During my senior year in college, I discovered computer games. Not Wizardry or Choplifter or Ultima, because none of those existed yet – the game that hooked me was the original Start Trek game, in which you navigated from on 8*8 quadrant to another in search of starbases, occasionally firing phasers or photon torpedoes. This was less exciting then it sounds; after each move. The current quadrant had to be reprinted from scratch, along with the current stats – and the output device was a 10-cps printball console. A typical game took over an hour, during which nothing particularly stimulating ever happened (Klingons appeared periodically, but they politely waited for your next move before attacking, and your photon torpedoes never missed so the outcome was never in doubt), but none of that mattered; nothing could detract from the sheer thrill of being in a computer-simulated universe.
Then the college got a PDP-11 with four CRT terminals and suddenly Star Trek could redraw in a second instead of a minute. Better yet I found the source code for the Star Trek program in the recesses of the new system – the first time I’d ever seen any real-world code other then my own – and excitedly dove into it. One evening, as I was looking through the code, a girl at the next terminal asked me for help getting a program to run. After I had helped her, eager to get to know her better, I said, “Want to see something? This is the actual source for the Star Trek game!” and proceeded to page through the code, describing each subroutine. We got to talking and eventually I worked up the nerve to ask her out. She said sure, and we ended up having a good time, although things soon fell apart because of her two or three other boyfriends (I never did get an exact count). The interesting thing , though, was her response when I finally got around to asking her out. She said, “It’s about time!”. When I asked her what she meant, she said, “I’ve been trying to get you to ask me out all evening – but it took you forever! You didn’t actually think I was interested in that Star Trek program, did you?”
Actually, yes, I had thought that, because I was interested in it. One thing I learned from experience, and have had reinforced countless times since, is that we – you, me, anyone who programs because they love it, would do it for free is necessary – are a breed apart. We’re different, and luckily so; while everyone else is worrying about down-sizing, we’re one of the hottest industries in the world. And, so far as I can see, the biggest reason we’re in such good situation isn’t intelligence, or hard work, or education, although those help; it’s that we actually like this stuff.
It’s important to keep it that way. I’ve seen far too many people start to treat programming like a job, forget the joy of doing it and burn out. So keep an eye on how you feel about the programming you’re doing, and it it’s getting stale, it’s time to learn something new; there’s plenty of interesting programming of all sorts to be done. Follow your interests – and don’t forget to have fun!
Page 43, Dr. Dobb’s Sourcebook November/December 1996, Ramblings in Real Time, © Mike Abrash, 1996