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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

Posted on

How did you get into programming in the first place?

Top comments (130)

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Sloan, the sloth mascot
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Ben Halpern Author

Wow, congrats on making the leap!

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Mr. Black Hack Β€

Wanted to do psychology, one day someone asked me "soo.. <.< psychology huh... what are you gonna do with that... I was so sure I knew what I wanted to do, and that moment I don't why I just felt lost. I was in the library after that break and my girlfriend at the time, was like, you should take college more seriously, I was like "aight fine". Looked up high paying jobs, found that computer oriented jobs seemed to be up there, I said "hey I like computers", so I signed up for it just like that... I spent the summer before my first semester diving into it, every day got more and more exciting, I saw a whole new world and it was made of code. Never turned back since, except those last 3 years where I took a break, found passion for life and explore my creative perspectives. Some source code manipulation you know. Now with long hair and beard, the coding world welcomes me 2.0

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tag hatle

I don't have the long hair and beard, but how much it doesn't matter what you look like is a real draw of coding-as-a-career for me too!

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W. Brian Gourlie

I was thirteen or fourteen during the latter half of the 90's when AOL was still a thing. I discovered programs (progz as they were known back then) that you could use to punt people off of AOL via instant message, or spam chat room messages with ascii art, or any number of things that an obnoxious 14 year old kid would take pleasure in. I also discovered that some of these progz included source code, so naturally I was curious.

I studied the source code and learned an alarming amount of the Win32 API as an adolescent and eventually became proficient in writing these programs myself. I was also introduced to "affiliate programs" for certain kinds of websites, in particular websites owned and operated outside of the US that would allow you to sign up as an affiliate without having to prove your age or provide a SSN. I wrote spamming software that implemented the AOL Instant Messenger protocol and would scrape AOL chat rooms for people to message. This thing ran over a dial-up connection, had reconnect logic, and supported connecting an arbitrary number of AIM accounts to circumvent rate limiting.

Naturally, I had acquaintances who wanted to get in on it. I showed them how to do the affiliate sign up, how to set up a web page for banners, and provided them with a spammer that I could remotely configure to send a percentage of messages to advertise my banner portal. I pulled in anywhere from $500-$1000 a month which, for a teenager, was a lot.

Then I turned 18 and at least had the sense to find more legitimate means of making money. I knew it would involve programming, and well, here I am nearly 16 years later working as a programmer.

Quick edit and funny note about the AOL punting thing

It's so funny to think how insecure software was back then. To punt someone off AOL all you had to do was send them the following message:

<font size=999999999999999>peace out sucka!</font>

It was a simple buffer overflow caused by specifying a font size exceeding 32-bits. The worst part is that punting was super common and it took AOL YEARS to fix it!

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tag hatle

This reminds me of crashing someone's Messages app on their iPhone by sending huge emoji texts... I guess some things haven't changed, lol!

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Melissa Martinez

I saw my first developer in action at a Startup Weekend a few years ago. I had no idea what he was doing at the time, but I knew right then and there that's what I wanted to do for a living. However, I was building Myspace themes as a 11 yr old. I wish I had an adult in my life at the time to guide me towards Computer Science!

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Ben Halpern Author

What steps did you take after observing that first developer?

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Melissa Martinez

Well after that weekend, I jumped right back into HTML and CSS. Then I discovered Flash wasn't a thing anymore, so I had a rude awakening trying to learn Javascript. I took a class on Java in school, and was able to transfer that knowledge to learn JS a lot easier. I was also referring to job descriptions to see what else I needed to learn.

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Petty Thiel

AOL! My family got AOL when I was about 15 and I was completely hooked on reading everything and IMing random internet people. Somehow, I stumbled upon Geocities or the like and realized I could make webpages. HTMLGoodies was my go to website at the time.

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Oguzhan Yagci

I was around 10 years old and watching a TV cartoon called "Code Lyoko". One of the main characters was a computer genius. I found that so amazing to be able to do those things that I just grabbed the keyboard of my computer and started looking for how I could to such things.

I began with some HTML/CSS (my first website was a fansite called "Code Xana" which was of course about "Code Lyoko") and then a bit of C because I wanted to dig deep down the computer.

Now I am a CS student at 42 and I still am digging down in my computer to learn how to do those cool stuffs I saw on the TV!

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Mark Bussell Jr

Glad I got around to this discussion a little late - you have no idea how comforting to see more than a few who got into programming later than age 8... I've always felt like I was perpetually "behind" because I didn't start programming until mid-way through an AAS in Network Engineering.

I switched majors two weeks into the one required programming class because I'd found programming far easier and more enjoyable than anything I was doing on the Networking side. It just fit me better and made sense. :)

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tag hatle

Yeah the idea that if you weren't writing programs in grade school you'll never catch up is really daunting, I'm glad to see otherwise too!

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Andy Shevchenko

At a computer club in early 80s, drawing a snowman with 3 circles and writing a complex logic like:
INPUT "WANNA GET FUN?", A;
IF A="Y"
THEN PRINT "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUN"

Then annoyed my parents until they bought me a i8088 home computer which comes with operation manual and Assembly language manual. Figured out almost everything by myself through debugging existed applications and BIOS ROM. Wrote a simple graphics editor eventually.

Then soldered a ZX Spectrum clone stuffing up PCB with chips according to a manual. Hacked a lot of games, got employed as a hacker at age 14 with 300 USD wage, doing tape to disk games conversion.

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Daniel Cherubini

My Mum was in charge of the computers for the Department of Education for our state (New South Wales) in Australia, so naturally when I was born in 1982 I had access to a lot of technology.

Mum tells the story that i typed my first word on an Apple II at the age of 2, and I remember a few years later really wanting to play a text based adventure, like zork on our apple IIe. I begged mum for a non-educational game, and so for my birthday, I got a book, and a blank 5 1/4 inch floppy disk...

I was a little confused, If the game was on the blank disk, why the book, and the book had dragons on it, was this some kind of book that goes with the game?

I opened the book, and it was code, BASIC code, see the book WAS the game, and mum looked at me and said "You can play your adventure game, after you code it"

I remember getting about 50% through the book before I realised how to find the end, and never completed the code. Mum was upset, so she asked my why I didn't, I then said "Ohh you kill the dragon here, and this is how...." Mum was so happy, she had made me learn coding to a point where I could read the code for the answer.

I must have been about 5 or 6 at the time, after that at around age 11 Doom came out, and I got obsessed with multiplayer Token Ring networks.. which got me interested in C, and then C++, Java, etc etc etc..

All because mum refused to give in and do something non-educational

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Mario DurΓ‘n

Some afternoon after school I was playing PlayStation (the first one) and my mom pass by and says to me in a very casual and distended way: Son you should be a software developer. So as a good son, I went to psychology school. After a few tries I ended up doing computer science like she said

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Massimo Artizzu

As an amateur, when I was something like 8 my father thaught me the basics of... well, BASIC. It was kind of love at first sight. Programmed things for fun, until I got into university - at that point I had no time.

Professionally, it was more or less by accident. Was looking for a job, sent a resume for working in a computer shop, it was forwarded to someone who was hiring web developers. I basically had no experience whatsoever, but surprisingly I got hired.

Maybe having won that programming contest back when I was an university student helped... I still don't know.

All I know is that I love my job.

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Luke Bonaccorsi

2001 at Age 11, first IT lesson at secondary school (UK here) we were taught extremely basic HTML. Homework was to go home and build a web page about something. Can't remember what I built.

What I do remember was the moment of realisation that I had just built something that goes on the internet. Before that the internet seemed like this inaccessible blob of knowledge and cool stuff.

I asked the teacher how I put it on the internet and from there I was building websites, looking at the source for other sites and getting books on HTML and JavaScript out from the library.

16 years later I'm doing it full time and loving it.

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Ben Halpern Author

I wish I were given "go home and build a web page about something" as a homework assignment!

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Ben Halpern Author

For me, it was my friend who started a website for his band on Geocities when I was about 12 or so. I got hooked immediately on this stuff once the stuff was introduced to me, but I did let it fade away for a while, coded now and then for the next 10+ years, before finally jumping in for real in my 20s.

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Sabrina

Like most, I started dabbling with code as a kid customizing layouts for Xanga and Myspace. I just didn't know coding was a thing I could make money doing. I wished I would've known sooner. I loved how the web was constantly changing so majored in IT in school. It wasn't until junior year that I learned front-end web development was a career. I spent that summer and rest of my time in school teaching myself HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, etc.

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Lily Collin

When I was younger I loved playing Neopets and they had these profiles which you could customize with some CSS and could add some HTML as well. I didn't really find things I liked on other sites so I ended up learning to make my own. Eventually I learned how to make my own and made my own site to offer some that I made. Which is when I started doing things like PHP, CSS and some javascript.

When it became time to apply for school I honestly didn't know what computer science was but I needed to apply for something so that's what I did. I got to learn a bunch of different languages like Java, Python and C++ and decided I was going to work on becoming a system administrator instead. I still did some web stuff on the side for friends and people I knew. However during my last year of university I got a job in web development, which then started my career.

It's been five years since I've started working full time in web and I've learned so much and have started to become a specialist in SuiteCRM/SugarCRM development and integration. Drupal and Wordpress are an other two platforms that I've been working on developing plugins/modules. It's crazy to think that just a hobby would eventually turn into my career. I still do have my Neopets account I revisit every so often to see where it all started.

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Ashley Nicolson

Oh my word, small world! I started off the same. Loved Neopets and I was a 'webmaster' of one of their most popular Zelda guild (at the time) years ago and that's where it all began. Highfive for Neopets!

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