4 Responses to “Learning to Code”

  1. So going by the ZX81 we’re the same age (mine was built in a friends garage before saving up for a Spectrum). And A-level computing existed for me, without being able to spend a third of my sixth form time on a BBC Micro I don’t think that I would have got to university.

    • 2 hagrant

      Nice one Chris. A great post and made me all nostalgic and almost weepy (gosh – I am a total saddo!!)

      Good times. My first exposure to a PC was a Conmodore PET at school – many similar memories of typing in BASIC programs.

      I also remember trying my hand at my first assembler program and learning a very hard lesson – I was so eager to run my code that I didn’t save it to disk beforehand (and it was a long program – an attempt to do Conway’s Game of Life). Needless to say when I ran it the machine just locked up and I lost hours of typing hexadecimal :)

      I was lucky at University – even though I was studying pure mathematics, we had courses in FORTRAN, Pascal, and C, with access to VAXen, a DECsystem 20, BBC Micros, Apple Macs (this was 1984 so they were seen more as a curiosity) – and most importantly – our venerable departmental DEC PDP-11.

      The PDP-11 was running UNIX V7, and we had a full source license from AT&T. This was the best learning resource ever. We had the usual samizdat copies of the infamous Lyons commentary, and armed with the source and the commentary we taught ourselves systems programming. Fun times – with the occasional outage :)

      Over time we upgraded from an 11/23 to an 11/73 and from V7 to BSD 2.8. Oh the excitement – socket programming!! I was amazed we could just email the BSD team directly and they would respond to mere undergrads thousands of miles away. Hats of to Sam Leffler, Kirk McKusick, Mike Karelia, and Keith Bostic. They were my coding heroes (still are, to be honest).

      Then one day in 1987 one of the grad students returned from a spell in the US with a tape under his arm. It was mysteriously labelled “Cfront”. The C++ era has begun! Within 12 months I had graduated and was earning what seemed like impossible sums of money porting Cfront to bizarre platforms (including the ill-fated BiiN workstation, the INMOS Transputer, and most excitingly – a new processor architecture called SPARC – but that’s another story…

      • If you want an extra dose of nostalgia for that era the latest season of Halt and Catch Fire just started touching on C++

        I vaguely remember a (very dilapidated) PDP showing up in the computer room at school, but nobody seemed able to boot it up. There were suggestions that we should just mine the gold out of it to buy something better.

      • At uni we found a PDP in a skip and got it to boot in a cellar. The problem was paying for the electricity on a student grant. Great times.


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