Self-Studying Software Develpment in the 90’s Link to heading

The internet was very different at this time in the 1990’s when I was still in elementary school. Google didn’t exist. Youtube didn’t exist. There was no Stack Overflow. Yahoo was the popular search engine among my school peers at the time. in the 1990’s

Screenshot of circa 1997 from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine.

Enter the Tutorials Link to heading

At the time, plain text files were still quite popular, and you could get everything from novels, video game guides and walkthroughs to programming lessions as downloadable .txt files. Eventually, I stumbled upon what seemed like the correct keywords to dump into search engines such as Yahoo: the magic word was Tutorials.

I would fire up the family’s Windows 95 computer, use the modem to dial in, and search for ‘Qbasic Tutorials’ to download. I would download as many .txt lessons and example .bas source code files as I could find. Then, I’d disconnect from the internet, copy all of these files onto a 3.5" floppy drive, and retreat back into my bedroom to dive in.

Disconnected and Hyperfocused Link to heading

Having to tie up the family phone line on the main Windows 95 computer every time I wanted to go on the internet seemed like an inconvenience. I couldn’t stay connected all the time: the family needed the phone line. And I couldn’t search for any problems I had as they came up, because I was working on the “offline” PC in my bedroom. The Windows 95 computer hadn’t come with QBasic installed, so 100% of the time I spent coding was in my bedroom, offline, on the 486.

In hindsight, this worked to my advantage - the distractions of the modern internet, social media, endless scrolling and instant messaging didn’t pose a threat to my attention span. It forced me to read the documentation and be self-sufficient and problem-solve without immediate access to any other external resources.

Luckily, the .txt tutorial files and .bas source code were usually only a few kilobytes each, so I could fit quite a few of them on a 1.44MB Floppy Disk. So, after dumping the latest and greatest .txt tutorials onto the hard drive in my 486, I’d stay bundled up in a blanket at my desk in the bedroom for hours - I was hooked.

Coming soon: Making Code Pretty: Enter Trig