The Power of Community

I just got back from CITCON where I met an amazing group of incredibly cool people.

At dinner after the conference, a group of us compared “First Programming Experiences.” Me, I wrote my first lines of code in BASIC on a trash-80 when I was in 8th grade. The guy sitting to my right, Zach, wrote his first code on a Commodore 64. The guy across the table, Matt, wrote his first lines of code in HTML on a Windows laptop when he was something like 9. That should you an idea of our relative ages.

Matt learned to program in an entirely different era than Zach and me. Back when Zach and I were learning to program, we couldn’t just Google for an answer. We couldn’t order a tech book from Amazon. Wikipedia wasn’t an option. We couldn’t even post our question to a news group. (If we’d happened to have tech savvy parents, we might, maybe have had access to a BBS. But neither of us were so lucky.) We could ask the people around us for ideas answers. But if you happened to be the only geek with one of those early personal computers among your circle of friends, the chance of getting an answer was pretty slim.

In telling us the story of how he learned to code, Zach lamented: “The one thing I could never figure out was how to do a raster interrupt.”

It occurred to me that with about 30 people assembled, many of them geeks about our age, surely one of them knew how to do raster interrupts on a Commodore 64. “Let’s try a social experiment,” I suggested. “Write your question down and we’ll send it around the group to see if anyone knows the answer.” So Zach wrote his question on a cocktail napkin (the only thing handy). And we sent it around.

Most people just shook their heads and laughed. But one person hollered back down the table, “Who wants to know how to do a raster interrupt on a Commodore 64?”

“I do,” Zach hollered back.

“Well I don’t remember the exact syntax,” came the reply. “But you access the upper level memory registers. There wasn’t much documentation on them at the time, so figuring out the right numbers was a bear.”

Behold the power of community. Put your questions out there, and someone in the community will have an answer.

(Oh, and for the curious, Google also does a good job of finding the answer: address 53274 ($D01A).)

3 thoughts on “The Power of Community

  1. Elisabeth,

    Google *does* do a better job of scratching the itch of a curious mind. But it cannot share dinner with a group of awesome people… and laugh when the paper towel is found in your salad. Or ponder the implications of testing in a world before fire. Or provide a 10-minute dissertation on how the context-driven tester answers the question, “Where is Charlottesville?” (ie, is it a place? is it a girl? etc..)


  2. I believe a fun time was had by all at CITCONF! I’m surprised there wasn’t more blogged about the previous editions (Chicago?).

    – [other] Matt

  3. The power of community is impressive. I’ve been to two workshops this year (WHET and WOPR) and felt some of what you shared. So many aspects of workshops are great – asking questions and sharing stories are just two. Being out of the office, removing the politics – the stories that get shared are real and powerful and without posturing. People are more willing to admit where they made mistakes, what bit them in the tail, and by opening up to war stories without any interest in company names and other office politics, the core of what another person learned is shared. Conferences can be pretty good but workshops rock.

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