As I write this, I haven't seen any of the other articles in this How did you start coding? series. I imagine it's going to reveal how some members of the web community have gotten to where they are despite tremendous adversary, breaking the mold, and succeeding against the odds. Others will tell tales that reek of self-indulgence and post-rationalisation. Welcome to the latter.
As a kid, I loved non-electrical mechanical toys with buttons and switches, such as Screwball Scramble. Part of the fun was working out how pressing one thing made the other thing do a thing. If a toy worked using a battery, I felt that was cheating. To me, batteries were a barrier to understanding. Like the aliens from Aliens, if you open them to see how they work, they spill acid everywhere. To me, all a battery was was a little tube that did magic, and magic, to me, was boring.
Don't get me wrong, I loved magicians. They fascinated me because they did amazing things that were achievable with enough time and effort. Superman, Spiderman, Mary Poppins… dull. They could only do amazing things because they were born that way. I loved The Batman. He became a superhero through effort, but he was born human. A human with a seemingly infinite amount of inherited wealth, granted, but that hadn't struck me as a barrier at the time.
When I was seven my parents bought me a Sinclair Spectrum, mostly to keep me entertained while they were busy conceiving and eventually rearing my sister. Ok, I couldn't open it up and figure out how it worked, but I had a Batman game for it, so all was forgiven.
Then, my dad showed me a game. Not just any game, but a game he made himself. It was just a simple maze thing, and in retrospect probably copied wholesale out of a magazine, but holy shit! He was no longer just a dad, he was a magician who could produce games from thin air. He taught me some of the BASICs, and before long, I was creating my own simple games.
One of the great features of the Spectrum was reliability, by which I mean they reliably failed within their warranty period. The Spectrum was swapped for a Commodore 64, which also booted into BASIC, but by then I was much more interested in creative tools like the Shoot-'Em-Up Construction Kit, which let you build simple vertically-scrolling shooters. I found the instant visual gratification of these tools way more satisfying than BASIC. Together with a couple of friends I built simple little games and demos. We never released anything, but we decided our company was called "Big boys software". For context, "big boys" evoked maturity and independence to our nine-year-old brains as opposed to a macho gay bar.
After the Commodore I was bought an Amiga 600. I wanted a Mega Drive (a Genesis to you Americans), but my dad was convinced games consoles (and TV's beyond 14") rotted brains. And fair enough, I spent a lot of time making music with OctaMED and graphics with Deluxe Paint III, which I wouldn't have done with a console. But then again, he now plays PS4 on his 40" TV, so maybe it's all bullshit.
The web brought together the “pull it apart, figure it out” bits of mechanical toys
In 1997 my parents (then separated) clubbed together and bought me an entry-level PC, which was pretty incredible given our financial situation, and something I'm extremely thankful for. Most of my friends already had PCs, and I guess I was at risk of being left behind in the one thing I was any good at.
A few months later I bought a 14k modem, and armed with Internet Explorer 4, I explored the world wide web. I was amazed by the freedom of information, how anyone could publish, anyone could read. Then I found a little button labeled “View source”. That was the moment I fell in love with the web.
The web brought together the “pull it apart, figure it out” bits of mechanical toys, the instant gratification of music/art packages, and the social element of the demo scene. And that was it really, I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to build websites. That's how I really started coding.