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How I started my programming journey

I always had a thing for computers now that I think about it. I was maybe 5 years old when my dad bought a 386 computer with MS-DOS on it and I was blown away by it. I used to have two “games” in MS-DOS that I could play: a starship shooting bullets and floating through space (space of ASCII characters haha) and a game that would learn you the letters of the alphabet and then trained you to type as fast as you could. The latter was my favorite one though.

Then we moved into another city and got a more performant PC, a Pentium 3 or 4. I was 7 or 8 but I was again fascinated by the technology. My favorite thing to do then as I remember was to connect do dial-up (you know, the one that makes this sound) and go to the DLH website (a website that had cheats for game and trainers) and download all kind of trainers for games, but not for the reason you’d think! I liked that every trainer was different and looked interesting, and I was playing with those trainers that I am a hacker and hack other people, or that I am abord of a space ship and so on. I remember that I even had some of the fancier trainers with sound and effects coming up on startup, right as Windows booted. Yeah, I was weird right? Playing with game trainers, not with the actual games.

Then somehow when I was in the 6th and 7th grade, I started liking the idea of having a personal website, MY OWN WEBSITE. Mainly because it was the time around which we got a normal internet connection, not fiber but something with a modem. It was great surfing the internet and trying all sort of random websites like I was watching TV and thought “hmm, does Cartoon Network have a website?” and tried randomly cartoonnetwork.com and indeed they had one, with games and stuff so I was hooked into the world of internet, something that I could not do on dial-up cause it was expensive and had to spend only a few minutes “online”.

So I was always liked the idea to make my own thing of everything I saw, and I first started with my own website. I used a free online builder thing called Tripod, which is still around today by the way. I spend a few days building weird pages for my website. By weird, I mean every page had a completely different design, that weird!

When I clicked publish and visited my own website, I saw why that service was free: it had ads everywhere on my website. Big fat ads and banners. That was the moment I first met Javascript. I found somewhere on the internet (by the way, I was still using MSN for search then, before the Google era) a script that somehow made those ads disappear, like magic. And I started to like the idea of Javascript. Of course, right then it was the era of all kinds of weird scripts, visits counter, mouse cursor hacks, and so on. You simply went on hotscripts.com and copy-pasted some Javascript code and it just worked.

After I got rid of online builders, I met FrontPage and a bit later Dreamweaver. Those were the two most advanced tools to build your own website, the kind of website with tables and stuff, but It was looking cool though. I was already starting the 8th grade and I started also learning HTML and a bit of CSS. I already felt like a hacker, coding stuff and seeing the instant result. Today we might call that “hot module replacement” and you need a fancy setup to have it work, but right then it was the standard, haha.

So by the time I was in the 8th grade, I knew basic HTML4 and some CSS to make stuff look different. It was around that time I also heard of PHP, 2008. I did not learn it though as I thought it was not necessary. Around that time too I was also deep into another period of my life: “piracy”. I was on DC++ and torrent sites, but not so much for downloading things but for being in a community. I was a moderator on some DC++ hubs and then we heard about a new way to download things: torrents.

Not entering the piracy period details, but somehow I got in touch with a guy from Austria, also Romanian, and we both wanted to build a Christian torrent website to share Christian materials among users. And after talking a bit, we did it. We installed an open-source software written in PHP called TBDEV. And that was the time I started doing the PHP tutorials so I know how to change stuff around. I started to love PHP mainly because I saw I can build more advanced things on the web, not only websites. I was amazed that somehow the torrent client reported to a PHP script and it just worked.

The summer of 2008 was a tough one when I learned a lot of PHP and MySQL. Around the same period, a guy using the nickname XAM came on the TBDEV forums and announced that he “forked” the TBDEV source code and made a paid version of TBDEV, which was no longer actively maintained. Everyone was furious about this because it was breaching the GPL license. I took action and that summer I began working on “Free Torrent Source”, my own fork of TBDEV that mostly copied features from XAM’s paid version but made them open source. I modernized the codebase, converted to classes (it was a new thing in PHP), and so on. The “Free Torrent Source” source code is still online here, even though you need PHP4 to run it haha. I was 15 but had a pretty popular software that powered a few hundred torrent trackers.

Then, I started high school. I went to a more human branch of high school, no on the branch with a lot of math and IT, mainly because I did not like math a lot. But while I was in high school, I kept making cooler and cooler websites, now with PHP and forms, dynamic stuff, and so on. I had a reputation of being a guy with a website for everything, I had my own blog already, and so on.

Around the 9th grade, I made my first money with programming, I helped a guy that was finishing the university build a webshop built in PHP, it was for his license exam. I got 200 euros for that and I remember that because after I got the money I went into the town market, bought a brand new bike, some cool Converse shoes and some clothes. Almost all my 200 euros spent in a single day, but I was the happiest teenager on the planet.

Starting that period, I was clearly into web programming, I liked coding a lot in my free time after high school, I kept working on my fork of torrent software and also maintained the Christian torrent tracker.

After the exams in the 12th grade, I received an offer from a guy I known to go and learn things while working. So I just finished high school but I was already having a job. It was a low-pay job in the beginning because I was also learning but also the guy asked what “salary” do I want and I asked 200 RON which is like 50 euros. 50 euros a month. The guy was so “happy” that I do not know the right prices and he doubled it. It was enough for me that year to pay something while I was at the university in another city. Parents would still help me, but I had some pocket money from working a few hours a day.

I stayed at that job for 5 years, I learned a ton of things there, I started to know WordPress more, started to learn modern PHP frameworks like CodeIgniter and Yii, learned OOP principles, learned design patterns, and so on. I had a thirst for knowledge and I think that first year working there I progressed the most. Of course, the payslip got upgraded on those 5 years, I was also offered the CTO title for a period before I left.

After 5 years at that workplace, I began my next challenge working remotely for the current company I also work now. This change happened gradually, I first started collaborating with them in Autumn 2017 after my work hours as a way to make more money and pay the down-payment for my house credit. Then in February 2018, I started full-time for Meevo, my current employer from Canada, already have 3 years of working there too. So almost 9 years of experience of being employed and around 14-15 years of total experience time if I account for the learning HTML period I described above.

So, I can say that everything on my journey with programming started because of my curiosity to see how things work behind the scenes, learn as much as I could to replicate stuff, and make my own version of everything. That is how I got this passion that I still have 15 years later.

It was a long journey from where I started to where I am today, but it was worth it. What is the key take from my long post here? Well, never take things for granted. Learn how things work behind the scenes, you might be hooked into a completely new area in life. Always follow your passion and never seek material things over your personal development. I started programming for 100 euros a month, I did not know that you can make a lot of money with programming back then, so I did not come into this area for money or to make a name, I came into IT because I 100% loved it. If you do something completely different from all your friends, it does not mean that thing is wrong.

All my friends looked into other areas while in high school, only I was the weird one learning on the internet not actually playing. But hey, that got me to where I am today with a beautiful wife and two wonderful kids and I can bring them food on the table doing a job I 100% love.


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