How did I end up here?

The Salvation Army Thrift Store

Where it all started

My first computer was a Commodore VIC-20, purchased by my father at a thrift shop in Omaha, Nebraska. His hobby was restoring old tube console radios, and we would go the the thrift shop regularly to hunt for them. It was a lot of fun, actually. One day, up on a shelf, I noticed a box of computer parts, and asked Dad if I could get it. We looked in the box, and everything was there. The computer, the data cassette drive, the TV RF adapter, and most importantly, all the programming manuals. He agreed to buy it for me, and that single purchase changed the direction of my life forever.

VIC-20 Boot Screen

Commodore VIC-20

I spent the next few days (weeks, then years, then decades) entering BASIC programs from the manual, and playing the few cartridge games that came with it. The only thing wrong with the computer was that the “2” key was missing. I had to stick a toothpick in the keycap slot, so I could lift it and press it down when needed. Unfortunately, on that keyboard, shift-2 was how you entered a double-quote, which is used a LOT in Commodore BASIC.

Technology has changed a lot since then, and so has the culture around it. I like to tell my wife, Rosie, that sometimes I feel like I’m living in a bizzaro alternate reality, where the “computer nerds” won.

When I was around 10 years old, nobody my age seemed to be into computers. During school, I would stare at the Apple IIc which sat in the back of the classroom, and was only used for playing Oregon Trail. When class was over at the end of the day, I would hurriedly type BASIC commands into the console, half of which didn’t work because I had a Commodore at home, and the commands were different. None of the other kids knew what I was doing, or cared to know. Nobody else seemed interested.

My Idol.

“Data” from the Goonies, a true bad-ass

If you had told 10-year-old me that in the future programmers were no longer picked on, and that there were no longer any “computer nerds” because everyone owned a computer, I wouldn’t have believed you. If you further mentioned the President would be on TV, stating every child should be taking a programming course, I would have decided you were just being mean.

But here we are. Here I am. Living in my own little bizarro world, where the nerds won, and the jocks are now called “brogrammers”. Sure it isn’t like this everywhere, and the Bay Area is itself a bizarro world within a bizzaro-world, but hey, I’ll take it.