Monday, March 09, 2009

A Linguistic Journey

Joe Marshall is documenting his journey from being unimpressed by computers, to be being a Lisp Hacker. They are a wonderful read: here, here and here. Oh, what the heck, just read his blog.

I wish my journey were as exotic.

Before my senior year in high school, I really had no idea what I was going to go to college for. Perhaps something photography related, as I really enjoyed that. But, I wasn't sure how I would make a living by it. Journalism, maybe?

Then, I took AP computers with Dr (Mr?) Kreiger (sp?). We started off on dumb terminals with a line editor, but luckily, a few weeks into the course we started using Macs. Pascal was the order of the day. It was a disaster. I got a 2 on the AP - the score one gets for basically showing up.

But, there was something that felt right about it. I remember staying up till 2am trying to figure out why my for loop program wasn't working. I finally figured out I was doing:


rr, something like that. In other words, I had a perfectly correct program, but included a semicolon in the wrong spot. There was something magical about unraveling the mystery.

It was pretty clear from that point on, I would be a CS major.

And so it was at University at Buffalo that my CS career started. Again, I didn't get off to the best of starts. CS 113 was the hardest class I ever took - the basic comp sci programming course. The language this time was C++. Yuck.

I can recall the time early on when I had gotten a low grade on a project for a simple error - I had written += as +=, and so the program didn't work. I plead my case to the TA, who told me some story about how a NASA space ship had crashed due to a trivial FORTRAN error. The lesson: it didn't matter how few characters were involved in the bug - a bug, was a bug. I was to accept the C+ I got on the project and go on with life. And so I did.

From there, things got easier and just 11 years out of school I can finally say, this programming thing isn't all that hard to learn, or even get good at. It just takes plenty of practice.

But I like Joe's story better - so go, and read it.

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