So, it comes around once in a while, usually once a year or so, but this time I think it’s more special. Well, more special for me as recently we’ve seen my introduction to computing, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum celebrate it’s 30th anniversary.
Why is this important? Well, I guess getting that computer on my 5th Christmas was what introduced me to this industry, and what has ultimately become my career of choice. Interestingly though, the gift of this flagship of the home computer golden era was probably much more significant than a gift today of an XBOX, PS3 or even an Mac or PC. This post from Scott Hanselman tickles on the same subject, from a marginally different perspective.
In 1982, the ZX Spectrum was the Christmas gift of choice for many, and as a 5 year old having my own computer was something that I thought even at that innocent age was just a dream. After all, these were the preserve of businesses and the movies, they weren’t something any ordinary person had. Well, by luck through my generous parents, and my Dad having a contact that worked at Timex in Dundee, who were contracted to manufacture the ZX Spectrum, who got him jumping the wait list!
So, what was special? Well, this Register article touches on it. When you opened the box, laying there, was a couple of manuals, the most hefty of those being entitled “BASIC Programming”. This was a first class immersion into the concept of computer programming. It was total immersion, so real was the immersion that in order to load a program or game on the spectrum you were forced to type in a LOAD “” <Enter> command!
In fact the immersion went even further than that. Rather than allow free form programming input on the original generation of ZX Spectrums, you were forced to use key combinations to create the programming keywords. Heck, they were even printed on the keys. An inquisitive child not only has programming keywords right there in their face on the keyboard but also the reference manual right there in their hand which tells them exactly what they mean.
Am sure to many, these opportunities right there were lost on plenty of spectrum users, but for a critical mass, these brought inquisitive minds into computer programming and I’d hazard a guess that this incubated an entire generation of software developer. Will we see an additional generation now that computers we use are designed to steer users away from the internals of how they work? It remains to be seen, but I for one think I am better placed in this industry because it was a passion from a young age, rather than it being something that I chose later to be my vocation.
Incidentally, its great to see the Raspberry PI pushing for a resurgence in this! I’ll be watching with interest the enthusiasm it’s adopted with. Maybe we’ll see a second coming of the child hobbyist programmer!