Geek Origins – the search for young coders (media whore)

I was a long way down the geek path by the time this magazine came out in 1988

I’m often asked how or why I “got into computers” and I usually answer, only half-jokingly, “I went to an all boys school and they were easier to talk to than girls.”

Back in that distant past, you didn’t just own a computer, you had to be “into it.” My first three computers (ZX81, BBC Model B, BBC Master 128) were pretty much useless if you didn’t know at least some code. If you weren’t willing to spend hours fighting a tape deck or poring over code listings in magazines then the computer was just an expensive ornament.

Even my first PC (and much to the horror of my Amiga and Archimedes owning peers, I was the first PC user at my school) needed a lot of coaxing to get it to do anything at all. If you were scared off by a black screen with a little A:\> prompt then you didn’t use a computer. Yes, it was an A in those days, we didn’t have hard drives.

We were mostly self-taught and a mixture of curiosity and the satisfaction of making these boxes beep and flash at our command, spawned a generation of geeks and coders. We may not have all learned machine code or assembly language, but we could knock out a great bit of BASIC, PASCAL or even C.

So almost 24 years to the day, I was a very proud 16 year-old to have a prize-winning letter printed in PC Plus magazine, especially as it sounded like I had out-geeked all the staff there when writing it.

Do not be alarmed if this makes no sense to you at all but this was the first time my geekiness and desire to be the centre of attention overlapped.

And so it continued. In 1993, when the first web browser appeared, getting online was not just a case of plugging it in and going (actually, you don’t even need to plug anything in nowadays!) – it was a long process of setting up stacks and socks, whining modems and a fair amount of determination.

If you didn’t know how to set it up, you didn’t use it. If you were online you supported yourself, you knew how to fix everything that came your way.

Which is why I worry a little now. Pretty much every house has a PC in it and every child is using Word or Powerpoint to complete their homework.

But if the PC doesn’t work, most of them don’t have a clue of what to do.

In the paper, again!

Obviously, in my PC repair trade that’s not an entirely bad thing! But it is a concern when so few youngsters want to code and we see most of the skills we need in the future being provided by countries other than our own. It’s why we need organisations like Young Rewired State to encourage children who are interested in developing these skills.

The fact that 500 people around the country have signed up for this year’s Festival of Code workshops is great. It’s very sad that none of them are from the Canterbury area. So when Liz from the Whitstable Times telephoned to ask if I had any views on the issue, I was happy to climb onto my soapbox. How she got my rant into such a small box on page 6 of this week’s paper I do not know!

But it’s quite spooky that this latest appearance in print, calling out for support for young geeks, is almost 24 years to the day that this young geek first had his work printed.

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Jonathan Gwyer

Jonathan Gwyer first delved into geekery with a ZX81 in 1981 and has been working in IT since 1990.

A Microsoft Certified Professional with many years of large corporate experience and training, he now focuses on helping small businesses make the most of their IT.
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Geek Origins – the search for young coders (media whore)

by Jonathan Gwyer time to read: 3 min
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