Getting Into Programming

The strange but true tale of how I got into programming.

I'd been asked to talk about women getting into programming this week, but my situation is really unusual and the timing turned out to be horrible. You see, the person who got me into programming, my father, recently died.

Let's rewind to my junior year in high school, when, in order to get a leg up on college, I started taking classes at the local community college while still attending high school. I was also in band, marching band, orchestra, and choir (at the same time), so arguably I had no time for such things.

My dad had become a particle physicist in order to avoid the draft during the Korean War. After grad school, he worked primarily in aerospace and had a project land on Mars on the first Viking Lander. By this time, his work had shifted from particle physics to mass spectrometers.

A lot of his work required programming, and he basically disliked it. He didn't mind doing the design, but he really disliked all the arguing with compilers. Me? I was a shy kid who desperately feared being wrong in front of other people. But a machine telling me I'd made an error didn't bother me at all. So I took a programming class. To my surprise, I enjoyed it.But

For years, I worked for my dad or on teams where he worked (sometimes as a contractor, sometimes as an employee), working on everything from power plant control systems to science experiments to the Hubbard Space Telescope. I did everything from write device drivers to applications, mostly on very small one-off systems.