How I learned computing Part I

These days it’s not too hot and humid and I’ve even felt like working several days in a week. It’s been a pretty amazing summer.

Today I wanted to tell you about how I got into computing. I’m a technical founder, even though my work is so enmeshed in design as well that the days and nights I spend awake figuring out the mobile-friendly code for minku.com don’t seem like they count. They do, as there would be a difference if I had to outsource the programming work. As someone who doesn’t even sketch designs before she starts sewing, imagine having to tell someone how to design something exactly as it’s in my head. Ok, partly kidding – when I worked in consulting, this was precisely my job, via something called wireframes, which I could generate at high speeds and with great efficacy. However, the architecturing of information and site interactions took a front seat to design in that scenario, whereas on minku.com, with its fewer pages and lesser focus on arranging tons of vital information for a varied set of users, I can really let the design aspect shine. For this type of task, I enjoy getting down and dirty with no maintenance mode and no prior sketches/wireframes. Craziness, you may call it. I call it living on the edge :)

When I was 7, my mum enrolled my sister and me in a computer programming course (sister was 9 or had just turned 10). I was below the minimum age for the class, but I was also at that tag-along stage where I just go with my sister where she goes so mum has some hours to not be driving us somewhere, and can focus on her work, or having a summer (this was Lagos, where December is almost as hot as June, but work with me). Well, so we learned a language called BASIC, Beginner’s All-Purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. I loved counting in tens, which I had to do for each line of code, and I loved for statements and GO TO commands, and drawing flow diagrams, gosh did I love drawing flow diagrams! We had a class test and I remember scoring 7 or 7-and-a-half out of 10 and the teacher praising me to high heavens because everyone had assumed I had just come there to play Pacman and Prince of Persia and Space Invaders while I waited for my sister to learn stuff. Yet there I was, learning.

So that was my first experience with programming, well, besides playing around with some punch cards my dad had lying around the house for whatever reason. Fast forward to when I was 14 or 15, and my dad, who along with my mum likes to buy us all the best things, got us an iMac G3 for the house. The mini living room at the top of the stairs suddenly became the place to be in our house — whether to watch my sisters be Ryu and E. Honda at a very early version of Street Fighter, or to try my hands at yet another web site design using FrontPage. Our internet connection was still choppy at best, you’d literally read two pages of a novel while waiting for one light page to load. But it was the late 1990s and there was this beautiful new world of motion and interactivity, and beyond Solitaire and Microsoft Word’s Marching Ants text effect, we were a real part of it.

2001, I was spending a year at home to retake the SATs so I could get a good scholarship. Our good family friend asked what I would like him to bring me from the States. At that specific time in history, Manolo Blahnik X Timberland heeled boots were new and in, and every Nigerian high-school girl wanted a pair. As did I. Yet I said I wanted a programming book. Let’s pause here to absorb the painful asceticism inherent in this decision. I had it in mind to study computer science at university, and I had been learning JavaScript at Aptech, a local computing school, but still. Disciplina pura y sencilla.

First year of University, I moved countries, I was on scholarship for tuition, room, and board with an allowance for books added in. America is filled with selflessly kind and generous people, whose giving goal is the pure improvement of humanity; and for me, this was the beginning of that lesson in giving. I was also learning assembly language, which was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. When I was 7, I had read in my sister’s France Afrique textbook, a short story of a girl who goes to Paris, and I had decided to myself then that I wanted to learn French, possibly with dreams of going to Paris. Learning a core computing language was like preparing to go to the Paris of computers; I just didn’t know then how long and fulfilling a journey I was embarking on.

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3 thoughts on “How I learned computing Part I

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