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How I got into programming

In middle school I discovered Fermat’s Last Theorem. I spent a lot of time trying to prove (and disprove) it myself. It looked deceptively too simple to not be easily solvable.

After many failed attempts, I needed help and based on how I was approaching the problem, I really believed a computer could help. So I learned Pascal. It was the language my mom knew and she had tons of instructional books on it already [1].

I spent hours writing programs. I really gave it my all but the results were pretty limiting. Probably my best attempt was just creating an infinite loop to search for counterexamples. It searched for days but stopped because someone accidentally unplugged the computer [2].

Eventually I gave up and picked up a new hobby of writing incredibly bad screenplays. Of course in hindsight, I didn’t know enough to get very far in solving Fermat’s Last Theorem. I still don’t today. But I tell this story because I’m not sure whether I would’ve really picked up programming if I hadn’t gotten so obsessed with this silly pursuit.

Sometimes knowing too much stops curiosity. You don’t know what you don’t know - is a good thing. And it’s a great weapon for creativity. For example, had the internet been more ubiquitous, I may have first researched all the past attempts and gotten very discouraged. Or discovered that a guy named Andrew Wiles had already solved it!

But ultimately this quest led me to learn programming and gave me one giant data point of how exciting it could be.

Why you learn something matters a lot.

[1] My mom was a programmer at IBM. This may be the most significant lucky thing for me. I had a personal StackOverflow before it existed.

[2] I also was printing out results on an Epson Dot Matrix printer. If you know the noise it makes, you would probably accidentally” unplug the computer too.

Posted on 2020-03-03