The Gift of Coding

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. For me, the journey of one thousand and twenty-four bytes began with a single-line display device.

It had only a mere 8K of RAM but at the time that was more than enough computing power. Yes, that’s a K as in kilobytes. Megabytes wasn’t even a thing yet in those days. At least not for the average hard-working consumer.

Radio Shack TRS-80 Pocket Computer

I first learned to program on a Radio Shack TRS-80 Pocket Computer. I must’ve been about 14 years old when my Dad first introduced me to this amazing piece of technology back in 1980-something.

The old-man also gave me a book on the B.A.S.I.C. programming language and told me to go figure it out. Two days later I wrote my very first computer program and ever since I’ve been hooked in this amazing world of computing.

It was a very simple number-guessing game. I remember being mesmerized about having the ability to tell a machine to pick a random number and save it to memory without me even knowing what that number was.

There was certain je ne sais quoi about typing a few lines of neatly structured code and making something magical happen on a tiny display that you were able to control and alter yourself.

The built-in RND() function was probably one of the coolest things I’ve discovered in the 80s.

I can just hear my kids right now saying: “Dad… you’re such a nerd!”

Call me a Nerd if you like, but I was truly fascinated by all the cool things I could do with my Pocket PC back in the days. It was truly magical.

Then in 1983 came my true love… The Atari 800 XL!

Atari 800 XL Home Computer

With an astonishing 64k of memory, a full keyboard, and the ability to plug it straight to my TV, this beauty had it all. It even came with a cartridge port so my younger sister could play all our Atari 2600 game cartridges without the need to swap input cables. I had no desire for Space Invaders anymore once I learned I could create my own little aliens and flying spaceships.

As I got older I think I eventually moved on to an Apple IIe and by time I went to college my Dad helped me get my own Big Boy IBM-Compatible PC. Because who could afford a real IBM PC in those days. Thank You Dad!

The rest was history. My fascination for technology and what its wonderful powers could do for humanity only grew exponentially ever since.

Today kids walk around with computers way smaller and thousands of times more powerful in their back pockets. Sadly, for most of them their biggest creation is a selfie. If you’re a Dad or a Mom, do me a favor. Sit down with your kids and talk to them about coding. Get them started and teach them they can become creators too.

Was that? You don’t know how to code you say. That’s no excuse. Go to your favorite browser right now and type “Learn to Code”.  I’m sure within the first few results you’ll find a few free resources that can get you going. You’ll thank me later.

This summer I decided to teach my 9-year old son the fundamentals of programming by introducing him to Scratch.

Scratch is a wonderful computer programming interface created by MIT Media Lab especially designed for kids ages 8 to 16. The best part is that it’s free. It’s fun and it teaches them how to think like coders.

Scratch Coding Tool for Kids

So far, he loves it and in just two days he’s created some pretty cool stuff. Sound familiar?

In the not so far future everyone will become a coder. This is not speculation. It’s a reality. With the current advancements in technology, specially AI, everyone that wants to remain relevant in their fields must learn at minimum some basic fundamentals of computer programming.

Future-proof your kids and please do for them what my Dad did for me back in the RUN-DMC days.

Take the first step today! Show them how to Walk This Way. (See what I did there?)

P.S. I was originally going to call this blog “Ode to my TRS-80 and Atari 800XL” but little did I know that the real message of my post would reveal itself as I was writing it. The power of blogging is also amazing.

Happy Coding!

Jaime V.

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