This is my story of how I became a programmer. It has been twenty years.

In the Beginning

There was darkness.

I was always surrounded by computers as a child. This was a little unusual considering the country I grew up in and the years this happened. That would be South Africa and my existence begins in 1974.

My first computer was a Sinclair ZX80. My brother got the ZX Spectrum. Older brothers often get the nicer toys. However, let us jump forward a decade or more.

Sinclair ZX80
ZX80 by Daniel Ryde, Skövde - Originally from the Swedish Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

I didn’t think I would become a software developer. My father is a programmer and my brother is a programmer. I decided to do something else. That something else ended quickly and badly.

This was the first time I learnt that cancelling a course is not the same as failing a course. It was mid-1993 and I wasn’t sure what I should be doing with my life, but I discovered that I had never properly learnt how to study. So much for twelve years of school preparing me for my future.

I started taking short courses to teach my brain the correct method for studying at a tertiary level. The courses included Basic Bookkeeping, Practical Accounting, and an incredibly tough, because I hated it, short course on credit control. This approach definitely helped.

By now, I had decided that programming computers would probably suit me well. To prepare for the same tertiary education my brother had done I decided to learn the programming language those first year students must learn. I knew from experience how hard the first year of studying can be and I wanted my second first year to be as easy as possible.

The year was 1994 and I armed myself with a Turbo Pascal 2 text book and a copy of Turbo Pascal on a really old beige box XT PC that I had gotten as a hand-me-down. I worked through that entire textbook over the course of a few months. From Control structures to program flow, the very basics of programming. And I only intensified my self-teaching when I got accepted into the course.

I was very thankful to get accepted to study a National Diploma in IT. This was to begin in 1995 and back then the intake was a fraction of the applications. I forget the exact details of how I managed to get accepted, but there was a letter and being out of school a few years counts in your favour.

A lot of my first year of study was actually very easy. Partly for the fact that I had learned Turbo Pascal, but mostly due to being a few years older and wiser.

Here is a quick parenting tip: If you want your kid to do better at school, let your kid be older than the other classmates. Nothing like having an age advantage to give your kid the edge.

Seeing the Light

I enjoyed being in the tertiary environment so much that I continued to get my BTech degree and then my Masters degree. And, best of all, I managed to do it without accruing much debt at all with the help of a part time job.

I left academia behind at the end of 2006. Spent a few years struggling to progress further in the craft, but eventually found an area I really enjoyed when I took a leap out of my comfort zone and began working remotely with a start-up.

I also prepared for my future start-up career’s expected skills the same way I prepared for my chosen academic career. I dived into the technology stack I was expecting to use and created a portfolio. Nothing like proof to make prospective employers trust in you.

Twenty years a coding. It really doesn’t feel that long.