New Blog Author Says “Hello World”

January 17, 2014 • Mark Dickson

Hi there! Je m’appelle… I mean… My name is Mark, (“Hi Mark,” says the crowd). I am a professional software developer specializing in web applications, but who isn’t these days, right? Damien has been bugging me to start blogging my experiences for a while now. I finally gave in. Since I have been through my fair share of “gotchas” and nuances while programming, I figure it is about time I start sharing these experiences with others. If each blog post I write helps at least one other person, then I feel it is absolutely worth it.

The Apple™ That Started It All

Alright, here is where the boring “How I got started” stories come into play. You don’t have to read this, just skip to the interesting stuff.

I first started writing code when I was about 8 years old. My friend had an Apple computer with BASIC on it and we (somehow) learned how to use it in its most rudimentary sense. Mind you, this was back around 1991 when it was still pretty cutting edge and we didn’t have the Internet at our disposal for BASIC research. I still remember how much mischievous joy it gave us when we first wrote the following:

10 PRINT "Hahaha! You can't stop us now!"
20 GOTO 10

We thought we were so clever. Surely no one else was smart enough to do that! We just knew that when someone “accidentally” ran our program, it was sure to halt their whole computer and create an inescapable loop of total destruction, MUWHAHAHAHAH!!! Thankfully, that never came to fruition, and even when we persuaded our fathers to run the program, they bested us with their knowledge of the shortcut keys for the command to terminate the running program. We were foiled and humbled. Nevertheless, this started off my interest in writing software.

The Rise to Code Monkey

When I was in my summer between 6th and 7th grade, I was privileged enough to begin a summer program through Johns Hopkins University called CTY (Center for Talented Youth). It was a 3-week extra-curricular (and voluntary) summer school program where young, smart kids are awarded the opportunity of taking intensive, college-level classes for 9 hours a day while living in dorms on college campuses. It was a wonderful experience for me and I attended for 3 years in a row. My third year, just before my first year of high school, when the name was changed to Institute for Academic Advancement of Youth (IAAY) I was enrolled in my first Computer Science class. The class itself was taught mostly in Scheme (based on LISP), but while the teacher was droning on, I wound up learning HTML and Web Page design from my classmates. The next day I had my very own Geocities home page complete with loads of animated gifs. Enter my transition into the online world of the Internet.

I became a web designer for a few local friends and businesses in high school, including building the first web site for my high school itself. There were not many computer classes in my high school aside from introductory HTML, which I was already far past in experience, so I am mostly self-taught in Web Design. Towards the end of high school I started playing around with JavaScript and PHP in order to make some more useful web applications, rather than just static content sites. This was around 1998, I can’t even imagine how students are different now. They are probably already making tablet apps in sophomore year now.

I enrolled in a B.S. Computer Science program at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, MA, despite a few other potential interests I had for a major, including Psychology. The first iteration of the Microsoft .NET platform was released in my freshman year. Thus, I never had much instruction on it through my entire college career, aside from the small projects I challenged myself with in my senior year. I quite enjoyed the concepts of Database Design in college and I was fairly good at it, especially making some massive, poster-sized ERDs for in-class projects. After a couple internships between semesters with a DoD contractor, I landed a part-time, between-class job as a web developer for Aramark, the food service provider for my cafeteria. I was able to work where I wanted, when I wanted, and even got free food whenever I wanted. It was a pretty good gig for a college student.

I became very interested in the .NET platform while I was in college and after I graduated, I was again lucky to land a very good paying job at XL Capital in Hartford, CT. I worked there as a contractor learning a lot about .NET Web Forms development, sadly in VB.NET at the time. I later picked up C# and maintain it as my preferred language wherever possible. Now if only they would make it platform-independent. (PLEASE?)

From there, I have been floating through the world of professional software development and trying to take bits and pieces of new learning and experiences away from every position.

He’s Also Into What?!?

I enjoy computers and coding, but I am not as hopelessly in love with it as some of my friends and colleagues. I have many other hobbies, some of them expensive, that keep me occupied when I am not being a computer nerd. Some of them are very common with the geeky crowds, some aren’t.

  • Computer Hardware: There is surprisingly less overlap here than I anticipated. I enjoy computer hardware, building, maintaining, and modding machines as much as I enjoy writing the software. In fact sometimes more so. It is often more straightforward, and I like getting my hands dirty.

  • Electronics: Outside of just computer hardware, I enjoy many things with electronics. Wiring up gadgets and fun circuits, programming microcontrollers (like the Arduino), or even just modding or repairing home electronics.

  • Auto Repair: Speaking of getting my hands dirty, I also enjoy working on cars and trucks. Mostly just my own and friend’s and family member’s. I wouldn’t want to make this a career, but there is something so rewarding about digging into the workings of an internal combustion engine and hearing it roar back to life when you fix something. It is just another machine to “debug” and play with.

  • Home Improvement: No, not the 90′s show, though that was good back in the day too. Good old Tim Taylor and Tool Time. My engineer father designed and built the very efficient and well-built house I grew up in and as such I learned a lot about building maintenance and improvements along the way. From structural additions, to roofing, to plumbing, to electrical work, I quite enjoy working on household projects as well.

“Wow, Mark. Those all sound interesting, but what do you ever do for fun?” Despite the fact that I do consider those fun, when the tasks aren’t too overwhelming, I guess we all need to let loose once in a while and not have to be so productive. That brings this second list:

  • Ren Faires: While I may not be a die-hard “Rennie” I certainly enjoy going to Renaissance faires and do enjoy the creative and interesting people you meet there. Some of them may be the type to sit in their parent’s basement playing World of Warcraft and only make it out of the house for LARPing at these events, they can be a little scary. But, by and large, there are good, productive people there. Plus, who doesn’t love busty, curvy ladies with an excuse to wear corsets?

  • Video Games: I haven’t had much time for this one recently, but I enjoy video games. I no longer can sit in front of them for entire weekends like I used to, but I like putting a few hours a month into them.

  • Target Shooting: I have been very into guns and target shooting matches since I was in Cub Scouts. I enjoy going to the range and participating in competitions, matches and leagues when I have the time. I was also on the Rifle team in college.

  • Acting: I have done both live theatre and film/television acting. I quite enjoy getting to delve into the psyche of someone else and making your best efforts to replicate the person believably. This is where my people-watching study of Psychology comes in handy. I left computers for a year to work on film and television in New York City, had the honor of being able to join the Screen Actors Guild and made good money. The year that I spent out there was irreplaceable. It was so wonderful to step into a completely different profession and be surrounded with such interesting and creative people. Then the SAG strike happened over producer’s contracts and I decided to come back to CT for more stable work.

  • Piano: Along the same lines of performing arts, I have been playing piano off and on since I was in kindergarten. I really enjoy this activity as I am also very much into many forms of music. Marching band was one of my favorite high school activities, and it was actually popular in my school. Being a “band geek” wasn’t a derogatory term. I dabble in guitar and percussion as well, but piano will always be my go to instrument.

  • Motorcycles: I have wanted a motorcycle since I was very young. After I got out of college I was able to afford one, and I haven’t looked back since. I bought a nice Honda Shadow 750cc Cruiser bike and I absolutely love using it to cruise the countryside. If you ever have a lot of tension in your life and just want something to help you forget, go for a nice motorcycle ride down some mountain roads with just you and nature (and turn off your phone). It does wonders. My mother even got me a matching shirt and pillow that read “You never see a motorcycle parked outside of a psychiatrist’s office.”

I am sure there are more hobbies I forgot, but these are the main ones. I have so many disparate interests that it isn’t worth listing them all anyways.

Yes, But, Where is he now?

After dabbling in some JAVA and Spring MVC at Alion Science and Technology, a defense contractor, I decided it was time to move back into the world of .NET. I took a job in Hartford with the State of Connecticut Department of Education doing exactly that. I brought my experience with newer technologies and the MVC architecture to the team to push them forward. It was certainly an adjustment moving from a strict, mil-spec engineering company to a state agency, but there are ups and downs to any job so I make the best of it. I love coding with .NET and it certainly makes me enjoy (most of) the coding experience.

Next step… Ruby on Rails.

Posted in misc, news and tagged with Hello World, Introduction, Personal

Mark Dickson

I am a software engineer with 9 years of experience. My primary focus is on Microsoft systems and technologies, in particular I am often involved in web development with ASP.NET MVC and the .NET 4.5 framework using C#. I also have experience in using Spring MVC using Java. Throughout my adventures in coding I have found many nuances and gotchas about coding, in addition to finding good coding practices along with "less-than-good" practices. I would like to share the knowledge I have gained over the years with others such that you all can benefit from my pain without having to endure it yourself. Enjoy!

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