I’m Dave Barrett. I live near Toronto, Canada and I’ve been programming since I was 14 in the 1970’s.

I started programming when I joined the Computer Club in high school. Yeah, way back then computers were strange enough that there was a club for messing with them. This is before Personal Computers hit the scene, so one of the math teachers would take us in his VW Rabbit to another high school that had an IBM 1130 system. It had a card reader, a CPU with a removable disk drive cartridge, and a line printer. There was a terminal that printed out onto paper, and there was no CRT.

We used to punch our Fortran IV code onto cards and feed them into the card reader and watch the paper come out of the printer. Usually there were lots of errors listed. They were cryptic. Stuff like “C73 ERROR AT 020+0023”, which would mean that whatever “C73” was, it happen 23 lines after label “020” in your code. So you had to count down from that label and figure out what you did wrong, then re-punch the whole card to fix it.

We used to walk around with boxes of punch cards, all neatly divided up into different programs. It was a nightmare if you dropped them.

I was still too young to actually take Computer Science as a class, I think that started at grade 11. That same teacher taught the CS class, and he had a really cool approach to grading. Basically, if you did the bare minimum of assignments and passed all the tests you got 50% on the course. If you did more and more programming, you’d get a better grade. There were lots of open challenges and pet projects going on all the time, and it was a lot of fun.

Our high school didn’t have a computer, so you’d hand in your cards and they’d been bundled up and taken by a taxi each night to the Board of Education office, where they had a remote setup that connected to some computer somewhere. They’d run the cards through, then send them back to our school the next morning. You got one run of your program each night, which was brutal. The good thing was that they used a version of Fortran called WATFIV, which actually spat out real error message with actual line of code that had the error. WATFIV had “logical if” too, which was way better than the silly arithmetic if in standard Fortran IV.

Nirvana was getting a “Job Card”, for the High Speed Job Stream at the University of Toronto. They would give out a bunch of them to high schools, and each card was good for about 10 runs. You could go down to the campus, hang out with university computer nerds and get two weeks worth of runs in a single session. Yahoo!

By the time I left (my family moved out of the area), TRS-80’s were in the classroom, and the days of punch cards and Fortran were just about done. My next high school had an old Digital PDP-8, and we had to manually fill in bubbles on cards. It made that IBM 1130 seem positively space age. The PDP-8 even had a paper tape reader!

Still though, I was hooked.