How Did Famous Coders Get Their Programming Skills

Many of successful IT businesses and initiatives were started by single hobbyists, who since their youngest days were obsessed with bending electronics and machines to their will. Single people who through trial and error pioneered disciplines that are now accessible to anyone. Without guides or simplified coding languages they conquered the digital world with the mixture of mathematics, strong will and computers that make today’s calculators look like colossal powerhouses.


How did they make it? What were their stories? Today we will have a look at four amazing coding career stories and see it all first hand. Enjoy!

Steve Wozniak

Creator of one of the first personal computers in the world, co-founder of Apple and most importantly: one of the most influential programmers to ever grace our planet. Steve Wozniak was the technical brain behind Apple’s early successes. Some people mistakenly believe that Steve Jobs also did some coding on these, but the truth is that it was all Wozniak’s hard work.


Woz’s adventure with electronics began in his earliest childhood. His father was an electrical engineer and ended up having a hug influence on igniting Steve’s future passion. School technology events and fairs served as solidification of it. Wozniak kept on constructing various devices and gaining early computing knowledge despite still being a kid. In high school he was already programming computers and designing them. As there weren’t too many programming resources back then, he had to use his knowledge gained from building radios, calculators and other electronics. He soon become so good, that teachers started sending him to professional companies where he could develop his programming skills further.


Steve’s early coding adventures included languages such as Fortran, BASIC, PL/I and ALGOL among others.

Bill Gates

For many it’s easily the most recognizable name in the world of computers and technology. And who knows, maybe in the world in general as well. Famous for building foundations for the modern IT industry, co-founding Microsoft and co-creating MS Windows, Gates shaped the way we use electronics every day. Just like many other early industry figures his career started from programming passion developed through hours of experimentation and hard work.


How did he start? First of all: young Bill was really good at math. Being more than comfortable with numbers is easily the first requirement for anyone dreaming about career in advanced technology. Gates was lucky to have attended a school that provided its students with access to computers and wrote his first programs in BASIC, which he learned by himself.


According to biographers and interviewers, he has done most of his work during school’s lunch breaks. While other kids were eating their sandwiches, Bill wrote his first video game – a simple tic-tac-toe played against the AI, at the age of 15 and followed it by even more complicated efforts. These came to a temporary halt, when slightly too creative young coder got caught for hacking school systems, in an effort to allow himself more time with the computers. Later though he ended up debugging student management systems and gaining tons of valuable experience from situations like that one. As a result he, along with his friend and Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen, has created a famous BASIC language interpreter for the first personal computers called Altair.


After Microsoft became a big business, he stopped coding on a big scale but admits, that he still does it from time to time and stays a coder at heart.

John Carmack

Let’s fast forward a bit, and focus on someone from a quite different industry than the previous two gentlemen. Namely: the video games one. John Carmack is known for being one of the founders of electronic entertainment back in the day, and without doubt took a part in establishing genres popular to this day. Big names like: Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake were all created by him and without them, today’s video game market would have evolved into completely different and without doubt less exciting direction.


Carmack was obsessed with computers since childhood. He enjoyed all elements of the so called “geek culture”. This fascination has costed him a year in a juvenile home, after he broke into his school while trying to steal its Apple II computers. John dropped out of college and quickly focused on learning programming by himself and polishing his own skills.


Finally able to focus on his biggest love – the video games – Carmack established legendary id Software company. Popularization of 3D graphics and using them in games is often attributed to him. One of his most famous habits was sharing the source code with anyone interested. This allowed for additional improvements of id’s games and helped in keeping really positive relations with the fans. Some unofficial hacks made by regular players have even been used in official versions of the games released later.


Carmack’s programming skills are a proof that less business more human-like approach to coding can generate amazing results. They also prove that you can code anything without having 5 degrees in computing related subjects.


Markus “Notch” Persson

Most recent example of a programmer experiencing a huge success. Notch is known to most people (especially the youngest ones) as the creator of Minecraft, which from a silly indie game turned into a worldwide phenomenon about to get building block producers out of business. This Swedish programmer was born in Stockholm in 1979, and it took him only 7 years to get into coding.


How did his programming attempts start? Some say that his beloved Lego bricks taught him some basic concepts of constructing stuff, but the real adventure began with getting a Commodore 128 computer as a present from his parents. It didn’t take long until Persson wrote his first computer program. Just like all other mentioned figures he was mostly self-taught and loved experimenting.  Notch started working in video games industry in a quite early age, where he got some additional experience.


According to many sources Persson has created Minecraft in less than a week. The early version has already allowed for some fun sandbox style gaming and soon began transforming into an  RPG with building elements. Even the early versions lacking tons of features already managed to get a cult following, which soon turned into a worldwide obsession.


Notch keeps coding to this day and Minecraft often works as a starting point for many young programmers. He keeps taking part in various events where he codes games in a matter of hours, while the audience can observe his work. He’s fluent in Java, Basic, Pascal, C, C++ and Actionsript.


Some final words


As you can see, most of the biggest coders achieved success through experimenting, learning by themselves and being really persistent. What’s most important though is that they all share one thing: a huge love for technology. Nowadays, when learning to code is so much simpler than during their young days, this amount of love can be enough to code your first program. The learning tools are just within your hand’s reach!

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