In common with the majority of developers, what led me to get involved in ‘programming’ in the first place was the hope of one day creating my own video games.
This seemed magical – but not too far out of reach, even for a 8-year old armed with a lowly VIC-20 (3583 bytes free, baby!). The graphics you could POKE around with in BASIC generally weren’t *too* far away from what you would see on the commercial games out there, i.e. shoddy blocky 2D affairs.
(The VIC-20 user manual was absolutely fantastic by the way.)
The thought of never being too far away making one’s own game was reason enough to study the short program listings in the back of magazines, trying to understand every last line.
Sadly, gaming (and computing magazines in general as I recall) by the mid-80s started to move away from listings, leading I feel to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ culture.
Maybe the market was no longer there, or games had started to evolve beyond what a hobbyist coder could achieve, but listings were out, and consumption, or at least black’n’white ads for dodgy mail-order betting software was in (am I alone in remembering those?).
In the mid-80s I moved on from the VIC-20 to a Spectrum (the Amstrad derived +2). For some reason coding on the Spectrum never really interested me. The BASIC seemed ugly to work with after CBM BASIC so coupled with the lack of listings or things to try out they all combined to stifle my interest.
Maybe there were just better things on TV.
The Spectrum manual I had was also very dry and lacked the excitement of creating something interesting to try out, unlike the aforementioned VIC-20 manual. I should check out earlier Spectrum manuals, perhaps Alan Sugar is to blame somewhere along the line, find it hard to believe that a generation of Spectrum coders were inspired by anything resembling the +2 manual.
By that point snobbishness about BASIC had likely also taken over – everyone knew that all games were written is assembly/machine code as soon as you moved beyond the simplest of games.
So the Spectrum period for me was a period of consumption (and probably envy that I didn’t have a C64) – even if I spent far more time on Prestel/Micronet than I ever did gaming (with the +2 balanced awkwardly on an undersized Prism VTX5000 modem).
Fortunately along came the Amiga – and a love of C, 68k (and AMOS!) programming, but that’s one for another story.
The point of this particular ramble is that I don’t see the same spark of curiosity in programming from my two boys (12 and 14) that I had back in my day – and I’m wondering if I’ve failed (or succeeded?!) as a parent in this, or if kids genuinely aren’t interested or impressed by coding in the 21st century.
We’ve raised gamers, not nerds.
It’s not I haven’t tried – they’ve got enough tech in their bedrooms to steal a march on Skynet and I’ve bought a few Scratch and ‘Hello Ruby’ books over the years to try to pique their interest but all to no avail.
Perhaps as they’ve always had such technology in the background of their lives it isn’t as revolutionary or exciting as it was to me – or the fact they don’t see an enticing, blinking cursor when they power on a device, that requires you to type something to get started, their curiosity is numbed.
Even after all this I still think it’s more than likely they’ll end up with IT related jobs though, but it will be from a more mercenary career perspective, rather than a pure passion or obsession with coding.
This could be a good thing – passion can wane, and the idea of ‘switching off’ from a job after a day’s work and doing something else could be a lesson I could learn from them.