The Magic of Code

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I was an 8-bit kid from the Atari 2600 era. The article "Why Johnny Can't Compute" produced an enormous amount of media around the role of technology in our lives. I watched the movie "War Games" more times than I care to admit, along with countless bad TV shows where computers were the tool of the heroes. I mean, really... who didn't want to drive computerized car named Kitt?

Enchanted by computers, I was convinced they had some kind of magic within; something that made them "know" how to do things. I started asking for a computer when I was seven and finally got my first, an Apple IIc, at the age of 12.

I still remember the day my sister showed me some computer code that she'd learned in a high school class. It was then I realized I could be a magician. I had to learn to code.

Several programming languages, college, raising a family, a career in software engineering and even a transition to marketing later, code is still fascinating. Even as I've grown out of the illusion painted by television.

You see, code has a profound impact on the world around us. It holds the potential to improve our lives in truly remarkable ways. Look around you, that Facebook app you're surfing on your iPhone, that virtualized desktop that allows you to work on your tablet from home, that new Nest thermostat helping ensure your San Francisco apartment stays warm in the summer -- the world around us is built on code.


The PC revolution of the early-to-mid-'80s was special. It ignited an excitement in us GenXers, much like the moon landing fueled the Baby Boomers before us. And it was so accessible. You could read a single book and learn to code. There was this open community that encouraged learning and sharing. The rules were simple and the results were immediate. As 12-year-olds, we ourselves could evoke magic.

The '80s 8-bit kids became the 20-somethings that built Linux. Well, we took what the hippies created with Unix and ran with it. To this day, if you find an 8-bit kid, chances are they remain passionate about the magic of code.

With a Perspective, I'm Steve Shah.

Steve Shah is director of product management for a major Silicon Valley high-tech company.