My First Computer

A personal story about how I taught myself programming.

My First Computer

The year is 2000. I was 11 years old.

The first time I used a computer was when one of my out-of-town cousins moved in with us. He was originally from Khulna, but was studying in Dhaka, and would stay a couple of months with us while he figured out his living situation. He set up his Intel Pentium 2 at our living room, and I figured out how to play Commandos and Age of Empires on it.

Getting dial-up internet was a game changer. I got my first hotmail account with 2MB storage space (none of my friends had email address, so that was useless), but I loved going to the message boards and figuring out what the web had to offer.

The limitation of using dial-up internet, somehow made it even more elusive. (A) 30 minutes to use Dial-Up internet would cost 60 taka (roughly $1 at that time), and even a $1 was a lot of money for an 11  year old with no job and no allowance (B) my parents would get mad if I was hogging up the telephone line and raking up telephone bills simultaneously. (C) in an era with no mobile phones - no one was able to reach us when I was on the internet.

This left me with limited options.

I could not afford internet. Perhaps I could steal it.

Intrigued by the movie Hackers, I then started frequenting message boards where I could learn hacking. I was inspired further by Kevin Mitnick's Art of Deception (found a pirated copy online) and the Phone Phreak culture. The conclusion was clear - If I had to use more internet, I had to find a way to hack my ISP. But to learn how to hack, first I needed to learn programming.

It was impossible to learn using the internet at that time, given that I was using dial-up. So I saved up, ~600 taka ($10) to buy a Beginners Guide to Visual Basic 6 (written in Bangla).

One day when my parents were not home, I clutched the money I saved up and walked from my home in Kamalapur to the bookshops near Baitul Mukarram. It was an hour walk to and from, but took me two hours instead as I got lost multiple times and could depend only on the direction of strangers to find those bookshops. Would have been easier if I hired a rickshaw, but could not afford the 20 taka it would take.

At the end of the day, however, I got my book. Now I can learn programming. Already I started imagining myself as Zero Cool.

Around that time, at school, we were learning quadratic equations. Instead of doing the homework, I decided to make a computer programme that would solve quadratic equations for me. Took me a while to make my first math solving program, but was a breeze to do maths homework after that.

I never ended up learning how to hack, however. Turns out that VB6 wasn't a great way to learn the kind of programming I would need to learn how to hack (wish I picked up Python). I was also too scared to actually do something illegal/unethical. But the skillset I picked up was useful - I made and released a couple of programs on Planet Source Code (now defunct) - an MP3 ID3 Tag Editor, a Library Management System, a car racing game, and more. I got sucked in creating and forgot all about hacking.

Eventually my cousin moved out, and I got to own my first actual computer. An AMD K6-2 500MHz, with a 64MB RAM and 20GB Hard Disk space. Best birthday gift I ever received.

Reflecting back, one of the proudest moments of my life was just that - that I taught myself programming. It was not clear at that time, but I was growing up in middle-class household with financial difficulties in Bangladesh. Both of my parents where very traditionally minded. I did not have a mentor. No one I knew - not my family, or teachers, or my friends, knew about the subject. The only inspirations I had were pirated movies and ultra-expensive dial-up internet.

Yet, I learnt, as little as I could, by myself.

Because learning is fun.

(picture from reddit. Unfortunately, no actual picture of my first computer exists)