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“Dad, I want to learn how to code!”

spanish Puedes leer este artículo en español en papagamedev.cl.

Almost thirty years ago, my dad shown me two written lines on the TV screen that was connected to our Atari 800 XL.

10 PRINT "HELLO"
20 GOTO 10

He told me that those were two lines of code and he invited me to watch what happened when he told the computer to “run” that code. Astonished, I saw “HELLO” started to be unceasingly written on the screen:

HELLO
HELLO
HELLO
HELLO
HELLO
HELLO
HELLO

I asked my dad how did he do that, and he explained me that programming code was made up of a series of instructions that the computer was able to understand and follow. My dad looked more powerful than “He-Man”, “Lion-O” and “The Avenger” altogether (if you don’t know them, they were all cartoon super heroes that we watched in Chile during the 80s).

Thundercats Artwork
Not even the Sword of Omens (ThunderCats) was as powerful as my dad looked at that very moment.

I wanted to know how my dad had learned to tell things to the computer, so he explained me that he knew how to code, and because of that he knew how to tell the computer what to do in a language that the machine would understand.

A wonderful idea crossed my mind. I already knew some videogames and I really loved them. I dared to ask:

“If I learn how to code, will I be able to make videogames?”

“Yes son, videogames are also made with code.”

“So dad, I want to learn how to code!”

Since then, my strongest motivation for learning how to code was the huge admiration I had for the few videogames I knew. At the beginning, I learned Atari “Basic” language, either with my dad’s guide or by copying code from some magazines he brought home.

Some months later, I realized that there were a lot of videogames on the Atari that seemed to do stuff that I was not able to do with Basic. So, my father explained me that there were a lot of programming languages. Some were simpler while others were much more complex. The former were designed to help people code simpler programs fast, while the later were designed to do more powerful programs, but in a more complex way.

Motivated by the challenge, I learned “Assembler” on the Atari and then “Pascal” and “C” on a mighty (at that time) 40 MHz 386 PC. I still remember how amazing was the freedom I felt while writing hundreds of lines of code and how much I enjoyed watching my programs run.

Assembly Code
Assembly code: I was really motivated if I actually enjoyed coding on this language.

By the time I finished school, I had written several thousands of lines of code in about five different programming languages, and I had completed around ten small videogames plus some small apps that I used as training exercises.

And all started with a flash of inspirtation: those two lines of code and the magic of watching them run.

What is coding?

Many people think that coding is some kind of occult science or something like the matrix in “The Matrix” movie. Something that only the chosen one can understand and master, like Neo, the main character in “The Matrix”.

The Matrix
Many people think that coding is as hard as mastering the Matrix.

Fortunately, coding is easier than that.

Putting it simply, to code is to give instructions to a computer using a language that the machine can understand.

Everything that works on a computer, from the simplest to the most complex, is a program made with code. And every program was coded by somebody, using some programming language.

There are a lot of programming languages, hundreds, and several ways to classify them. High level or low level languages, functional, structured or object oriented languages, are just a few samples of programming language types.

Some programming languages are very simple because they were created to solve very basic tasks and anyone can learn them in just a few minutes. On the other hand, there are other programming languages that are much more complex and that require the coder to be trained and specialized for a significantly longer period in order to master them.

Blockly screenshot
Blockly is a visual programming language and it’s super easy to learn. The name comes from the fact that you build your programs by assembling a set of blocks.

Most programming languages were created with a particular purpose in mind, such as solving math problems, programming complex systems or teaching code to kids.

There are also programming languages that were conceived to add features that could be lacking in other languages. In that case, the new language is an evolution of the older one. For instance, the C++ language, one of the most powerful and popular, is an evolution of the C language, also very popular. C++ also has “descendants”, such as the C# language which is used a lot nowadays.

And we are not only talking about programs that run on computers like a “PC” or a “Mac”.

Programming code is present in every “smart” electronic device, because every function on them is also a computer program. From a washing machine to a brand new refrigerator; from a scientific calculator to a modern telescope in an observatory; from a smart phone to a videogame console.

All of them were coded using some programming language.

(continues on next page…)

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Juan Pablo Lastra

Juan Pablo makes videogames since he was 8 and he is a father since 2004. Today, he has three children and he has worked in more than 20 videogames. He got interested on how paternity and the videogame industry are related and he decided to write about it, founding "Papa Game Dev"

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