When I was growing up, my relatives always seemed to ask me the same questions. “How is school going?”, “Do you have any girlfriends?” and, of course, the time-honored classic: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
While the second question usually flustered me, it was the third question that seemed to evoke the most interest from my relatives. They would say ominous things like, “If you want to be happy in life and make a lot of money, you had better figure out what you want to do.” I usually said something like be a doctor or lawyer, and they seemed mollified and the conversation changed to adult topics.
I remember entering a balloon launch contest at our library where you let go of a helium balloon with some identifying information attached. The person whose balloon went the furthest and was recovered by a person got a prize. I’m not sure how many penguins or baby seals were killed with this environmental disaster of a contest. But because I’m telling the story, it shouldn’t be a surprise that my balloon averted disaster and floated the furthest.
The first place prize was a new computer. To this day I still have no idea what brand it was. I was really excited because I might get to play games on it. At the time I was pretty much obsessed with video games. However, we couldn’t get the darn thing working and ended up selling it at a garage sale.
Then one day my parents got an Apple ][ computer from my uncle who used it for word processing. I played with some of the programs that came with the computer and then realized that I could actually create games on my own. My head spun with possibilities. Could I make the next Super Mario Brothers? The next Zelda?
I had some magazines in my possession that happened to have some programs that you could input to the computer. I can still remember the overall look of the program on the pages. I painstakingly keyed in the runes. They were words, but I didn’t understand what the program actually did. I think someone had spilled soda on the keyboard, so the task of typing in this three-hundred line gargantuan was made even more difficult. I finished it up, and ran it. The game was kind of lame, just a small text game with about two paths. I thought to myself, “I can do better than this.”
So I got some books from the library and started experimenting. I made some small games and demos in text and using the graphics mode, all of which were pretty small and simple. But it was fun–enough that I knew that this was what I wanted to do for a living. From then on, my answer to the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was going to be a computer programmer.
In all, it is pretty lucky that I found something that interested me greatly when I was ten years old and I explored it and am still interested in it. Many people in college don’t even know where they will focus their life’s work.