Monday, April 7, 2014

Born to Code

In the fall of 1980 I was an undergrad at Kansas State University. I was majoring in electrical engineering because I was bright and all my teachers in high school said I should be an engineer. As a kid in junior high, I was fascinated by lasers. I even built a very low functioning model laser in 7th grade for a science project, so I figured being an engineer was a step toward my dream job to work for Bell Labs doing laser physics research.

One of the required classes for my engineering degree was a programming class in Fortran. I was in a heavily accelerated program for honor students, and had to get special permission from the dean to take 23 credit hours in order to fit all my classes in. Needless to say, I was a very busy student. It was a wonderful time of learning and discovery, and it hardly seems like 35 years ago now.

I was doing great in all my classes except Fortran. I was really struggling with programming, and was only barely hanging on to a C in the class coming up on the midterm, despite having As in all my other classes. Structuring my thoughts into algorithms was just escaping me. I could handle the learning part - the science - but the art of it was the problem: the creative aspect of programming that requires inventing solutions to programming problems.

About a week before the midterm, I awoke suddenly in the middle of the night, and everything about programming that I had been struggling to fully comprehend made sense to me. It wasn't a dream that did it, or at least I didn't remember any dream. My subconscious was just working away in the background and finally had a breakthrough. It was a surreal experience, and I've been that way ever since as well. If a programming problem has me stumped, I just have to go to sleep (or to the bathroom, a future story!) to figure it out. I got up and finished my Fortran project due by the midterm, and aced the midterm exam. The feeling was unforgettable - like I had just discovered what I was born to do. I changed my major soon after that to computer science, and never looked back - though I never did make it to Bell Labs.

No comments:

Post a Comment