Er. alokpandey's Blog

Why I’m a programmer

Posted in Uncategorized by Alok Kumar Pandey on June 21, 2010

I don’t know if you can say I’m a programmer solely because of my dad(by training a physicist and by profession an engineer), but he was a big part of getting me there. I had my first experiences with a computer when I was very young, no older than 4 or 5- my dad would write small games games for me on the TRS-80: One of them was a spelling game: a word would flash for a moment on the screen, and then I’d type in the word, and the program would say whether I’d spelled the word right-this was obviously cool for both of us. He also showed me how he could tweak the game-add new words, adjust timing, etc. When I was just a bit older, my dad got me a kids’ book on BASIC , and I went through most of the programs in there, running them on that TRS-80 by repeatedly listing them out to look over the code, and editing by individual line. vi would have been full-screen luxury, but the line editor was all I knew, so it was great! (Yup, one of those programs was a choose your own adventure game).

Aside from the actual programming, my dad’s interest in computers kind of infiltrated the house-there were occasional cassette tapes labeled with program names and printed program listings lying around in drawers near the computer, and we tied up the tomato plants in the backyard with tape from spools of old reel-to-reel that was being thrown out at his office. (We also tied up the dog with some aircraft carrier deck emergency barricade line, but that’s another story) Later on, when we finally replaced the TRS-80 with a Gateway 486 and the new computer’s CPU turned out to be defective, I remember him replacing that chip while I hung out nearby. (It seemed perfectly normal to crack open and poke at the insides of a computer on the coffee table, though I’m now pretty sure Gateway would have done it for him, had he wanted to ship the machine back) Not to mention tons of hacking that autoexec.bat together once that computer was finally working…I of course helped through all these things!

By the time I was in middle school or so, my dad had made his way to management. I have many memories of the walks my dad and I would go on together, when he’d tell me about what he was learning for work at the time. He spent many walks telling me about Total Quality Management(a blatant generalization might be to call it a second cousin of Lean), and how they were trying to use it in the Navy. I remember him telling me that when one stepped back and looked at results, TQM looked like a better way to do things, but a lot of people were resistant. I asked, “but if it’s better, why don’t they want to use it? Why won’t they at least give it a try?” (heh, a question I’ve asked myself about all sorts of things again many times later on.) He said something like “some people get comfortable doing things the way they’ve always done them, and they don’t want to try things another way.” This answer frustrated me-it seemed so absurd, it couldn’t possibly be true. I believe it now; it still frustrates me, but I understand it better.

I can’t say my dad ever *tried* to make me a programmer-he just showed me things that interested him. My experience growing up is not unlike those of many other programmers I’ve met-if anything, it may be notable that my dad didn’t differentiate at all in showing me and my brother these things up to our individual levels of interest. I never got the idea that I should be any less interested in computers, in airplanes, or in helping to build furniture, than I was in my ballet lessons or drawing. I’m very appreciative of that-I didn’t have any idea that some of my interests were perhaps “boy” things, and I don’t think I really understood that my perception was maybe not the norm until I was older. By that time, well, I liked what I liked, and I’m glad things worked out as they did. Thanks, Dad!

I believe one of the best kinds of introduction you can give a kid to something you feel passionate about is to just *show* them you love it. Not necessarily by (just) teaching, but by example. Showing then that you genuinely think something is a blast is so much more inspiring than saying it would be a useful skill, or even claiming that it’s fun (but not appearing to have fun yourself), regardless of the subject matter. Those things aside, if you are interested in directly teaching your kids some programming, here are a few resources I’ve run across, though I haven’t personally checked them out:

Hello World! – A python-based kids’ programming book written by a father and his 9-year-old son. Scott Hanselman has a great podcast episode discussing this book.
.NetRocks! podcast episode on teaching programs to kids with SmallBasic
Hackety Hack – a Ruby-based programming environment aimed at beginners (including kids)


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