Sunday, July 15, 2018

What motivated you to learn to code?

I received an interesting question, today: "What motivated you to learn to code?"

Maybe it's old age, but my memory for ancient events seems to have improved. I remember quite clearly those days, back in the 1950s, when I worked as a "computer." That was my job title, computer. I did physics calculations with pencil and paper—and an eraser.

At that time,I had never seen a computing machine, nor another person who had ever seen one. 

When I left graduate school, I went to work for IBM in San Francisco. Nobody else in the IBM office had ever seen a computing machine, at least not a stored program one. We had a machine with 10 wireable instructions (IBM 604) and one 10-digit word of data storage. I was motivated to learn to code that machine by a one-dollar bet that I could turn on all the lights on the console. I won the bet.            

The first stored program machine (IBM 650, with 1,000 words of drum memory) was due in the IBM office two weeks after I started there. I was given the assignment of learning how to program it, as nobody else in the office had a clue. I learned to code by reading the machine manuals for two weeks.

Also, two weeks after the machine arrived, I had to teach a programming class to three other new hires. So, that assignment also motivated me. When the machine arrived, I was the only one who dared to touch it for two weeks, so I wrote programs for the sort of calculations I had been doing in my job as a computer.

It was the thrill of a lifetime.

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