Learning a programming language on your own can be daunting. You can enjoy great success, and you are in for some remarkable discoveries along the way. Almost thirty years ago, I began my adventures with computers in the traditional way – I took a course at the local community college titled Beginning Programming 101 or something like that. It was a step into a fog-filled room with thirty others just as bewildered as I. The instructor was from industry, very good at his job – no doubt, but with little clue about how to teach, let alone how to teach programming. He would cover the chalkboard with mysteries then send us out to write our “programs” on keypunch machines that produced stacks of cards for insertion into a room-sized machine. In the morning you would check back and find that the machine had hiccupped at the third card. Repunch that card “correctly” and resubmit the deck, and the following morning it stopped on the fifth card. At the end of the term less than ten stalwarts remained in the class and if they were like me, they were just as clueless as they had been at the start. Despite that experience, I remained interested in learning to write programs.
In 1981, the Commodore Vic 20 came on the market. For a price of $600, that fantastic machine let you write games and graphics programs with a limit of 5 kilobytes (that’s KILObytes) of memory, only about 3.5 k of which was programmable. It was wonderful! I spent most of my leisure hours stuffing more and more BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) into that small box. BASIC was the start of Bill Gates’ billions. I most of all enjoyed the discoveries that came with combining the instruction manual (always incomplete and hard to interpret – I think my first instructor wrote them all) with intuition (big mistake—computers are rarely intuitive) and getting it finally to work. It was problem-solving at its most basic. As with any puzzle, if you don’t tear your hair a little, it becomes boring.
Nothing’s ever easy! Over my six decades, that pithy saying has become increasingly apparent. Oh, there are things that are easy to do, but the vast majority of them are boring.