When I was about 11 years old I decided that I wanted a career related to computers. My first computer was the TEC-1 single-board Z80 based kit computer from Talking Electronics magazine (see the photo below). I think that I built this when I was 10.
My TEC-1 has 2K of RAM (the 83251R chip is equivalent to an Intel 16kilo-bit 6116 static RAM chip) and 2K of ROM (the chip with the orange sticker labeled Mon1 is a 2716 EPROM – 16kilo-bit).
Not long after that my parents bought the first serious computer for the family, a Microbee Z80 based system with a tape drive that used a monochrome monitor of resolution approximately equal to CGA and which had either 16K or 32K of RAM (I can’t recall). The next family computer was a Microbee Premium series 128K which is probably the same model as the one depicted on the Microbee Wikipedia page (a serious omission of the Wikipedia page is that it has no picture of the box containing the PSU and the floppy drives for the Premium Series). My first published article in a computer magazine was when I was about 15 years old and I wrote a long email on a Fidonet echo (mailing list) reviewing a 3rd party update to the CP/M system for the Premium Series Microbee and was surprised by having it published in the Microbee club magazine (in those days we didn’t bother much about copyright so no-one asked for my permission before publishing).
I wonder if starting with computers at such an age is typical for people who now contribute to free software development. I think it would be interesting to see some blog posts from other people in the community about how old they were when they started with computers and what type of computer they started with.
I also wonder about the correlation between the age of starting with computers and career success in the computer industry. One significant benefit of starting early was that I could learn things that would be useful for my career in later decades while other children were wasting time studying what teachers told them to study. It also meant that in later years of high-school I could relax knowing that I could get straight B’s without effort which was more than was required to enter a CS degree program at that time. Until half-way through year 12 I tried to avoid ever doing home-work at home – home-time was computer time! Do you think that the age at which you chose your career significantly affected your success? If so in what way?
If you were asked for advice by parents as to when their child should be given it’s first computer what age would you suggest? Unfortunately I usually get asked for advice about such things by people who have children aged 16+ (which is way too late IMHO).
Update: Dbenn recently gave a talk to his son’s primary school about computers and he used the TEC-1 as an example. They are still in use!