Simon Willison’s Weblog


How did Simon Willison learn programming?

20th November 2012

My answer to How did Simon Willison learn programming? on Quora

My dad taught me to program at first on a Commodore 64 when I was about 7. I only found out many years later that he’d had the “how to program” manual on his left hand side, me sat on his right hand side and was only ever a couple of pages ahead of me in the book!

I experimented with QBASIC on DOS, but then we upgraded to Windows and there weren’t any development tools included. My parents bought me a copy of Borland C++ but the learning curve was basically impossible. That put me off programming for a few years until I discovered that JavaScript was built in to IE and Netscape and started tinkering with that (and learning HTML and so on).

As a teenager, I got heavily in to online gaming. I ran a clan, news site and eventually a league for the Half-Life Team Fortress Classic mod, and had to pick up just enough Perl to customise some shareware scripts (like newspro—sadly no longer available). Through that I got my first tech job working for—a classic 1998-2001 dot com boom company. I learnt more Perl, then PHP and MySQL there (my official job was “downloads editor” for the website but I ended up tinkering with plenty of other things as well).

When gameplay laid everyone off, I went off to university and did a computer science degree (and taught myself Python, C and various other languages).