"Lost and Found" : Part 1 - From Dungeons & Dragons to HTML

Dungeons and Dragons

My descent into the world of programming started at a pretty young age. This was back in the early days of the world wide web. Internet giants like Facebook and Twitter weren't on the scene yet and Google was just getting started. It was a time when GeoCities was the third-most visited site on the internet1. At age 13 I had been hooked on technology for some time, having already gone through a few flavors of Windows2. I didn't start getting interested in programming, however, until after Windows 98 had come out.

The computers and the advancing technology of the internet were awe-inspiring, but they were not what got the programming ball rolling. It was, oddly enough, a chat room. A Dungeons & Dragons chat room, to be precise. It was something my cousin and I used to do in our spare time. We'd log in, enter chat, and roleplay our chosen characters with other users. During one such encounter, the mage I was talking to typed red letters in the chat window.

I was amazed by this. I knew that web pages had some kind way to format text, but I had no idea how to apply it to chat. There were no formatting options available that I could see. So, I inquired about how to turn my text red3. It wasn't CSS or Markdown or any other similar method4. It was just plain ol' HTML. Just type <font color="red">, type your words, and close it with </font>. Simple enough!

Little did this random internet stranger know that this revelation would start me on a path that would forever change my life and how I viewed the world. It wasn't long before I started digging into the rest of the HTML 4.0 specification, learning CSS 2.0 and JavaScript5. Somewhere along the way, I stumbled across Perl and began tinkering. I was still a big D&D fan and spent a lot of time on www.netdragons.com playing an RPG called Vagabond's Quest6.

I loved the game and wanted to make my own version. My very first programming project was born! I learned a lot, but looking back I'm shocked at how little I knew. As an example, I had no concept of databases back then. My saved game data was a text file with each line corresponding to a character and each value separated by a vertical-pipe (|). Perl is great at parsing text, so it did have that going for it!

As an outcome of all these experiences, I piqued the interest of my younger brother, launching him on his own path towards programming as a career and I had settled on a major for college: Computer Science. I didn't know it at the time, but I was not prepared to major in computer science.

Not because I wasn't smart enough, or interested enough, but because I did not fully understand what it was about. Computer Science is pretty self-explanatory, but the experience of school vs real world application are entirely different and I was about to learn that the hard way. I'll explain what I mean in Part 2. See you there!

  1. RIP GeoCities

  2. Windows 3.1x and Windows 95

  3. Out of Character of course. 

  4. Markdown didn't even exist yet. 

  5. Back before there were frameworks like jQuery or AngularJS. Back when everyone loved to hate JavaScript. 

  6. Sadly the site no longer exists. 


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