I didn’t set out to become a programmer. Believe it or not, I didn’t even own a computer until I was 30–it was a beat-up E-machine that a college room-mate sold me for a hundred bucks. At the time, I was an English major, after having gone through a brief period in which I had the hilarious idea to become a public school teacher.
My intention with regards to becoming a teacher were never wholly pure. Yes, I wanted to make a difference–having grown up in an impoverished community, and having attended some fairly recognizably shitty public schools, I did indeed have dreams of reaching that kid in the back of the class who was keeping herself distinct from the rest of her fellow pupils. But I never really thought I had the personality to teach. It looked to me that teaching well required a zeal and a patience that I knew deep-down I lacked. And it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
I wanted to write. Had been writing for a long time, since before I was a teen-ager. I had grown up surrounded by books–my parents had a nearly full set of the Harvard Classics, volumes of which I would pull out and flip through with awe. In the same set of bookshelves, on the bottom shelf, was a full set of World Encyclopedias. When I was nine or ten I attempted to read the entire set, A-Z…but, being nine or ten, my attention wandered.
By the time the Internet was first really seeping into public consciousness I was lucky enough to have been immersed in it for a some years. My first encounter with HTML was in Geocities–I had just discovered that on this world wide network of machines I could read not only the literature of the past but also contemporary, bleeding edge work by people who, like myself, were all hunched over little keyboards, all over the world.
There were, indeed, literary schools and movements being born on the network, and while everyone else I knew was just discovering the possibilities of this instant distributed global media web, I had already become an avid admirer and self-styled participant in all the turmoil. Net art was showing me some of the possibilities of using the computer and the network itself as art. Like many of that era, I learned Flash. But I wasn’t content to simply animate and link–I was ambitious. I taught myself ActionScript, and set about flailingly experimenting with what could be done with the network, automation, algorithms, and the data on the network itself.
I wasn’t very good. In the end, aesthetics took a back-seat to my new-found power. I had learned how to program, and I had learned to respect application architecture. I built things in a way that were easy for me to change–because I had gone through the pain of learning how scope worked, learned that multiple copies of a function were damned hard to maintain.
A fellow net artist suggested I learn PHP. I taught myself PHP and, slowly, by extension, I learned about web servers. I taught myself basic Linux System Administration, because I hosted my own work, and I wanted to know as much about the frame my stuff was in as I wanted to present my stuff. There was language to be explored there, too.