andy got me a job at the computer lab on campus. I had to take an intro programming class to get the job, and I got an A+. That was fun, so I took some more classes... all downhill from there. :-)

In retrospect, I probably could have finagled some sort of dual degree or something if I stuck around another year. I was eager to get into the real world, though, so I got a scientific programming job at Ford.

I think what cemented it, though, was some cute girl I met in March 1994. She said C programming was really cool, and seemed impressed that I was employed doing that. :-D
onemorethanten From: onemorethanten Date: March 31st, 2008 11:34 pm (UTC) (Link)

Arrrh! Yer all a bunch of 4 gigabyte softies now!

A TALE FROM DAYS OF YORE

A looonngg time ago I used to be a programmer. Why, when I was jooost a wee lad me Da' an I built our first computer back in 1976, we did. Point of fact my first paying job was whilst I was still in High School in the early early 80's... We worked on "mature" 8 bit systems back then and by gum we liked it! "Relational" Databases? Bah! We rolled our own database engines back then! Object Oriented this Object Oriented that! Ah, bunch of sissies if you ask me! We'd make an entire system run in 48K of RAM! Ah, Bill! Bill! What happened to ye?!? 8k was a fine size for a BASIC interpreter, and look at ya all now... IDE's, GUI's, worrying actually worrying over whether your screens are consistant and "User Friendly" or not. And being part of a programming "team". Why I tell ya, I'm glad, Glad I tell ya, that I don't have to worry about some guy from some country I ain't nee'r even heard of (where the hell is "Belgium" any ways?) thinking that they can just testing my work. I'll be done when I'm done I tells ya! Well, that's all I have to say on that! Now where's the cable for that cassette player interface....


Actually Rennie's "Technical Life" and "How I Got Into Programming" postings have actually made me really think about doing a "How I Got Out of Programming and into GLUE" when I switched from being a programmer to being a SysAdmin (which was after C++ but before JAVA.)
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