Happy birthday, BASIC!

Today is apparently the 60th birthday of the BASIC programming language. It’s been nearly a quarter of a century since I last wrote anything in basic, but it’s not unreasonable to say it’s part of why I am where I am today.

When I was in elementary school, my uncle gave us a laptop that he had used. I’d used computers in school — primarily the Apple II — but this was the first time we’d had a computer in the house. Weighing in at 12 pounds, the Epson Equity LT was better suited for the coffee table than the lap, but it was a computer, damn it! In a time when we didn’t have much money, we could still afford the occasional $5 game on a 3.5″ floppy from Target. (I still play Sub Battle Simulator sometimes!)

But what really set me down my winding path to the present was when my uncle taught me how to write programs in GW-BASIC. We started out with a few simple programs. One took your age and converted it to the year of the planets in the solar system. Another did the same but with your weight. I learned a little bit about loops and conditionals, too.

Eventually, I started playing around in QBasic, learning to edit existing programs and write new ones. I remember writing a hearing test program that increased generated sounds of increasing pitch through the PC speaker. After using Azile at my friend’s house, I wrote my own chat program. I learned how to make it play musical notes from some manuals my uncle had left us.

I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I learned through trial and error. That skill has carried me through my entire career. At 41, I have a mostly-successful career that’s paid me well primarily due to networking, privilege, and luck. But I also owe something to the skills I learned writing really shitty BASIC code as a tween and teen.

3 thoughts on “Happy birthday, BASIC!

  1. Same. I cut my teeth on BASIC in the early 80s and loved it. Then I found out they paid grownups to do that for a living. SIGN ME UP! Set the course of my life.

  2. I never thought I’d end up with a career in tech. At one point when the differential equations were getting to me, I thought I’d never be able to graduate in meteorology but I didn’t know what else I could change to. I didn’t know enough about computers to be a CS major. But look at me now!

  3. BASIC? I started computer life programming in FORTRAN. When the only computers were main frames occupying a climate-controlled clean room. They were only touched by paid operators. The closest a user got to the computer was the card punch machine.

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