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Ask HN: When did you write your first commercial code?
29 points by davismwfl on Nov 15, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 46 comments
I am just curious, the first code I wrote (was in C) that was commercially available in a product was released in 1989. When was your's? What language and what do feel as changed since you released your first code? I am really curious especially from the HN community.

My first code was written in 1966 as part of an academic research project for control system stability analysis, especially applied to power system stability. Some version of this Fortran II code survives to this day. I am sure that it has been moved to a much later version of Fortran. So while it was not a commercial project in the usual sense, it was used to help with some important decisions, such as where to locate Fermilab.

Next large project was in assembler language on the Sigma 5 computer, doing real-time data collection of ECG data sent in analog (3 channel FM) from hospitals across the US. It was an interrupt-rich environment.

That is awesome. I learned fortran early and it was one of the first languages I learned. So much of the first programs I wrote were about controlling something or calculating some result.

I was still maintaining Fortran code at a gig I left in 1995...

I eventually grew frustrated with Fortran II syntax and language, to the point that it drove me to a career in compilers.

Another old Fortran programmer here... I wrote my first commercial code in Fortran in the late 1970s. Number-crunching stuff.

I sold my first software internationally at age 9 in 1990. It was Virtual Journal 1.0 by PunkProductions; was sold as shareware for $2 and was built in HyperCard. I recieved checks from all over, the last one I recall getting was years later from Denmark. It was a password protected, unlimited page journaling app. That was the same year I was almost expelled from Belle Valley Elementary in Erie, PA for spreading a virus across the entire district network. My next release was AOLRover - an AOL "hell" program built in OneClick. My most recent, is http://PRMatch.com - a new platform for publicity gettin'. Fun question, thanks!

This may be stretching the definition of "commercial", but in 1986, Run Magazine published this game I wrote. It was written in C64 BASIC and the code fit on a single screen (40x25).


They sent me a T-Shirt. Still counts.

I used to get free badges and t-shirts back in the late 80s for submitting POKEs for games, giving you unlimited lives, etc.

I did a lot of that kind of hacking on the Spectrum machines back in the day, cracking the loader/protection, decompiling the games, and working out the fewest bytes that needed to be changed to keep the lives/energy/bullets/etc.

Beyond that I shared a lot of freeware tools in the DOS days around 1992. Simple utilities to undelete files, and that kind of thing.

From there I think my first fulltime job, working at a compiler company was around 1998.

Happy times :)

Totally counts. Wow c64 basic. And 40x25 not something you hear people say too often anymore.

Does the T-Shirt still exist? And if so, does it still fit?

I launched Ziggles.com, a comparison shopping engine for books in 1999 from my dorm room at UCLA. It was written in Perl, and had as much style as Craigslist does. The scraper was one big jumble of regular expressions, but it worked well. There are much better tools out there for scraping, thankfully.

After University, I wrote code for Convergent Technologies in San Jose. It was as part of the OS team, a thing called CTOS. All in PL/M and x86 assembler. That language was so close to the processor chip, it had pointers (based variables) exactly as complex as the asm addressing modes and no more. It had exactly one move intrinsic that used REPNZ MOVS. It had types that corresponded to the bus width only.

I kind of regret all the brain cells I still have dedicated to that arcane stuff.

I wrote some freeware apps when I was 17 in 1989 for QuickBBS, but I guess those weren't commercial. I think the first code I was paid to write was a config tool for some anti-virus software for the US Air Force in San Antonio, TX (!). It was written in C for DOS (using the CXL library). The Air Force didn't have a clue that I was an up and coming phone phreaker, hacker, and many other bad things :) My first paid full-time programming job was to write a voice-response system for a bank (again in C for DOS) using dialogic-compatible voice cards (Rhetorex, if I recall correctly). This was the first time I had been exposed to a state machine (I hadn't studied computer science yet).

What has changed? Wow, what hasn't changed? Back then, a hacker's wet dream box might have been a Sparcstation running SunOS or later, Solaris. I always thought I would have to eventually learn Windows programming, but somehow I managed to avoid it (being in prison from 1995-1999 helped in this regard - by the time I got out, Linux was well-accepted).

That's awesome. I have a dialogic card still to this day. Of course it is just collecting dust now, but up until about 5-6 years ago I was still writing code to work with them. Cool hearing from someone else who has done some of that in the not to distant past.

I don't think you missed a ton with Windows. I spent 10 years working in it (writing code for products) and finally went back to *nix and have loved getting back to it.

Apparently 2003, my mother and I decided to start a website. I found it on the internet archive, it is terrible. Granted I was only a teenager and had no idea what I was doing.

[0] https://web.archive.org/web/20031124063021/http://www.theplu...

I don't know anyone that doesn't look back on stuff we did earlier and be like wtf was I thinking. Even when it worked and was decent, we just learn so much along the way.

I wrote my first lines of commercial code as an intern at a little company called DataStax in Austin, Texas. I was just coming off my freshman year at UT. I had no idea what I was doing but the people there were fantastic and helped me learn a ton (shout out to Tyler Hobbs). It really kicked off my career. This was like 3 years ago.

I was specifically writing some python code for OpsCenter, their Cassandra management tool. It was pretty cool since it was essentially my first exposure to python, and really my first exposure to working in the industry. My code went out with their 2.1 release and knowing that someone somewhere was running a part of what I wrote was pretty cool.

That "little" company got really really big now! They just recently raised $106mm and are doing really well. I'm quite happy for them and glad they gave me the opportunity so early on.

Wow, that's one hell of a way to get your feet wet. Congrats, I think it is just awesome when you get to work with super talented teams that are making stuff happen.

For me it was 1986 and it was a specialised paper stock control system for a commercial stationers. It was written in dBase III+ and compiled to an exe using "Quick Silver", one of the early dBase compilers. Not long afterwards we started using Clipper. I was aged 19 and a half :)

Wow there is something I haven't heard in a long time. dBase. I remember it and Alpha 4, both just seem so arcane but really served a purpose.

I still have copies of Clipper code I wrote in the early 90's on one of my archive disks (a "multi-user" help desk system which ran on DOS 6 PC's connected to a Novel 3.12 network). I sometimes go back an look at it just for the nostalgia :)

I really loved knocking out Clipper code, you could get a lot done very quickly and Clipper was a solid superset of dBase. Around that time I also wrote most of my code in an editor called Brief [0] which I sometimes pine after.

>both just seem so arcane but really served a purpose

I guess it depends on your age, but dBase, Clipper, FoxBase etc were hugely popular. FoxBase (or FoxPro as it laterly became know as) was kept alive and kicking by Microsoft and used to ship with Visual Studio (.NET althoug FoxPro was still a COM based language). Rick Strahl (a moderately popular .NET blogger) still maintains a chunk of FoxPro code [2].

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brief_(text_editor)

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Visual_FoxPro

[2]: http://west-wind.com/wsdlgenerator/

1985: I worked for a map company. I wrote applications to plot typographical maps using a big plotter among other graphics work. When I started, we were in the loading area complete with a garage door. I remember it was pretty cold in the winter. It was all C or perhaps C++.

The first thing I wrote was on an HP3000 minicomputer in 1985. It was an installer for the product I was working on.

You coped one executable from 9-track tape. It then installed the package from 9-track, then you entered numbers used to calculate database sizes.

I don't recall any reported defects.

The product was a text search package that used MSWord, WordPerfect and raw text files. We also added "relevance trimming", a basic MapReduce. The algorithm was specified in a book that was written in the 1950s or 1960s. I checked it out from the library.

We wore ties.

My first commercial project was actually fairly recent. I'm not really employed to be a programmer, but we happened to have a project that required some stuff beyond PLC control. I wrote a C# program to interface with measurement computing DAQ hardware on a machine with a 200PSI air tank, 2x 2" dump valves, and a 10" diameter air cylinder. Bang! The safety systems were hardwired; my program could only charge and fire it once it was armed at the control panel.

That's awesome, not that I don't love creating web systems, but something about controlling physical items in our world to me is just so cool. Sounds like you had fun and that is usually the most important part to me in any project.

I won't count the BASIC examples that went in our product manuals, so the first code I wrote that went into a product would have been for a 6809 embedded controller for a tanning bed. Written in C and was probably in '91 or '92.'

Embedded systems are still cool to me. Takes some serious thought to do everything as efficient as possible without failure. I remember writing C and having 256kb to fit everything in.

To this day I still watch ram usage more than anyone else I know except some others I know who have done embedded work.

2009, I was a freshman comp sci major at a startup trying to get experience. I wrote some SQL and VB.NET code for a proof of concept web service. Turned out someone sold it and some major companies are using it today....

It is not exactly commercial, but I was 12 (2001) when I first sold some IRC bots. I started charging something like $10, had no idea I was able to make money from it. One of these bots was used for long time.

2010, python (wxpython to be exact, the Python version IIRC was 2.5). pretty fun, I think the biggest development since then is the degree to which the browser has improved as a platform for development.

Totally agree. The browser improvements really have changed development a ton.

First paid code I wrote was in C in 1990. It was custom made machine control software on an embedded controller, so no product release as you'd imagine in the consumer market but strictly b2b.

That's awesome. I am teaching my son who is 16 now how to do some basic controller coding. I think it is an awesome skill to have and is a neat way to "see" what your code can do in the physical world.

In 2008, Aaron P. from UrbanDictionary let me pair with him for a few weeks at the end of the summer. We used Rails and some JS and did TDD, which is pretty much the same thing that I do today.

2011. I set up my university's authentication & authorization system. Kerberos, shibboleth, webauth. Had to write some glue in perl. I was a sophmore...

My first code was an ICT solution for a social enterprise (NGO). I was 18 , a freshman and wrote the application in Rails. I'm 20 now :)

2003 (I was 17); did some back-end work for http://www.darkthrone.com/

Sold my first code in 1979. It was a collection of APL routines to solve optimization problems for the NMSU Physical Science Laboratory.

My first commercial code was in 2010 during my internship where I spent ~2 days styling a few forms with non-SASS CSS in Eclipse.

...yeah, I know.

End of 2003, start of 2004.


I wrote a Perl web app in 2000. Before that I wrote some grant based VB & c++ in 1999.

1996 - Perl - Online Abstract Submission System @ 17

1981 in Fortran

What is meant by 'commercial code'? I have never heard this term before.

I have never written code and sold it. I have written a lot of code which is part of business process, and no doubt still running.

Do I count the code I wrote for my friend's BBS in 1993? That might be the first code I wrote which was useful to someone else. Or should I count the first code I wrote that someone paid me to write? That would be much later in 1999.

Or should I count the code I wrote to help me run my own business in 1997?

Is it possible for an open source developer to never write any commercial code? Has Richard Stallman ever written commercial code?

> What is meant by 'commercial code'? I have never heard this term before.

It's a fairly common term and broadly speaking means code that ends up being used by an organisation and was most likely paid for in some way.

That is how I understood commercial code and how I meant it as well.

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