Is it safe to say that all software developers, at some point during their journey, have written a “Hello World” program? The first program I ever wrote, the very first one, went something like this:
10 PRINT “MATT RUPERT ”
20 GOTO 10
That’s it. Two lines of Applesoft BASIC, written on an Apple IIe at the Auburn, Indiana public library. The results were immediate: I watched with enthusiasm as my name scrolled down the screen infinitely. I told the computer what to do and it did so! I was hooked. Steve Wozniak would have been so proud.
We weren’t supposed to be fooling around with such things on that computer at the library, oh no! And perhaps the rules regarding the computer added to the mystery and intrigue. The librarians, seemingly fearful of that yellowish-beige box with a clunky military-grade keyboard and green monitor, warned us repeatedly, “Only use the programs and follow the instructions closely, otherwise you may break it!”
While most of those programs were intended to be educational, the only thing I learned was that oftentimes people died of something called dysentery while travelling to Oregon. I hoped I didn’t get dysentery, whatever it was.
I was curious. What if I didn’t want to play Oregon Trail again? What other things could be done at that flashing prompt? What if I wanted to make MY OWN Oregon Trail? How will it ‘break?’ What might I discover? Can I really do things like Matthew Broderick in War Games? (No.)
The computer generally sat unused in a corner of the small, musty library, available to be used by “checking out” half-hour increments of computer time. As far as I could tell, only my friends and I used that computer. I never once saw a “grown-up” near the thing. This device, as ‘breakable’ as we were told it was, was something that the adults feared and the children cherished.
So as often as I could, I rode my bike to the library, about 2 miles from my house, in the scorching heat and the bitter cold to tinker on that fascinating machine, full of ideas and programs that I had written on sheets of paper. Oh sure, I did other things. I wasn’t that strange of a kid. I played baseball and went to the pool and tied GI Joe figures to bottle rockets. But I also read books about Computer Programming and magazines like Nibble and Byte.
The six or so computer books, on a shelf right there beside, seemed to call my name, enticing me to figure out more. And as I took it upon myself to do more with that computer, I learned to cover the speaker with my palm so as not to alert the librarian that I was, once again rebooting the computer. I suppose I became one might call a “library hoodlum.” Hey, it’s better than petty vandalism!
After many visits, the librarians no longer saw a need to hover while this scrawny boy messed around with the computer. Soon enough I was writing more and more programs, saving them on my own floppies, and (gasp), copying programs to play with at my friend’s house. Zork was among my favorites.
While most kids begged for an Atari or an NES, I begged for a computer, and somehow, despite my mother’s paltry income (paper route money helped), I ended up with one—my very own! It was a Laser 128—an Apple IIe clone (with a whopping 128k of RAM, a full 64k more than the Apple IIe at the library). It had a color monitor. Eight colors! I was also fortunate enough to have a printer—An Epson 8 pin dot matrix—built like a tank, and probably somewhere in a landfill today, assuredly in working condition if someone with a parallel cable happens to find it.
My BASIC programs became more complex. Soon I was experimenting with other stuff—the bits and bytes that were not well documented in any of the 6 computer books at the public library. “PEEK” and “POKE” commands opened passages to endless fascination. Ask any dedicated computer programmer about his or her first computer and watch his or her eyes light up.
Like others in this field, I could go on and on about my early experiences with the Apple IIe and Laser 128. Even now, as I write about it, I cannot help but smile. And while I’d like to digress further about my beloved Laser 128, I must focus on my task here: An introduction.
Hi there! (Hello World.) I’m Matthew Rupert, Software Developer. Software Architect. Lead Software Engineer. Web Developer. SQA. Technical Writer. Technical Lead. Senior Developer-Level 1. Senior Develop
er-Level 2. I’ve had many job titles, and I’ve learned that a job title means little. I’ve had more job interviews than I can recall. Whatever the job, whatever the title, I’ve been doing this for the better part of my life, sometimes paid, often just for fun. Always enjoying it: Software Development.
There are many stereotypes in the non-techie world about us (those strange folks who like writing something called ‘code’ on computers). We’re called eccentric. We’re called introverts (arg!). We’re called geeks (fair enough). We’re assumed to be socially awkward (nonsense!). We like strange fantasy novels (so I am told). We don’t know how to dress (so goes a stereotype based on evidence that makes it difficult to argue otherwise).
We may be all of these things (or none of them). Too often, by family and friends, we’re just considered “the computer guy” (or gal). We are constantly asked the question: “My computer is acting funny, can you help me?” Yep, the e
ndless question. Ours is a strange discipline—one that is difficult to explain to those who have never seen a line of C++ code.
I’ll never assert to be the best at anything other than Metroid on NES. I’ve not the best software engineer. I’m not the best architect or UI designer. I’m far from the best DBA (very far). My specialty is this (and I hope many of you can say the same): A diverse and ever-growing range of interests, from the technical side to the social side.
Sure, we all have our quirks. A while ago I read a book with the title Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them. A much simpler title could have been used: Everybody is Weird. What’s our weirdness? We don’t think of it much, I suppose, but it is this: Whereas most people are content to use a computer for email, Facebook, and writing, we want to know how it works—and what else we can make it do. We take delight in the bits that others might consider tedious or strange.
When I was offered an opportunity to write a column for SDJ I leapt at it. My interests, just like others in this field of ‘work,’ extend well beyond software development. I like people. I like interaction. I love going on a job interview (as you’ll learn in my first article of this column). I try to play the guitar. I love running long distances (another thing people consider odd). I’ve watched the movie Office Space countless times, and each time I laugh with more vigor.
One of my greatest loves, aside from the world of software, is writing. Oh how I wish I could be the next Stephen King, sitting in my office dreaming up antagonists and protagonists and all of the struggles between!
Most of all, I love my family. I love spending time with my wife and children. Where do I find the time for all of these interests? I’ll write about that at some point in the future. For now let me assure you, if you’re wondering: There is time! Plenty of time!