How I started programming

The web opened up the world of programming with its visible source code.

My first experience programming was making webpages seventeen years ago at the age of ten. It was amazing: by just typing some words and strange markup into a text editor I could create exactly what anyone else could! A bunch of documents magically turned into websites.

I started viewing them locally, then finally discovered Geocities where I could upload them for free. For free! I could barely understand that I had to append a domain name to my email address, let alone secure a credit card to pay for hosting.

Eventually I moved to Hypermart and used server-side includes. I didn’t have to copy and paste the same code between files, I could just type in a special new tag and files were put together for me. Looking back, that’s probably when I really realized how powerful what I was typing could become. It took me a while to go beyond flat interwoven files.

To use CGI required figuring out real programs. I found and installed NewsPro, so lost to the annals of time that only the Internet Archive remembers it. At this time, blogs were known as e/n sites1, and typing into a form to create webpages was miraculous. NewsPro plugins were my first real introduction into writing my first real language, Perl.

Years later, I shifted to desktop development, which I have been doing since. I liked it a lot more than web development, if only because the toolkits at the time were really sub-par. Web apps are amazing today compared to just ten years ago.

So we return to the present: I’ve spent a few evenings converting this site from using Squarespace to Jekyll. Jekyll converts a well-organized set of files into a rendered website. I’ve uploaded the result to Dreamhost.2 This is my first time using a shared host in years.

My web experience has gone from static files, to a dabble of dynamic content, to full-blown, entirely-dynamic webpages, and all the way back to writing into a text editor generating static files. As said in the Sacred Scrolls, “All this has happened before. All this will happen again.”

  1. I recently revisited the writings of fourteen-year-old me. It’s transfixing to not remember thinking and writing those words. Apparently I had really strong opinions about mundane things.

  2. I used Dreamhost from 2004 through 2006. Shared hosting appears to be a dying industry, but I don’t want to spend countless hours tweaking nginx or Apache. Reactivating an eight-year-dormant account was painless, but it made me realize how dependent I am on multi-factor auth these days.