Second Generation Programmer

I haven't met many of these - people one or more of whose parents were programmers before them.

In fact, the two people that I have met that definitely fit into this category are:

The contributions of both the above to the world of information systems and software development practice in the last few years makes me hope to meet a few more second generationers before I'm finally done with this business!

Any ideas why this factor may be so important for us? -- RichardDrake

I'll suggest the obvious one - ArsLongaVitaBrevis.

Because a significant percentage of youthful first-generation programmers are inclined to disregard all that has gone before, for whatever reason. SecondGenerationProgrammers help to provide a continuity of tradition, of a sort. -- DanielKnapp

Now there's the two generations of Gilb at I'm not sure the last time TomGilb programmed or how often Kai has done so, but it's a cool short url to reach the combined weight of both men. is shorter again and explicitly refers to Ward and his marriage partner. So that must be allowed too. -- RichardDrake

Another key example would be

For other famous examples, see "the computing Wexelblats" below.

My parents are not programmers, but my grandfather is. He started programming at fifty after his doctor told him that he can no longer work as a fellah. I can't match the contributions of TimBL and KentBeck, though...

-- YonatSharon

ErikMeade - My father while not a ProfessionalProgrammer?, was an EarlyAdopter ( he bought a KayProII[1] back when those where new, and that is when I started programming my own games ). So I used a computer growing up BeforeMicrosoft. I also had a mentor, a programmer for the US MilitaryIntelligence in Munich, who taught me, a 14 year old or some at the time, how to use DBII ( thanks, RK ).

I got to play with a TRS/80[2] at school. It looked a bit like this one, except we didn't have a floppy drive, we had tape.



I'm afraid I've got you beat Erik :). My Dad had (still does) an Altair 8800, which was my "starting point". He wasn't a professional programmer, though he has done programming off and on through his career. Now, at age 72, he has a full-time job programming Perl for a well-known genomics company. -- DavidCorbin

Well, my father José Luis Suárez Prieto, was one of the first people in Spain to jump on microcomputers long BeforeMicrosoft. While my friends played with Spectrum 16k and Amstrads, I was poking a TRS/80 and a New Brain with CP/M and even some Siemens Automata. BTW, one of the first IBM PCs to be bought in my state, was my fathers'. So much that my first OS (after those commented) was IBM OS/2, while I managed to stay clear from Windows until I started working in the industry... Computing history is different in Spain than in USA, but he was quite a pioneer. He is pretty famous a tech in our home town and whereabouts. -- DavidDeLis

I started programming when I was 11... with pencil and paper. I'd hand-debug my BASIC and wait until the weekend when my mom would drop me and a plate of cookies off at the local Radio Shack (the cookies were for the manager). I'd spend all day typing in my program on a TRS-80 Model 1 (4k of RAM!), and save it to tape. That year for xmas, my parents bought me the assembler (on tape) for the TRS-80... I was in heaven! I never owned a computer until 13 years later, when I bought a 16Mhz 286.

My son is now 11 years old. There are 10 computers in his house, which is wired with CAT-5 running a 10Base-T network, connected to the internet via a cable modem. He spends his time at the machine in his room chatting with friends about PokeMon?. Oh, if only he knew the vast unformed world of potential software that lay beneath his fingertips... -- DavidHooker

My father was a SystemAnalyst for MinoltaCorporation? from the mid 70's through the early 90's. In the final two years of his life, he was making money for UnitedParcelService? patching up the Y2kBug.

When I was around seven, he bought me the Atari 520 and a Commodore 64. He used to bring home six foot (6 pages or so?) print outs from the mainframe of an ascii Snoopy as the Red Baron. We had a wreath made of the old HollerithPunchCards.

The sad thing is, my father never really explained to me what it was that he did. I knew it was Cobol, but... beyond that, I never really understood. So to this day I have no clue what the hell a SystemAnalyst does. I think that's what drove me to learn everything that I could about computers and programming.

I thank my father for everything that I have today, I just wish he could be here to see what I've become. Thanks again Dad.

-- DrewMarsh

My dad was a Chem-E with a penchant for ee/computers. In about '75 he designed a process with 176 digital valves to replace a massive $500k rotary valve driving an extraction process. He did the control system software on Cromemco s100 hardware. I got to write the display program in C-Basic. Makes the highest purity natural meta-para cresols in the world. :)

-- JohnClonts

I'm a third generation programmer. My grandfather programmed (although he was a physicist by profession), as does my mother. According to long-standing American tradition, shouldn't I get paid a subsidy not to program? -- JohnBrewer

Almost there John, the surplus is growing....

My father programmed on the Bendix G-15 and IBM 360. He wrote his own BIOS for CP/M but gave up trying to learn CeeLanguage. -- DavidBrantley

My mom programmed in Fortran on IBM 7090's in the 60's (, and my dad is still programming but primarily specializes in analog hardware design. He was chairman of the Forth Standards Committee in 1983, which was right about when I was learning to program. My first language, then, of course being Forth - my dad's own version, in fact: 83-STANDARD PC FORTH - self-booting on the ol' 64K IBM PC with 8 sectors/track single-sided floppy. Booted in about 2.2 seconds. :-) -- BillKelly

My father isn't a programmer, but he is definitely an EarlyAdopter. He's been a high school computing teacher since the late 70s, and is the primary reason why I got interested in computers. He bought our first home computer (a CommodorePet) about '79, and I wrote my first program not much later, in the Basic interpreter on the computer (at the tender age of 5 or 6).

While I give my dad credit for making me interested in technology (thanks, Dad!), I give my mother credit for the way I program. She's a history teacher, and the way she teaches by breaking ideas into small chunks that are built on other chunks directly impacts that way I tackle problem solving in programming. Both my parents have had a direct and beneficial impact on my professional life that I am immensely grateful for (in addition to the direct and beneficial impact they've had on every other part of my life). -- RobertWatkins

My dad taught me to flowchart when i was 13?, and started coding for his company. I'd already been messing with BASIC on my CommodorePet for a while though, and i was working solo so i just dove in and never bothered much with BigDesign, documentation, well-organized code, etc. I felt bad for the guy they hired after me. -- JohnAbbe

My grandfather did some cobol as a short-lived third career, but whatever technical genes he passed on skipped a generation. -- DaveSmith

My dad is a mathematician and has written software throughout his career. He told me GOTO was harmful long before I heard about how babies are made. He gave me a copy of CommunicatingSequentialProcesses by CarHoare when I was about twelve. He wrote some realtime software to control satellites, and of course you don't get a chance to fix bugs in those, so you have to get it right first time. He's big on proving correctness, and when I tell him I'm up late fixing bugs, he asks "So why did you put them in your code in the first place?" You get the idea... But he does have some good advice, e.g. "Always read more than one book on a given subject." He is also absolutely against Waterfall-type processes and heavy pre-specification of software. I've noticed that I'm most motivated when I can identify a single person who I should impress with the results of my work, and this seems to fit how I first learned to program: the aim was to make Dad say "Strewth... I see you've been busy!" -- DanielEarwicker

My father wrote COBOL and managed programmers who did same - sometime in the 1960's, I think. Later, he went into purchasing and did that full time for as long as I can remember. While were were and are close, his previous programming experience had remarkably little impact on my choice of interests and careers: I was introduced to computers at a demonstration at our junior high school in 1976, and got hooked on the StarTrek game - played on teletype. (Let's kill some trees, shall we? ;-) My father never taught me anything about programming. But he did teach me some very important lessons about business.

Interesting side note: My current dentist was also a programmer, of sorts - he developed a custom dBASE application to run his office. Later, after substantial business growth, he purchased package software to run his office. -- JeffGrigg

My parents both are programmers at some level. My mother has been coding since the days of the 360 mainframes. My father is an engineer who can program.

It worked out pretty well for me. We always had a computer around the house, so I'd always be using the computer for stuff.

The thing is, I developed most of my knowledge in computers on my own, not from my parents. Up until a few years back, my mother and I could talk about what programming we did that day and not really understand what the other person did. Then my mother moved off the mainframe, and suddenly your average programmer could build networked systems and have a reasonable amount of power.

-- KenWronkiewicz

Richard Wexelblat received the first-ever Ph.D from a computer science department (U. Penn, 12/1965). He has two sons: David (known as "dwex" from his early work on the XFree86 project) who is no longer JustaProgrammer but recently retired from being chief architect at AOL, and Alan, who received a Ph.D from the MIT Media Lab and works in the Boston area. Dick's younger brother Paul also has a Ph.D. in CS.

David has referred to his family as "the computing Wexelblats."

Dick is no longer active in computing but is an artisan. Cf:

(Important note: Dick notes that he did not, as is sometimes stated, get the first CS Ph.D. but rather, according to an ACM survey, got the first Ph.D. awarded by a CS department. Others got CS Ph.D.s from Engineering, Math, Physics, Philosophy, and Linguistics Departments.)

-- PaulChisholm (whose older stepson is also no longer JustaProgrammer, but a manager of an e-commerce group at a major mail order and e-commerce computer / peripheral / software company, and whose younger stepson is doing SQA and production support at a software development company and who spends most of his time on site at a major telecommunications network provider)

My mom started taking computer science classes when I was 2. She said I learned a lot by osmosis when I was sleeping under the terminals! We got a Commodore Vic-20 when I was very young (7ish), and I started programming in BASIC on it soon afterwards. My dad did some hobby programming, but he wasn't a professional. -- EddieDeyo

Has anyone read this article on Autism - and its milder cousin AspergersSyndrome? Interesting reading. I'm a third generation engineer, but only the first in software.

My father is BruceAnderson; he may have been a programmer once, but he's a software architect now; I was a programmer for six weeks once, but now I'm a scientist. SecondGenerationProgrammer maybe, but SecondGenerationWikizen? definitely. -- TomAnderson

My first remunerated programming task was untangling one of my father's (Basic) programs at the factory where he introduced microcomputers. Both the money earned and the pain suffered helped me to decide myself for a Pascal compiler. Since 1984, I'm somewhat still refactoring programs and trying paradigm shifts. Encore merci, Papa... -- ChristopheThibaut

My father did some RPG programming for a while at IBM, and then went into marketing (so I'm not sure whether it counts). He wrote one of the first applications for OS/360.

When I was young, he taught me about the VonNeumannArchitecture and about hexadecimal numbers, and brought some technical books home from work for me to read. But now, he would be considered computer-illiterate - e-mail and a computer golf game are the extent of his computer-related activities.

-- KrisJohnson

My mother started programming in the 60s. And she started teaching me programming in the late 70s on her university mainmframe when I was around 7. Now she still lectures, teaching people to build back ends of websites in PHP, SQL and Perl. And I grapple with Java. -- Phil Jones

My father's decision to learn COBOL in the 1960s enabled him to change his US Army job from artillery to programming payroll. This kept him a bit farther from the action when he was sent to Viet Nam (he'd been in Korea, as well). Programming may have saved his life.

Childhood memories: playing on a keypunch machine at age 5 (ooh, a funny typewriter with gray and blue keys!); drawing with flowchart stencils; having plenty of scrap paper scrounged from the industrial laser printers at his office. Seeing him return from work with a box of punch cards or inch-thick printout was common.

His copy of Hopcroft and Ullman's Formal Languages and Their Relation to Automata, found on a basement bookshelf, taught me automata theory. This led to the implementation of a slightly-less-than universal Turing machine [no infinite store] on a 16K TRS-80 during my high school days. It's since been rewritten in the much more recent Turbo Pascal 3.01a - Google "UTM" and "Pascal 3.01a" if you're curious.

While I longed for a TRS-80 model 1, he declared that he wouldn't own a computer unless the screen held 80 x 24 characters. His first computer was a Timex Sinclair ZX-80 (the one with the membrane keyboard and 1K RAM) - not quite what he'd held out for.

Our running argument about the merits of COBOL vs other languages (notably, CeePlusPlus) ended when he played his trump card: "COBOL paid for your college education". Game, set, and match to my father.

He retired a few years before the YearTwoThousand nondebacle, but still putters on a PeeCee. I've since left the professional programming field myself, becoming a TechnicalWriter. Unless my nieces take up the cause, there won't be a third generation.

My mother was a programmer for the aerospace and car industries in the late 60s/early 70s and only stopped after taking me to work for 3 months in her tummy. Technically I have slightly more IT industry experience than my age...

My father was a mechanical engineer for the aerospace industry. Naturally, therefore, I became a software engineer and my sister... became an accountant... -- KatieLucas

Not a programming, one of my brothers was also a programmer and around half of my fathers family are engineers back at least 3 generations.

-- MartinSpamer

I'm not a SecondGenerationProgrammer, I'm a first. However, I knew quite a few when I worked at DigitalEquipmentCorporation in MA. There were a number of people who had relatives (parents, uncles, etc.) who worked at DEC and had FourDigitBadges?. I don't remember running into any though when I moved to Colorado with DEC. Perhaps there were so many in MA because it was tech/DEC state? Also, at the time, before the layoffs started, it was a great place to work and had a great culture. -- JamesWagner

My mother is a mathematician and writes computer simulations in Fortran and some propietary statiscal package (can't recall the name). But she never taught me anything about programming. Now I help her when I can. Am I a SecondGenerationProgrammer? -- AurelianoCalvo

Re: I haven't met many of these - people one or more of whose parents were programmers before them.

Probably because programmers generally don't reproduce. :-)

Not important after all

It's not important at all, hence the fewer than half dozen examples on this page. For every great programmer who fits this category, I can name another ten that do not. Programming ability is a matter of innate talent developed through attentive study and earnest practice. Having a parent in the field offers no advantage. Having a computer-illiterate parent or other figure to encourage the habits of attentive study and earnest practice is equally effective in provoking realization of the innate talent in those children who have it.

I just copied that legitimate point of view down here, to try to preserve the integrity of the 4-5 year WikiEpisode beautifully represented in this page. Is that okay with everyone? This partly has to do with the ethos of DevelopTheThesisAsMuchAsAttackIt, as we call it on Why. But it also has to do other things, like how much prominence a "knocking" comment should be given within a page trying to develop a thesis or at least ask an interesting question. -- RichardDrake

I didn't know it until after I started really getting into C and C++, but my dad turned out to be a hacker and coder. He worked with Cobol on an Amdol and IBM 360, in the 70's. He no longer programs, nor has the inclination to, but I suppose I still qualify as a second-generation programmer. -Sigma

See also MinoritiesOnWiki


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