Early Days of Coding Greats

Stories about the intelligence and foresight of tech royalty are easy to find. Microsoft is worth how much?! Google just launched what?! We all had to start somewhere, so let’s take a look at some early projects of the tech greats.

A baby on a computer
A baby on a computer
How we all felt writing our first code

Mark Zuckerberg

Known for: Co-founding Facebook

Mark wasn’t a computer-obsessed kid. “Learning how to program didn’t start off with wanting to learn all of computer science or trying to master this discipline or anything like that. It started off because I wanted to do this one simple thing — I wanted to make something that was fun for myself and my sisters,” he said. That game would be similar to Risk and centered around the Roman Empire. “You played against Julius Caesar. He was good, and I was never able to win.”

Before AOL Instant Messenger came out, Mark also made “ZuckNet,” a program that allowed instant messaging between all the computers in his house and the computers at his dad’s dentist practice.

Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds
Linus Torvalds

Linus Torvalds

Known for: Creating and maintaining Linux

Linus wrote his first lines of code in BASIC on a Commadore VIC-20. He remembers that it was a repeating loop to print a message, but he doesn’t remember what the message was! His sister Sara claims it was “SARA IS THE BEST” printed infinitely, but Linus finds that unlikely.

Grace Hopper

Known for: Building the first compiler

Grace didn’t have computers lying around while she was growing up, so she learned the necessary skills a different way. When she was young, she took apart seven alarm clocks hoping to learn how they worked before her mom found out and limited her access to clocks. Later, she learned a lot about programming by writing a 500-page book, “A Manual of Operation for the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator,” a computer created by Howard Aiken.

One time, she was having technical trouble because a moth flew into her machine, giving birth to the term “computer bug.”

Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper
Grace Hopper

Steve Wozniak

Known for: Co-founding Apple

At the age of 11, Steve built a tic-tac-toe computer. He also won his middle school science fair by building a binary adding and subtracting computer.

Bill Gates

Known for: Co-founding Microsoft

Similar to Wozniak, Bill made a tic-tac-toe game at 13 years old, and the opponent was the computer.

Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton
Margaret Hamilton

Known for: Coding for the Apollo missions and the moon landing

Margaret noted that computer science and software engineering were not educational tracks in her youth, and people in the field often had to learn on the job. Information about her early work is not as humbling as the other people’s on this list — She worked on weather-predicting software, and later on a project that identified enemy aircraft, known as Semi-Automatic Ground Environment or SAGE.

Margaret is also known for coining the term “software engineering.”

Elon Musk

Known for: Co-founding PayPal, Tesla, and Space X

At the age of 10, Elon Musk started learning to code on a Commodore VIC-20. Two years later, he sold the video game Blastar, which he had written in BASIC, for about $500. You can still play Blastar here!

The intent of this blog is encouragement. Yes, the famous coders discussed here are smart people, but they are not super human. Most or all of them started with similar projects to yours and mine. While writing this blog, I saw a few over-arching themes.

1. They all had help and support

Mark Zuckerberg had a coding tutor in middle school. Elon Musk’s father was an electromechanical engineer. Many of these coders came from financially comfortable families and expensive educations. The point is that they didn’t do it alone. I hate the phrase “self-made” because everyone has received help at some point.

People learning to code together
People learning to code together
Coding can be a social activity!

We are no different. Be self-motivated, like these coders. Look for online resources to learn from on your own. But also ask for help and learn from people! They did it, so we should, too!

2. They experienced failure and persevered

Apple wasn’t an immediate success — the Apple 1 sold only about 200 units. Grace Hopper applied for early admission to Vassar College at 16 years old, but she was rejected because her Latin scores were low.

Wozniak, Jobs, and Hopper didn’t let those experiences stop them. Surely the others on the list had times where they fell short of their dreams or expectations. Our own barriers might be coding related, like Apple’s low sales, or seemingly unrelated, like Grace Hopper’s Latin scores. Regardless, keep on coding and realize your dreams!

Luctor et emergo — I struggle and emerge
Luctor et emergo — I struggle and emerge
Just in case your Latin is sub-par

3. They weren’t all coding savants

Steve Jobs of Apple never coded, and the book “I’m Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59” suggests that the co-founders Larry Page and Sergy Brin weren’t great at coding, and that their employees Urs Hözle and Jeff Dean actually wrote the code that made Google successful. As stated above, Zuckerberg got into coding with the intent of only making one game, and he studied psychology (alongside computer science) at Harvard.

We, too, can have different interests, abilities, and start times. We all have to start somewhere. Now keep learning and get your name on this list!

Full Stack Web Developer, former English as a foreign language teacher and volleyball coach. All views and opinions are my own.

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