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First Steps

When kids code, careers grow.

By Bob Rhubart

September/October 2017

In casual conversations with the small army of software developers I’ve met over the last 20 years, I’ve learned at least two things. One is that software development is as much a lifestyle as it is a career choice. The other thing is that, probably because of the first thing, the coding bug often bites people long before they need to earn a paycheck.

But the details of those casual conversations can be a bit fuzzy. So in the interest of more-accurate and up-to-date information, I asked community members to share their stories about their earliest interest in writing code and how it developed into a career.

Oracle ACE Rolando Carrasco, now co-owner and SOA principal architect at S&P Solutions, says his interest in software has its roots in his passion for the Intellivision game console and in the 1982 film Tron. In elementary school he learned Logo, an educational programming language. “I had the feeling that I could do more with it, and by the time I entered junior high I was eager to have my programming classes.” It was in those classes in Visual Basic that Carrasco realized he’d found what he wanted to do for a living.

Then it was off to college, where he learned Pascal, C, Prolog, and Java. “I wanted to program as much as I could,” Carrasco says. “When I had the chance to look for a part-time job, I looked for one related to programming.” The rest is an impressive LinkedIn profile.

Oracle ACE Associate Maarten Smeets, a senior integration consultant with AMIS, was 8 years old when he began typing BASIC programs out of a book on an MSX2 machine, making small changes in the code to see what would happen. At age 13, he began experimenting with Linux and C/C++. He entered university at 18, majoring in neuroscience and ethology, and worked internships at a molecular genetics department and at a theoretical biology department, where he leveraged his coding skills on statistics and on simulating fish school behavior.

“At the time, I considered IT a tool to achieve a goal, not a goal on its own,” Smeets explains. He chose not to study informatics. “Biology is quite diverse, from being in nature observing birds to researching diseases in hospitals.” At the time, that held more appeal for Smeets than a desk job.

When did your software development journey begin? Where did it lead?

But a part-time job handling all the IT tasks at a small insurance company shifted his thinking. “I realized I could not get myself motivated by doing research alone, and I did not like the lab work,” he explains. He discovered he enjoyed the more concrete IT challenges at the insurance company.

After graduation Smeets took a job at an IT consulting company, where he met many experienced people, first worked with Oracle technologies, and began accumulating experience in integration, “an area that provides a lot of diversity,“ he says.

At 15 years old, Martien van den Akker, an Oracle Fusion Middleware and platform-as-a-service specialist with Darwin IT Professionals, says he was drawn to computers and “the mystical idea that you can have a machine do what you want it to do in a creative way.” His interest was driven by the availability of home computers. “My cousins had a ZX Spectrum, many school friends had Commodore 64s, and one uncle had a Goldstar MSX1,” Akker says. He ended up with a Toshiba MSX 1, which he later replaced with a Sony MSX2.

His first programs were written in BASIC, “mainly to learn how to do certain things, like drawing Sprite graphics on the screen,” Akker says.

In college Akker majored in technical physics and also studied computer science, learning Turbo Pascal, C, and Assembly.

After a stint in the military, Akker worked as a Cobol programmer and systems analyst. “But after a few years, I got bored with Cobol and wanted to learn something new.” Oracle products figured prominently in that something new, including PL/SQL, Oracle Forms, Oracle Designer, Oracle Streams AQ, Oracle Workflow, Oracle InterConnect, and BPEL. “I’m now into Oracle Fusion Middleware, including Oracle SOA Suite, Oracle BPM Suite [Oracle Business Process Management Suite], Oracle Service Bus, Oracle WebLogic, and Oracle’s integration and process cloud services.” But despite the expertise and experience accumulated over 30 years, “I still enjoy the mystics of having machines do what you want them to do,” Akker says.

When did your software development journey begin? Where did it lead? Share your story here.

Next Steps

LISTEN to “Trajectories: Career Paths of IT Stars.”

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WATCH Code for Kids.

Photograph by Rainer Stropek/flickr