My journey to craftsmanship in software engineering - High school and college

12 February 2021

I never wanted to be a programmer.

The high school I went to was tech-oriented, though we did infinitely more soldering than coding (my engineer mind is screaming: NOT INFINITELY, UNLESS YOU DID ZERO CODING!). I mostly went there because it was a bilingual (a lot of subjects were taught in English) school and I wanted to master the language of Shakespeare. I had no interest in "tech" but my entry exam wasn't good enough to get into the better bilingual high schools.

After graduation, I had a hard time deciding about college. I wasn't particularly interested in any subject, but as university education was "free" in Hungary and I didn't see myself working with soldering irons and electronic circuits (as I was pretty bad at these), five more years to find out what my calling was seemed like a great deal. Slightly nudged by my father who fancied programming, I applied for the computer science faculty of the Technical University of Budapest. I got accepted without even writing an entry exam since my grades from high school were great and I had an advanced-level English language certificate. You see, I knew English would be useful one way or another.

Technincal University of Budapest

You wouldn't have guessed but my class (we were ~250) was full of nerds some of whom started coding before they could walk. You kind of needed it, too, because the coding exams at the end of semesters needed to be written with pen and paper. I barely passed in the first year, where we learned C and C++, languages especially amenable to writing flawless programs in without access to a computer. I started nourishing a (misdirected) contempt towards programming languages in general, and particularly pointer arithmetics (if you don't know what that means, count yourself lucky).

I used the computer lab to have a stable, free connection to download guitar tabs I could practice at home. The year is 1996 and I remember very well how incredible it seemed to be able to download text files someone else had uploaded on the other side of the world. The possibilities!

Further years didn't help to reduce the stress when having to code, although the languages we were taught became more digestible. In my experience, universities always lag behind the practice of the craft at least a few years so the only languages that piqued my interest were SML and Prolog, which had a timeless feel to them and seemed so pure and mathematical (which I've always liked). Even with my fledging affection for certain languages, I could never get an A in any of the programming classes and received a lot of help from my high school friend -who also attended the same university- to complete homework programming assignments.

I did the last year of university in Nantes, France, with an Erasmus scholarship. It was a tremendous experience that gave me a boatload of joyful memories - I get a little teary-eyed as I'm writing this 20 years later.

Nantes Panorama

In the summer of the same year, 2001, I was on a train in southern Spain traveling with a monthly Interrail ticket when my diploma was handed out in Budapest and I couldn't care less.

Grown-up Life, with a capital L, the thing teachers told me they were preparing me for when teaching subjects that were useless from a practical point of view, was expecting me. I wasn't sure if I was ready.

(To be continued.)

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