When I was young my Mum and Dad bought my brother, sister and me a computer, a Commodore 64. I remember that I had to write a short essay about why I wanted a computer before Mum and Dad would consider buying one. I really wish I still had that essay, I’d love to read now what I wrote back in 1983.
I loved it. With its friendly blue screen and flashing cursor.
And its ability to load The Hobbit text adventure in under half-an-hour. But what I loved most was that I could program it.
I would spend hours typing in programs from magazines like Commodore User, Your Commodore and Your 64, and then working out how to customise them. And if I felt brave I’d write my own programs from scratch, in nothing but Commodore BASIC but it was a start.
These days you buy a computer and it boots into Windows, or Linux, or MacOS, or Google Chrome, or Android, or a host of other operating systems with friendly, colourful graphical user interfaces and there is nowhere obvious to begin trying your hand at programming.
If you do want to get into Windows programming, for example, many of the programming languages and environments look quite intimidating to a beginner (and often have a price-tag to match). And that’s before you even attempt to decipher what .NET is, or WPF (that’s Windows Presentation Foundation), or DirectX, or… you get the idea.
I once dabbled with an early version of Delphi (having done a year of Pascal at high school), and Dolphin Smalltalk. I even looked into C and Borland C++ Builder. I didn’t create anything particularly mind-blowing. But you know, they were my programs. I had created them and I knew how they worked, and the process was just really good fun.
That’s one reason I loved my Psion PDAs: they had an OPL programming editor built in. You could start writing programs straight away, using Psion’s own BASIC-like procedural language. I have a half-written Mahjong scoring program somewhere on file that I would like, one day, to finish. Maybe next year!
I definitely think that young people, especially, should be taught programming (again) in school. Something that an article in The Guardian last month agrees with: Programming should take pride of place in our schools.
I’ve completed the first lesson already. It was called FizzBuzz and it gets you recreating that favourite game of primary school, where you start counting from 1 to 20, but instead of saying numbers divisible by 3, you say “Fizz”. And instead of saying numbers divisible by 5, you say “Buzz”. For numbers divisible by both 3 and 5, you say “FizzBuzz”.