Thursday, September 4, 2008

Genesis of a Technologist

I vividly recall my love of technology and software development starting as a nine year old in a fourth grade Enrichment class in Fayetteville, Georgia. On a table against the outer wall of the classroom sat a black and gray Radio Shack computer.

Everyone in the class was afforded some time on the computer to complete educational assignments. I believe, for the most part, our computer work consisted largely of mathematics exercises and quizzes. There were a few spelling and vocabulary activities as well. When we completed our work, or as a reward for particularly good behavior, we were given the opportunity to play some games. The one I remember playing the most was a turn-based game where I drove a dog sled while exploring the frozen arctic. The goal was to reach to the North Pole while traveling to specific destinations along the way. How much could you explore?

On every "turn", I had to determine the direction in which I wanted to travel and how far I wanted to go. When my dogs were hungry, I had to feed them. When they were tired, I had to let them rest. If a dog became sick or wounded, I had to decide how to care for it. The game would be over if I ran out of "turns" before arriving at the assigned destination. I could bring about the end of the game if the decisions I made caused me to get sick or mortally wounded. Alternately, if I did not take proper care of my dogs and lost too many of them, then I would be lost in the arctic forever.

There were no graphics. Players were forced to use their imagination to picture the sled racing across the snow. At each "turn" the game presented a brief summary of your current state and the environmental conditions. Decisions were made and actions taken by navigating through various menus with a myriad of keystrokes. One could inquire as to the health and condition of the pack, take inventory on current supplies, or determine the current location. The most fascinating aspect of the game was that no two sessions were the same.

I remember being in awe at the amount of control I had over the outcome of the game. All the decisions I had to make in order to ensure that my dogs and I safely arrived at our destination. I wondered how the computer made it all work? How did it keep track of everything? How did it determine which of the many hardships I would have to overcome as my team and I trudged through the snow? How was it possible that no two games I played were the same?

I was smitten. From that moment on, I knew what I wanted to do as a career.