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Enter IT: “I used to write games for a calculator”

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We continue a column “Enter IT”! Today we have a honored veteran of the industry and just a great guy Konstantin Haustov, Delivery Manager DataArt. Kostya will take us 30 years back in time and talk about how the road to IT began for him.
Enter IT: "I used to write games for a calculator"
My “entry” into IT happened long before I heard the word “IT.” Even the word “computer” was rarely used back then. Usually they said “computer” or just “machine”. It was quite consistent in appearance – a cabinet the size of a large refrigerator, with some boards connected by cables, huge disk drives, power supplies, and fans. It was all flashing lights and clattering like a tractor.
Our school had two of these “machines, ” called “Electronics-60.” As I found out later, it was a Soviet clone of the DEC PDP-11 computer, the same one that once produced the Unix operating system. But back then, in 1985, it didn’t matter what kind of computers they were. To have any computers at all in school was beyond cool and unusual. So unusual that nobody really knew what to do with them. There was no computer science as a school subject, even calculators had just appeared. Everything in our school was kept by an enthusiastic principal, who got interested in the hard and software and sent the math teachers who were interested to take a course. The teachers immediately opened up circles to pass the knowledge on to the kids before they forgot. It was more of a spoiled phone than education, but we were given the most important thing – access to computers.
Enter IT: "I used to write games for a calculator"
Although there were only two computers, I had about fifteen work places in the classroom: each computer had several terminals connected to it, and a Basic language interpreter supporting multi-user work was running. In general, I could only program in Basic, and only for two hours a week. The rest of the time I had to make do with a programmable calculator. Compared to the big computers, programming a calculator was not even writing a program in assembler, but directly in machine codes. It was a very time consuming task, but a lot of people were into it then, just like every geek is programming a Raspberry now. Programs for calculators were discussed and published in popular magazines. There were even games for calculators, but you had to rely a lot on your imagination.
There were games on the Electronica-60, too, even with a more human-like interface than on calculators, drawn in symbols on an alphanumeric display. It was there that I first played Tetris, in 1986, just a year after it was invented. But it wasn’t as much fun to play as it was to program. At that time, the feeling of the magic of programming had not yet lost its novelty, and most of my peers who had access to computers were not primarily hooked on games, but on this flexibility and malleability of the computer world, on the illusion of omnipotence. We made some tests and tutorials for school and also wrote games “for ourselves. Due to the limitations of hardware, the illustrations in the tutorials and animations in the games were made with the same standard characters, not even pseudo-graphics. Of course, we dreamed of real graphics, and eventually, in 1988, we got them. It was a whole class of computers, “BK-0010, ” which had graphics, sound, a local network-a lot of new features. We started doing all the same things we were doing before – educational programs and games – but at a new level. Of my projects of that time, I remember a utility for printing graphics on a dot matrix printer, a 3D labyrinth that, although it was drawn correctly, was very slow, and a virus that attributed itself to the boot sector of a floppy disk.
Thanks to the activity of our director, various competitions and contests constantly “stuck” to us. For example, one of my senior classmates went to the first All-Union Olympiad in Informatics from Voronezh without any selections. Then we were magically invited to the international contest from the Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora. We did the qualifying rounds, sent printouts of programs by mail (by regular mail, there was no e-mail at the time), in the end, my older friend and I went there. It was very cool. We took part in the whole competition program, even in “computer linguistics” about which we knew nothing, and we were amused by everything we could get out of it: we stood on the top of Shipka, wandered around Gabrovo, went to Plovdiv with the delegation from Krasnoyarsk, went to the Rose Museum and drank a bucket of Schweppes tonic which was not on sale in our city then. I didn’t do well in linguistics, but I did better in programming; I even got a bronze medal. A year later I met with the same students from Krasnoyarsk at their home, at the first Russian Olympiad in Informatics.
Then suddenly my school years were over, but I did not regret it one bit, also because now I could “enter IT” for real. After some hesitation I found myself at the Department of PMM at the VSU in one group with the same “entrants”. Everyone had an interesting story of entering IT, life in IT, and later some of them (Kostya Sulimin and Denis Tsyplakov) had their own story of Enjoy IT.
Enter IT: "I used to write games for a calculator"

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