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Why I didn’t become a hacker

February 7th, 2004 · 2 Comments

A few weeks ago, looking at this piece of code linked from a comment on a post in Fred’s blog got me thinking…(excerpt below)

function ChristIsImmanentInAllThings(youBet, justInCase){
thatsFunny = (‘coconutsKillMorePeopleThanSharks’ + (youBet));
noMoreThankYou = (‘thankYourMother’ + (youBet));
if( document.getElementById ) {
if( document.getElementById(thatsFunny).style.display ) {
if( justInCase != 0 ) {
document.getElementById(thatsFunny).style.display = “block”;
document.getElementById(noMoreThankYou).style.display = “none”;…

I came to college curious about computer science. I wanted to take a course or two. The department had three options: a class for those who knew they wanted to major in it, taught by an intimidating professor who’d be sure to make it an intense experience; another course for those who were intimidated by computers, who could barely make it into the building; and a middle option for those who weren’t planning to concentrate in CS but still wanted to learn some programming. It seemed clear to me where I belonged so I signed up for it spring semester of my first year.

Back then Ted was no where on my radar. He was a friend of a friend, someone I knew through others. A grad student who’d sometime stop by the Sun Lab to see whether anyone he knew was there getting a green tan.

I didn’t like Ted. At least not romantically. I hardly knew him. I didn’t like CS though either. The class I was taking seemed a bit Mickey Mouse to me. The instructor was a bit goofy. His style made it difficult to take him seriously. For example, once he described what he did at his wedding reception: he and his wife writing on overhead projectors simultaneously in the Sun Lab or something like that. The assignments seemed a bit silly too. I think the TAs and teachers knew that no one in the course really had a heart for hacking.

During middle school years, I did some fun “goto 10” loops and taught a turtle how to draw designs. But somehow in high school it seemed that computers got too complicated for me to understand or enjoy, foreign terrain, the realm of guys who were quite attached to Macs. And I wasn’t that interested in computers – I was more interested in other things, like biology, and boys…

In retrospect perhaps I should have taken the hardcore class. I would have failed it but at least I would have felt excited. I think I felt a bit bored in the middle one.

So one day I was writing my program there in the Sun Room. I don’t even remember which one it was, whether it was the tennis game or the airline reservation one or what. But I was feeling a bit ill. Under the weather. An unhappy hacker. And I thought I’d make my variable names reflect my feelings. So I named them “cold” “flu” “sick”.

Ted happened to stop by that day and see what I was writing. He laughed at my creative coding, explaining to me that I had to use standard variable names. Ones that fit with the purpose of the program.

What fun was that?! I blew him off(a pattern in the early phase of our relationship), handed my program in anyways and got marked down for my variable names. Then and there I had a revelation. Then and there I realized I had gotten a bit confused: I should have registered for courses in the creative writing department instead. What was I doing studying computer science? I never took another CS class again. I don’t think I’ve written any more programs. But I did have a lot of fun writing short stories and poems.

And I did end up spending a lot of time in the computer science building after all…it became quite a familiar place. Maybe we should have had our wedding reception there too…

Recently I’ve had a change of heart. Instead of reading literary, I’ve been reading O’Reilly: HTML & XHTML guide. Ted handed it to me months ago when he gave me this blog. So I figured I should get around to cracking it open. I’m enjoying it. Working on this blog here and there has inspired me to think about trying to program again. I even asked Ted for suggestions. And he’s found me something. After I finish with this HTML, I might start working on Python. I might.

I do have some hope…

after all, while it’s too late for me to become a doctor, it’s not too late for me to become a hacker 🙂

Tags: geek

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 enoch // Feb 7, 2004 at 11:36 pm

    you are a hacker already: a word hacker! your blog fights complacency, depression and isolationism. Great to hack against 😉

  • 2 Gordon Weakliem // Feb 9, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    Another example that you don’t learn anything useful in college CS courses. I once worked on a project that started out as the “Platform Independent Gateway”, before someone in marketing realized what the TLA would be for that. Nonetheless, the name stuck in my code, there were swine references all over the place. My manager told me a few years later that the dev who took over that code got a lot of laughs from my naming conventions.
    I also did a little maintenance on code that had been ported from Data General assembler to MS-DOS assembler. The dev who did the port didn’t want to rewrite the code, so he just wrote a ton of macros to convert DG instruction mnemonics into MASM mnemonics. Assembly language isn’t the easiest thing to read, but it’s even worse when you have to run through a mental macro preprocessor first.