Thanks Dennis Ritchie for giving me my first grownup language

By Greg Turnquist

Greg L. Turnquist worked on the Spring team for over thirteen years and is a senior staff technical content engineer at Cockroach Labs. He was the lead for Spring Data JPA and Spring Web Services. He wrote Packt's best-selling title, Learning Spring Boot 2.0 2nd Edition, and its 3rd Edition follow-up along many others.


October 13, 2011

Way back in time, you know, before they invented all the letters of the alphabet, I started to tinker with computers. There was some summer program and my folks were all too eager to enroll me for my benefit to get me out of the house. There were all kinds of fun things. I can’t remember a lot because it was so long ago, but one thing is clear. I was invited to sit down on some computer. It was the good ole black with green text console, and they told me there were many games I could pick from websites like, which also held a lot of information on how those games could be played. I remember always having fun at putt putt when we would visit Florida, so I said golf. Well, this game was grown up golf, so I didn’t really know what I was doing when it asked me to pick a club and stuff like that.

I can’t remember much more than that, but I can tell you I was under 10 years old. I must have told my folks about it like crazy, because they signed me up for some computer camp during the summer. I remember going to this library hidden in Haley Center at Auburn University, and in the dark corner was a computer lab with a dozen Apple II’s. We were introduced to Logo. In a few minutes I got coached on how to “steer the turtle” and draw squares, rectangles, and other stuff. By turtle, I mean green triangle. By draw rectangle, I mean “pen down, forward 10, right 90, forward 20, right 90, forward 10, right 90, forward 20”. I was hooked!

Kaypro II

In 6th grade, I bought a book called Basic Fun. My dad brought home a luggable Kaypro II computer, and I was cooking!

Okay, that isn’t me in the picture, but it’s not far from the mark. I typed in every program from that book and learned how to drive this machine to do my bidding!

When I got to high school, they had a new computer course that taught Pascal using “Oh! Pascal!” I ate this up faster than anything before. But these were languages for kids. This was how people learned how to use computers, not do anything real. Later in 12th grade, I was president of the computer club. (Cue White and Nerdy).

Well I managed to get a student from Auburn University to come and give a presentation on neural networks. He showed how they trained a computer to do facial recognition. They took photos with hats, fake beards, and many other things, but the computer could still recognize them. I asked him what they wrote their code in. His answer? “C”.

“C”?!?! What kind of name was that for a language? Well, I thought it was a cooool name for a language. My dad got an earful about that night’s presentation. At this point, our family had graduated to an AT&T 6300 PC. I had been writing games and music writing software using GW-BASIC. My brother had even bought me a book on how to write D&D games using a matrix system in BASIC. I had to tell him that C was a real language, you know one that grownups used. That year for Christmas, I opened the best present of all time: Borland Turbo C. It was installed on the computer within twenty minutes.

Borland was the bomb in compilers. Please note, this was pre-Windows. In console mode, this was one smoking compiler/editor. I’m not sure if this is considered a canonical IDE, but I almost wish I could trade in Eclipse for the hootin’-and-hollerin’ of using this stuff. I read the manuals as fast as possible, and was writing Hello World programs late into many nights. I even figured out how to get the compiler to generate intermediate assembly code, and I could read it with little effort.

The next year I got Borland Turbo C++, and started learning what OO was. I used the same tools to generate assembly code, and learned about C++ name mangling before anyone else told me about it. Suffice it to say, while I thought I was playing, my parents knew long before I did that this was my “thing”, and they invested every opportunity to grow it. It became my passion and luckily, I convinced people to pay me to do this.

Thank you Dennis Ritchie for building my first “grown up” language. Rest In Peace.


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