The stack — VB6, C
The Experience — 2 Years
The Job — High school
Isn’t learning fun?
To set the scene, it was early 2000s in a small farming village. Yes we had internet, but it was dial up, and no stack overflow or anything close yet, the best you could hope for is a forum post.
So how did we learn? TL;DR — Books and lots of them…
I remember going to the library looking for books, swapping with friends. If you got the expensive ones you even got a CD (you know the round thing with a hole in it) with them with code examples and lesson projects, not that the CD ever worked (or was even there) from the library. No searching the book for your problem or an example, no copy paste, nothing. Just read and hope you remember later where you saw something about that problem you are having.
Yes the internet existed, but there wasn’t much in the way or programming guides, tutorials, or even examples. One of the most useful tools was IRC channels (for you kids out there, a really old chat). Tell you the truth, I don’t even remember how I found what channel to write to, but I remember talking to people from around the world about the most silly things, things that today you will find the solution to as the top search result on google.
I know this is weird, but you can learn at school
When I reached the last year of high school, I took a tech class. In this class we learned things from electrical engineering basics, mechanical design, and of course programming. The main problem was, I had taught myself more than what the teacher reached in class. Nonetheless I gained a great resource, my teacher could answer questions, point me in the right direction.
First of all, I would like to say, not all teachers are bad (yes many are, but not all). Luckily for me our high school tech teacher saw my potential (especially after I broke the school’s network). I used to get bored in class, everyone was learning C and VB6 at a level I passed a long time ago on my own. That is when my teacher came to my rescue.
My first real project
Computer vision, you know when computers look at an image and try to understand what is there. Well for that time it was no AI models or anything, it was purely algorithmic. My mission should I choose to accept it (over being thrown out of class) was to take this “new” library that allowed me to capture an image from a webcam in VB6 and process it (pixel by pixel), and try and make out a shape in an image, simple geometric shapes (circle, square, triangle).
So my best friend and I set out to this task, it was soooo interesting we would have all nighters trying to solve it. Let me take you through the basics.
Go over the image one pixel at a time to try and find a place with a big change in color (black shape on white paper). When I reach it, go in a pattern to find its neighbor that is also a border pixel. Do this in a loop till I can’t find any more border pixels. This worked (in theory). There is always a “but”… It all went to hell when we would hit these edge cases of a few pixels out of place.
That’s when it hit me, the solution may be obvious to you, but to me it wasn’t. Well, it turns out there is a use for the data structure “stack” we’ve been taught. We put all pixels in the stack, and each time we would hit a brick wall, we would pop a pixel and try again. This would continue till we popped them all out and got back to our starting pixel.
This turned out to be very effective, and solved our biggest problem.
We actually found a few solutions for understanding what shape it was.
From the trivial, see how many “straight” lines made up the shape, which worked pretty well for simple shapes. To the most advanced solution, that I am still proud of till this day, calculate the area of the shape, and the perimeter of the shape, and see what constant best defines the relation.
The moral of the story
I told you this whole story to come to a small point, one that shaped the next few years of my development life. Data structures & design patterns are there for a reason, and even though it might not be obvious, you ask yourself “why would I ever need that”. At some point you will, and it’s good to keep them handy.
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