How did you get started in software development?

04 Jun
by mjeaton, posted in Uncategorized   |  30 Comments

Update: June 5, 2008, June 6 and again on June 7, 8, 10 - Here are my tweeps that have answered so far.

I realized recently that while I know my tweeps (twitter friends), I don’t really “know” them. ;-)   I know most of them were band dorks (I love my tweeps, so hopefully they realize I’m just yanking their chains ) in school and some still play some kind of musical instrument.  I know some like to smoke cigars, some are vegetarians and some I know some have served in the armed forces.  I know one majored in drama and communications and some most like to drink beer.  What I don’t know is how most of them got started in software development.

Ok, so here are the questions. :-)   My answers are included.  Like I said, this is mainly directed at my tweeps, but if you’re a non-tweep and still feel like answering, cool. :-)   If you answer on your own blog, please link back and/or leave a comment so I know!

How old were you when you started programming?  Believe it or not, I was probably 20 (1992) before I first started programming.  Prior to that, my only experience with computers was an “exposure” class in 6th grade!  To go totally against the grain of most of my friends, I was 19 or 20 when I got my first computer (a rockin’ 386sx-25 with 2mb of RAM and a 130mb drive — yes, that’s megabytes).

How did you get started in programming?  I actually got started in programming after getting completely obsessed with that rockin’ 386. ;-)   I spent every waking moment learning everything I could about DOS and Windows 3.1.  I was totally into things like Stacker, Desqview and QEMM and wringing every last bit of performance out of that 386.  I spent hours and hours on local BBS’s, downloading all sorts of programs and games (at the blazing speed of 2400 bit/s).  There came a point that I finally asked the sysop of one of the boards about programming because I felt the need to make the computer bend to my will.  He referred me to one of the BBS members.  I contacted him and 15+ years later, we’re still really good friends. :-)   

What was your first language?  Believe it or not, my first language was probably the batch language (batch files)…if that doesn’t count, then it’d definitely be qbasic.  QBasic (think from back in the day) was a trimmed down version of QuickBasic, but it was enough to get me hooked.

What was the first real program you wrote? Honestly, that was so long ago, I don’t really remember.  I think my first DOS program might have been a front-end for the format command.  I know for sure my first Windows app was a replacement for progman.exe. ;-)

What languages have you used since you started programming?  qbasic, QuickBasic, Visual Basic for DOS, Borland Turbo Pascal (for DOS and Windows), Borland Delphi, perl, a tiny bit of Powerbuilder, some C, pascal (in college), a tiny bit of COBOL (in college), C# and VB.NET.  I suppose you could throw SQL in there as well.  I might have missed one or two languages, but if I did, they were probably worth forgetting.


What was your first professional programming gig?  My first paying gig was writing a small, silly utility for the local gas/utility company.  I don’t recall what it did, I just know I got paid $200 for doing it. :-)   The cool thing is that this was probably only a few months into my programming career. ;-)   After that small contract, I scored my first actual programming job after reading a posting in some CompuServe forum (probably VB related).  Someone was looking for a developer to create some Crystal Reports for a commercial app they were developing.  I remember being soooooo nervous driving up to the interview (Northville, MI), but being so happy when I landed the job!  Of course, I ended up having a hellish time because we were working on Chicago, running beta VB4 along with beta Crystal Reports.  Yuck.

If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?  I’m not sure.  I’ve had some good times and made a lot of great friends, but damn, sometimes the pace of change makes me want to pursue my dream of playing in a rock band. :-D

If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?  Don’t get stuck in a cube farm. :-)   Actually, to be serious, I’d tell them to focus on communications and interacting with other people.  Programming is easy.  Working with others is a bitch. ;-)

Ok, and finally, I’ll steal the question Sarah asked recently:

What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?  I’ll simply copy the comment I left on Sarah’s blog – “I don’t know that there’s one particular moment. I find those times when I’m in the zone to be the most fun. You know…when the code flows from your fingers and you lose track of time…yea, those are the times when I have the most fun. :-)



Tweeps that have answered so far: Sarah, John, Jeff, Josh, Rick, Nathan, Marty, Joel, Nate, Matt, Mike, Bruce, Chris, JeffH, Rob, Jennifer, Objo, Corey, Scott, Jason, Maggie, Tim.



30 Responses to How did you get started in software development?

  1. John Stockton

    Thanks for starting this, it’s a neat little exercise to learn about each other, and to remember how/why we got into this crazy business. So it doesn’t look like anyone else is posting there answers here but I’ll at least link to them.

  2. Nathan Bryan

    I was really young, probably 11 or 12. My first computer was a TRS-80, but I don’t think I ever programmed on it. I think I first programmed on an Apple II in BASIC. I wrote some simple programs myself, and also copied little games line by line out of my 3-2-1 Contact magazine.

    The languages I’ve learned in roughly chronological order: BASIC, whatever TI graphing calculators use, HyperTalk, AppleScript, C, C++, PHP, JavaScript, Prolog, Snobol, Python, Objective-C, VBScript, SQL, Java, VB.NET, C#, and Ruby.

    I got my first paid gig as an intern at CQL in Grand Rapids. I got $10/hour which was probably the most I had made up to that point. Unfortunately, they never really turned me loose on any real projects, and I didn’t really feel like I learned a whole lot there. All the other developers were busy working on real projects. I did love the foosball table and the free weekly massages though.

    The most fun I had programming is a bit of a toss up. Back in high school I chatted on IRC a lot. Being a Mac user I used Ircle, which was, at the time, the best IRC client for any platform. It blew mIRC and Pirch out of the water with its features and extensibility. The best feature, of course, was that it’s entirely scriptable. I started writing bots in AppleScript. One of my IRC friends was an IRCop and also the op of one of the network’s busiest channels (some lame #teenchat or something I would have thought was cool back then). He made me an op in that channel, and one day I decided to ban the letter “e.” My script started kicking and banning everyone who used that letter. Another time I wrote a little ASCII art script with a back door for me that I sent to a guy I didn’t like in #macintosh. It gave me complete control of his IRC client. I just made him say a couple really stupid things before I told him what I did.

    The second most fun I think I did was with Fiddler. Fusionary Media had written their annual flash game, and me and a coworker decided to see how it communicated with the server. It was pretty simple to see how high scores were added so we added all sorts of impossible scores. Scores were always multiples of 10, so we put numbers that were one higher than the top score, gave ourselves negative scores, and gave ourselves the maximum integer value. I think they caught on after a while and deleted the more obvious abuses. I did a similar thing to Yahoo! when they were partnering with Pepsi to give an X-Box 360 away every 10 minutes. We sniffed the HTTP traffic and used it to determine when our odds were statistically best to enter. Entries were in 10 minute buckets, and I stuffed a bucket with about 15 entries out of maybe 200 total. Typical buckets ended up with a couple thousand. I still didn’t win the X-Box, but it sure was a fun programming problem.

  3. MartyAdams

    How old were you when you started programming?

    17 years old in high school. It was 1979 and we only had two computers in the entire school. Cassette tapes for storage. The good old days?

    How did you get started in programming?

    I took an Electronics class in high school that taught me the basics of logic. I liked it and I was trained in the Army as a Communications Security Repairer – the closest thing they had at the time.

    What was your first language?

    BASIC on the TRS 80.

    What was the first real program you wrote?

    The first “REAL” program that was entirely my responsibility was a Help Desk Application. Even though I wrote some code while working for a three letter government agency, it wasn’t until I wrote the Help Desk application that I really felt like I had programmed a “REAL” program. IT was written in Paradox Application Language.

    What languages have you used since you started programming?

    Some I’ve used, some have used me!
    BASIC, QuickBASIC, JustBASIC, COBOL, Visual Basic for DOS and Windows, Borland Paradox (for DOS and Windows), perl, PHP, C#, Java, JSPs and Servlets, JavaScript, COBOL on the Mainframe, VB.NET, C#.NET, SQL. More recntly, I just learn them enough to teach them. Not near at the same level as a full time coder.

    What was your first professional programming gig?

    Working at the three letter government agency. Nothing further to report.

    If you knew then what you know now, would you have started programming?

    Absolutely! It has enabled me to do a lot of fun things. I didn’t enjoy working in the basement and not seeing daylight for those years in the government, but I kind of like being able to help other people with their computer issues. I enjoy conferences and I really enjoy the teaching opportunity that I have now. I also like being the guy in the office who can help with computer questions.

    Also, while working for the government, I had great opportunities to travel, which I love!

    If there is one thing you learned along the way that you would tell new developers, what would it be?

    Constantly keep improving. Get focused on something and get great at it. Work on your human interaction skills. When I talk to employers, I constantly hear that these are the skills that are lacking in programmers. It is not good enough to just be a good programmer.

    What’s the most fun you’ve ever had … programming?

    When I worked in Paradox, I got to be a nationally recognized expert. I was writing code and sharing it with people all over the coutry. I was also dealing directly with the guys at Borland on a fairly regular basis. It was great!

  4. Jennifer Marsman

    Thanks for starting this, Mike! It’s been a lot of fun reading everybody’s responses all day. Here’s mine:

  5. Tim Wingfield

    Michael, this is a great idea. Jeff called me out on his post, but I thought I’d link my response back here as well. Thanks for starting this.

  6. Maggie Longshore

    Great topic and interesting read on all the replies. Here’s a link to mine:

  7. Adam Kahtava

    My rendition of: How I Got Started In Software Development. Thanks for the inspiration! :)

  8. Jennifer Griffin

    I don’t have a lot of software development experience but decided…what the heck.

    I’m hoping better late than never.

  9. Michael Hanney

    I’ve really enjoyed reading everyone’s answers. Great idea!
    Here’s my story

  10. Nathan Blevins

    I have had a great time reading everyone’s response to this. I got tickled seeing it go semi-viral among the dev community.

    Anyway, I was finally tagged. So, here’s mine:
    How did I get started in software developement?

  11. Turkey

    thanks you .. perfect docs

  12. Ryan Farley

    Hi Michael,

    This is a seriously great meme you’ve started. I’ve had a great time reading through everyone’s story.

    I’ve posted mine as well: How I Got Started in Software Development.


  13. Michael Eaton

    hehe. awesome! thanks to everyone that’s taken the time to leave a comment!

  14. Gayle

    I finally got mine written! I already had most of this information on my “about me” page, so I kept putting off doing this myself. But I liked the idea. So I reformatted my “about me” page to fit the format in this post! Interesting to see what everyone has to say, thanks for starting this, Michael!

  15. amrinder

    For any type of high quality & low cost Software Development work
    log on to:
    Or mail at:

  16. NET Web Services

    Awesome post… it was a nice entertaining question answer session…

  17. josh

    good information, thank you

    Auto Repair Manual

  18. Giocare a poker

    I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts.Any way Ill be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon…

  19. IT Outsourcing

    I really appreciate the kind of topics you post here. Thanks for sharing us a great information that is actually helpful. Good day!

  20. Smot

    You’re great. Just want to know how you managed to do it.

  21. grignolino

    Thanks for sharing this article.That’s very helpful and interesting.