How Mr. Buford got me started in software development

Jason tagged me awhile back for a “How did I get started in software development?” post and I’m just now getting around to it, but I’m going to change the format a little.

One morning back in 1982/83 when I was in the 6th grade, I was hanging out in the side of the school building trying to look cool (but not) when my science teacher, Mr. Buford, came up and saw me standing there picking my nose and said “Hey kid, you want to learn something?” Mr. Buford was a real big guy and was a bit intimidating. He was one of those teachers we didn’t play around with. I said meekly “ok” and he told me to come with him. He took me into his classroom where he had a TI 99-4A which he used to record our grades. I remember him placing a cartridge in the machine and telling me that it was a program that teaches you the BASIC programming language and that I was to sit there and go through the tutorial. Of course I was extremely excited to be playing with the computer since I had never messed with one before. The tutorial was interactive and you could write code as you followed along with lessons. I can’t remember exactly how long the tutorial was, but it took me several mornings to go through the whole thing. Then after completing it, I started writing my own programs. Each morning, I would wait for Mr. Buford to get to school so I could play with his computer. I was fascinated by being able to make images and sounds with the machine so I wrote a lot of little programs around those topics. I showed the programs I wrote to Mr. Buford and I clearly remember him being amazed that I could make the computer do those things (I don’t think Mr. Buford ever did the tutorial himself). It was a lot of fun.

When school let out for the summer, I was forced to take a break from the computer. In the late summer of 1983, hurricane Alicia came and tore a lot of things up. I worked cutting and splitting wood of fallen trees and saved enough money to buy my own first computer which was a Commodore VIC-20. This was the first of the many I was to own over the years.

So that’s it. If it hadn’t been for Mr. Buford, I wouldn’t have learned BASIC when I did (or maybe never) and I wouldn’t have spent my hard earned money on my first computer. Instead I probably would have bought a bag of Super Bubble and a fishing reel or some firecrackers or something. It’s amazing how a little encouragement from my 6th grade science teacher helped me get into something which I would end up doing professionally. It’s amazing how such a small thing can be so powerful. Keep that in mind when you have the opportunity to mentor someone. The old saying is true; a little bit goes a long way.

Thanks Mr. Buford.

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