7. Dial "C" for Computing
While I was at University, as an undergraduate, I wrote a book about C Programming and promptly became in demand as a teacher — not in academia, but in industry. My tutor at Newcastle, who was in the maths department, discovered it and surprised me by buying it. I was supposed to report to him at the start and end of each term. I know he read it because he impressed me, jokingly, by telling me that I’d been rude to my readers. In one of the examples about valid identifiers, there were alternatives a), b), c), etc, I had f) _off as the option — the small amusement of a teenager.
The story of how I got into computing is a maze of twisty little passages.
I was completely uninterested in computers until I was 17 years old. Then I suddenly went mad and saw what I could do. I recall sitting in an A-level physics class, aged 17, with my friend Gareth Byast. "Mark, you need to learn computing," he chided. I laughed that I would eat ice cream off the cool shards of hell before getting interested in computers. Just a year later, I’d written my first book about programming EPROM chips to extend the operating system of the BBC B Microcomputer, using paged memory, all in 6502 assembler code.
Once I get started on something…
In my second year of University, Acorn Computers (who later became ARM), the company behind the BBC Microcomputer, hired me to teach C programming on the BBC computer and later on their new Archimedes computer, both to staff and third parties. I took the train to Cambridge on that occasion, and caught a taxi to the Science Park headquarters on the edge of town, where they had their premises.
I think the contact with Acorn was made through the publisher of my book — who were very well connected with the microcomputer manufacturers, through the London sphere of journalism.
My Dad being keen for me to have a thing that he approved of. He had never believed I should pursue physics, and was always trying to talk me out of it. For my part, I had only seen computers as gaming consoles that my friends played. Once I was able to see a computer as more than a games console, it seemed much more interesting. I don’t like games. I can watch others play for a while, but I don’t have the patience for activities that seems to have no creative or social purpose. Also, as I might have explained earlier, I don’t like testing myself or competing even against myself…